I welcomed the American tradition of Thanksgiving yesterday with my family in Paris. As New Yorkers abroad on one of the best eating days of the year, we set out to enjoy what’s historically been one of the finest Michelin Star meals in Paris, at arguably the cities very oldest restaurant. I’m not going to name names, but Google is your friend here. After being seated in the absolutely grand dining room, with priceless city views, it came to my attention that something else was also priceless…
I opened my menu to find prices that made it feel natural to take my clothes off and remove my wallet from the word “go”, since I was going to be robbed at the end of the meal anyway. But hey, that’s fine dining and this was a special occasion. At €129 an entree (yes, just one course) it was crazy, and naturally I mentioned to my sister a feeling of “OMG, this is the most expensive place I’ve ever walked into”. Much to my surprise, she had absolutely no clue what I was talking about. In retrospect: the food was very good, and likely deserving of the one Michelin star it carries.
The ladies menu listed all the same opulent and indulgent dishes, with one distinctive difference. There were no prices to be found. For a brief moment, I thought perhaps a simple print error had occurred. I then looked at her separate menu “dejeuner” and prices were noticeably absent there as well. I turned to my mother, rifled through her menu, and sure enough it was the same story. Make no mistake: the menu’s of both my father and I were chock full of prices. In an effort of clarity: I confirmed this practice not only with my table, but a member of staff. It’s “a thing”.
Ladies don’t see prices.
In a world of much needed progress, where glass ceilings are being shattered and #MeToo is finally getting the attention it deserves, I was literally and truly gobsmacked that a famed public restaurant in one of the world’s greatest cities made the assumption that only men of the table would be capable of making decisions and paying. It’s one thing to place the cheque toward the man (that’s highly questionable too, by the way), but to intentionally leave all women out of the equation is just wild. Mandatory jackets, dresses for ladies or dignified rules for guest decorum are admirable, but assuming men have more money or decision making power than women is simply plain wrong. It’s not a sign of chivalry, or grace.
Now, with prices at this level, it’s not to say that it’s actually somewhat polite to shield the eyes of wanting guests, but it’s just the discrimination that’s wrong. I almost wish mine had been, but to do so on a sex based basis is backward. There’s no grey area. The point is, women are equally if not more capable of picking up the tab, and assuming they won’t by only showing prices to men, and giving wine samples to men *may* *possibly* have been charming in 1582, but in 2018 it has no place. Plus, in an era of email and mobile phones – it’s quite easy to request menus without prices for a hosted dinner, or for a romantic date.
A question that also stands out is: how the restaurant would deal with a LGBTQ situation, or a more opaque seating arrangement of friends, colleagues or a group which intends to divvy up costs? We couldn’t help but laugh at the idea of someone blindly ordering things which sounded fantastic, with no concept of the cost, only to split the bill later in utter amazement. How does the Michelin Guide, which prides itself on the future enrichment of cooking stand by this archaic and sexist practice?
The meal, perched high above one of the most iconic viewpoints in Paris was very good, and it wasn’t all sexism. There did not appear to be any bias in gender between sommeliers, hosts or wait staff and the dining environment was enjoyable, on a “you only live once” basis. However, despite sampling delightful dishes, the only thing left on my palate was sincere wonderment about how this was all “ok” in a world of gender equality, or at least the pursuit thereof. In my opinion, it shouldn’t be…