The scenario persists even under different dynamics. At a recent dinner with a male and female friend — one that was clearly not a date — the check still went to the man in the group. It's not a good practice, said Jeff Benjamin, partner and chief operating officer for the Vetri Family restaurants, and author "Front of the House," a book about gracious restaurant service.
“We always present the check to the name on the reservation,” said Benjamin. (I make the reservations, too, so this doesn’t explain it away for me.) “When that’s not possible, like a walk-in, we present the check to the middle of the table. That’s kind of the most neutral way to do it. There is never a presumption.”
There are other ways that servers make assumptions about the way men and women order. The classic one is automatically placing a steak in front of a man, and a salad in front of a woman, or assuming that an order of beer goes to a man and a cocktail goes to a woman. When Eater editor in chief Amanda Kludt opened a 2014 thread on that site about the matter, people chimed in with other mistaken assumptions that waiters have made. One diner said that she has watched servers hand wine lists only to men. Another reported that when she did an omakase menu at a New York sushi restaurant, her male companion got bigger pieces of fish.
Being a server, I realize, is a difficult job, and a every table is a potential minefield. There are some diners who would be offended if a server didn't hand the check to the man, so it's easy to see why some would default to the tradition.
"It's just a leftover, sexist feeling that people still have," said Darron Cardosa, a New York server who writes the Bitchy Waiter blog and always leaves the check in the center of the table.
This kind of casual sexism in restaurants can go both ways. Female bartenders report that customers frequently underestimate them. And female servers are subject to sexual harassment at a higher rate than non-tipped restaurant workers. These are bigger battles to fight in restaurants, and, of course, the check issue seems quite small in comparison to other aspects of gender equality. Higher up on my scale of things to care about: getting paid the same as men, getting equal representation in government, law and business as men, and getting women proper reproductive health care. But little things add up.
“If it’s something as small as making sure a woman can pay the check just as easily as a man could pay the check, it should have just as much importance as anything else,” said Cardosa.
So, when a server places the bill in the middle of the table, it’s a nod toward breaking down stereotypes while we break bread.
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