Just us?

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…

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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6 Comments

  1. this is definitely an outdated practice, but nothing new at all. certain really old and high end restaurants globally have done this for decades, if not for a full century.

    i’m not condoning the practice at all, just saying this has been happening for quite some time already.

    1. Which to me is precisely the point. It’s “been” happening in some circumstances for a long time, but shouldn’t be now. The fact that it *still* exists is the story.

  2. Good to know that this is still a thing. Not to be confused with good that this is still a thing, just that now I can be ready for my wife’s reaction, although I’d just rather trade menus with her.

  3. For years all high end restaurants had priced menus and unpriced menus. The idea was to present the priced menu to the host and the unpriced menus to the guests. Usually the priced menu and the wine list went together. Of course, many years ago, that was synonymous with handing the priced menu to the man, but I have certainly been to restaurants where the head established who was paying and was happy to hand it to the woman if she was paying – even 20 years ago. And also, generally, there would only be one priced menu per table.

    It sounds to me as though the restaurant you visited has what could be called a “French” attitude to service, not bothering to establish who was treating whom.

  4. What deemed to be not acceptable could just be a norm elsewhere, do not bring your philosophy and try to preach others about how rightous it is. As much as I agree with you that such acts are sexist to say the least, I respect their culture and so should you. There is no right or wrong, it’s just the individuals perception toward a situation and societal norms. Can’t take it, just leave.

  5. I’ve experienced this a number of times in Europe at fine dining restaurants—thankfully with significantly decreasing frequency. A few times, I was given the female menu without prices even as I am a gay man who was dining with my husband. Every time, I made sure to speak to the manager and express my sincere disappointment that the restaurant was practicing such a sexist, bigoted, and outdated practice. We finished our meals and made sure they knew we’d never return until the ridiculous practice was ended.

    Only public pressure and shaming tends to end such obviously stupid practices. Naming the restaurant helps, too.

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