In comments to this post at Feministing showing a menu with different prices listed for men and women, Sailorman mentioned this Diner’s Journal entry at the New York Times about the not-quite-complete disappearance of menus without prices:
Do expensive restaurants still keep many of these menus on hand? Get many requests for them?
I called around and learned that of course restaurants have them: if there’s a possible and predictable customer desire that’s easy enough to fulfill, a restaurant stands ready to do it. It’s the nature of the business, after all.
But sure enough, restaurants get fewer requests for menus without prices, and one reason appears, from the interviews I did, to be changes in the dynamics between men and women.
Apparently one of the most common circumstances in which menus without prices were presented was a man taking a woman to dinner. Like holding open the door for her or helping her with her coat, giving her a menu that didn’t show how much the lobster cost was considered a laudable act of chivalry.
“When women’s liberation started in this country, it was, ‘What do you mean?’,” said Julian Niccolini, a partner at the Four Seasons restaurant. “And that basically stopped it: women’s liberation. It was nothing else. Which was fine with me.”
The menus haven’t disappeared entirely, though they’re most often used — at least at fancy restaurants in New York — at the request of a customer who’s entertaining for business or wants to make the guest feel comfortable. But the practice of automatically providing priceless menus to women hasn’t fallen off the face of the earth.
Yannis Stanisiere, the manager at Alain Ducasse, told me that when he worked at Mr. Ducasse’s flagship restaurant in Paris in the late 1990’s, it was a matter of course that men were given menus with prices, while women got menus without them. He said he wasn’t sure if that is still the case.
But when Mr. Ducasse opened his restaurant in Manhattan in 2000, that practice of different menus for different sexes was not implemented, Mr. Stanisiere said.
The priceless menu is mostly a function of expensive restaurants, not cheap places. But the idea that the man pays and/or orders is still pretty entrenched — I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of sitting at a restaurant where the server directed all questions to the man and/or delivered the check to him. And if there’s more than one man, the oldest one gets the check.
But the really enlightening thing here is the comment thread to this entry — there are several people who wish that this “charming” custom would make a comeback, and then the inevitable Nice Guy™/MRA type who says, “I wish that more women would be sensible on dates and help split the check. Double standards still apply in most cases.”