Would this offend you?
March 25, 2009 7:18 PM   Subscribe

Would you, as a woman, be offended by this?

If the waitstaff at a restaurant made a point to take your order first, before the mens', would this offend you? Or maybe you know someone who would? I would like to get a general consensus on this, since this "tip" was posted on our employee bulletin board the other day. I'm in the camp that it could offend some people, but maybe I'm wrong. Personally, I just take people's orders in the order that they're seated and I always drop the check off in the middle of the table unless someone specific asks for it to be brought to them.
posted by MaryDellamorte to Society & Culture (138 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I notice that waitstaff usually take my order before my man friend's, and it doesn't bother me at all. Assumes it's just me and a dude.
posted by tristeza at 7:19 PM on March 25, 2009


I would not be offended, but I do think it's an outdated and unnecessary practice.
posted by Bella Sebastian at 7:20 PM on March 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


I think most women I know would be annoyed by it. What is the clientele of the restaurant like? (Are they a significantly different demographic than Ask MeFi responders might be?)
posted by winston at 7:21 PM on March 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


No. It's an outdated custom, like menus for women that don't have prices on them. (Though I did get one of those in the past year. I found it bizarrely charming, not offensive.)
posted by meerkatty at 7:21 PM on March 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't get offended either way.
posted by scody at 7:21 PM on March 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


In a situation where there are more than two people, it would seem sort of weird, but it wouldn't offend me. I'd be more worried about the waiter messing up the order by not going around the table.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:21 PM on March 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is a tradition that has been in place for a very long time. Servers are also supposed to take orders in order of age (ie, oldest woman first, then youngest woman, then oldest man, then youngest man). I'm a woman and I'm not offended at all by this. I also don't particularly notice when it's not done.

Life's too short to get worked up about something like this, I think.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:22 PM on March 25, 2009 [7 favorites]


Winston, it's not a different demographic.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 7:22 PM on March 25, 2009


"Offended"? No.

Would I think, as Bella Sebastian says, that the server was being ridiculously outmoded? Yes.

Here's what does offend me--when the server asks my male dining companion what my order will be. YES THAT WAS THE ETIQUETTE OF THE MID-NINETEENTH CENTURY. BUT IF YOU WANT A TIP IN TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY MONEY, YOU BETTER GET WITH THE CALENDAR, JASPER.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:22 PM on March 25, 2009 [27 favorites]


If I were a women, no, I would not be offended. I'd take advantage of it. Maybe if I was always the last to pick what I wanted, but otherwise, whatever.

In fact, often at restaurants I pointedly ask my girlfriend if she'd like to order first, but I never force her. I ask her before the waitstaff has a chance to single someone out. She has never shown any sign that she doesn't like it.
posted by InsanePenguin at 7:23 PM on March 25, 2009


Peanut, I'm not worked up about it at all, I was just curious.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 7:23 PM on March 25, 2009


If it is just me (a woman) and one man, I would expect to be asked first. If there is a group of people, start with whomever and go around the table. I am torn as to whether I would expect both girls to be asked first on a double date/two couple situation. I live in New Orleans, so I could be representing a more Southern view.

(I would not be offended if my husband was asked first, but I think my natural inclination is that I go first and am sort of surprised if they ask him first. But I have to say, I've never consciously though about it before now. I think that if they asked him first, it would seem like they expect him to order for me.)
posted by artychoke at 7:23 PM on March 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


nope, it doesn't offend me. it does bother me if a server assumes my boyfriend will be paying and gives him the bill.

in all honesty, he does usually pay the bill, but i like to keep the illusion of us making the same amount of money.
posted by chickadee at 7:23 PM on March 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


This absolutely doesn't offend me, and I can be sensitive to subtle sexism. I just assume that our server gets to pick who orders first in order to keep track of our orders, and this is how they choose to do it.

(Personally, I prefer to be asked first, especially in restaurants that serve family style, as I'm the foodie in the family and if it's appropriate for one person to order for the whole table, I'm your woman. But that's just me.)
posted by zinfandel at 7:23 PM on March 25, 2009


Honestly, I wouldn't give it a second thought. The chances that I would notice and deduce that was the reason why my order was taken first are very slim. I figure it's difficult enough to wait on people that anything waitstaff does is so they can do their job well & efficiently. Your method sounds perfectly fine to me & if it works for you, I say keep on keepin' on.
posted by katemcd at 7:24 PM on March 25, 2009


I should point out that I've asked my girlfriend if it bothers her. She said no.
posted by InsanePenguin at 7:24 PM on March 25, 2009


Sidhedevil, did that really happen to you? I'd get up and leave the restaurant if I was ever put in that position.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 7:24 PM on March 25, 2009


Life's too short to get worked up about something like this

You know what, peanut_mcgillicuty? I have plenty of time in my life to get worked up about minor stupid sexist nonsense like this and still find time for really important shit. Seriously, there's plenty of time to address sexism and racism and world peace and famine and disease and the Red Sox's pennant chances.

It's all about multi-tasking.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:24 PM on March 25, 2009 [15 favorites]


"Ladies first," as the saying goes.
posted by infinityjinx at 7:25 PM on March 25, 2009


Don't care either way.
posted by cachondeo45 at 7:25 PM on March 25, 2009


Certainly not - I really don't think it matters either way nowadays, provided that there isn't any rudeness.
posted by firei at 7:25 PM on March 25, 2009


If the guy was obviously trying to talk and the server was cutting him off, that would be rude. But no, in general I wouldn't be offended.
posted by piper4 at 7:26 PM on March 25, 2009


Sidhedevil, did that really happen to you? I'd get up and leave the restaurant if I was ever put in that position.

Absolutely.

There were a couple of steakhouses in New York that thought this was a charming anachronism.

It was not.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:26 PM on March 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


When I waited tables we were told to do the same thing (at an El Chico!). I once actually had a customer say something to me for NOT doing it.

As far as I know it's pretty standard, but I do agree that it's unnecessary.
posted by cmoj at 7:26 PM on March 25, 2009


They way you're doing it is the best way, I think. That being said, I'm a woman and I would not be offended if my order was taken first. I might think it was a tad archaic, but no, I would not be offended in the least. Depending on the delivery, I might think it were a bit smarmy. The majority of the time, I would presume the server's intentions were good and wouldn't worry myself with being offended.
posted by Fairchild at 7:26 PM on March 25, 2009


It doesn't bother me and I prefer it. It makes me feel special. Also, I like it when someone else pays for me.
posted by anniecat at 7:27 PM on March 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would ask the person who seems most ready to order first, if I were a server.

That is almost invariably my husband when it's just the two of us. When it's a group, it's everyone except my friend Lisa.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:27 PM on March 25, 2009


I suppose that, given the benefit of the doubt, there's a fifty-fifty chance that if a man and a woman are both about to order, the server's going to look to the woman first. Add a layer of social conditioning where it would have been the height of rudeness not to take the woman's order first, and...eh, what are you going to do?
posted by padraigin at 7:27 PM on March 25, 2009


I'm female, and it does not offend me. I usually don't even notice it's being done, and I don't care when I do notice. When I was a server, though, I would just take the order of whoever started talking first for smaller parties, and then in a set order for larger parties.
posted by Nattie at 7:31 PM on March 25, 2009


I would not be offended, but I do think it's an outdated and unnecessary practice.

Pretty much sums up how I feel. We were instructed to do this when I was a waitress at a tony country club in Greenwich, which is what it always reminds me of.
posted by jamesonandwater at 7:31 PM on March 25, 2009


i usually just asked the table if they were ready to order, and if they said yes i'd ask who was ready to start. if the men at the table wanted to order for the ladies, or wanted the ladies to go first, they would make sure this happened.

but seriously, don't immediately get mad at a server if they seem to be acting sexist . . . my guess would be that they were trained to do whatever it is they are doing that annoys you. i've worked at places that told us to give the check to the man at the table. and i do what my boss tells me.
posted by lblair at 7:31 PM on March 25, 2009


I wouldn't be offended unless a big show were made of "ladies must order first," but I do tend to consider it mildly archaic. If it were part of a pattern of treating me like a delcate flower of some sort, I would then get annoyed as hell, but that one thing wouldn't affect me either way on its own.
posted by Stacey at 7:31 PM on March 25, 2009


I went out to dinner with a guy just this weekend, and I have no idea who ordered first. I guess it's not an issue that has ever crossed my mind.
posted by jacalata at 7:32 PM on March 25, 2009


nope
posted by Nolechick11 at 7:33 PM on March 25, 2009


Another woman, not offended.
posted by Windigo at 7:35 PM on March 25, 2009


I don't believe I would even notice it to be offended. I haven't paid attention to this in the past at all, and am now trying to figure out how it usually goes. But someone who expects to be asked first would quite possibly be offended by the omission.
posted by dilettante at 7:36 PM on March 25, 2009


I don't think I would even notice if the waitstaff took my order first. However, I DO get offended when the waitstaff hands the check to my boyfriend.

Slightly OT, but related - When I went shopping for big ticket items with my ex-boyfriend in tow, quite a few of the (male) salespeople would always hover around him and completely ignore me. Let me tell you, those salespeople got themselves some serious stinkeye from me and lost their sales.
posted by keep it under cover at 7:36 PM on March 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


What is wrong with archaic traditions like this? I think it shows a little touch of class. Why does it have to be 'sexist'? Why can't it just be a cool thing to do? It isn't about neccessity, its about theatre. Why do we arrange flatware the way we do. Why does the server pull from the left? Or is it the right? Traditions are cool. Thinking they have something to do with you is not.
posted by kaizen at 7:42 PM on March 25, 2009 [8 favorites]


I'm female. I don't care if my order is taken first. I don't care if my order is taken last. I wouldn't give it a second thought. I wonder about people who take offense at such stupid things.
posted by Mael Oui at 7:43 PM on March 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Another woman. I like to be asked first but I'm not offended if I'm not. And I'm certainly not offended if I'm asked first. If I'm at a restaurant with my mother I always defer to her and ask her to go first.I think she likes that, too. If it matters, I'm 41, so perhaps it's a generational thing. And though you didn't ask,I like to have doors opened for me, too. But on the other hand, I open doors for both men and women all the time.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 7:44 PM on March 25, 2009


I actually prefer if they ask my husband first, as that gives me a few seconds in case I change my mind about what I want :)
posted by wingless_angel at 7:47 PM on March 25, 2009


Nope. I actually think it makes it easier when its just me and the Mr. (I know I get to go first, no hemming and hawing)

If its a group of people, however, I expect the server to start at one end of the table and then go in seating order, again, I'll know when I'm "up to bat" and makes some of the less decisive types focus.
posted by cestmoi15 at 7:48 PM on March 25, 2009


I wonder about people who take offense at such stupid things.

Mael, over the years, I've seen people take offense to almost everything, so I wanted to know the general consensus on this subject. I've seen people count the number of french fries on their plate and then on their companions plate and if it didn't match up, then the server be damned! I always make sure that everything is equal if two people get the same thing. Some people will get mad and take it personally if someone else has a sip more wine in their glass. I even make sure that the lemon wedges are the same size on waters just so it doesn't give someone a reason to get upset. I try to eliminate all possible reasons for anyone to feel slighted.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 7:49 PM on March 25, 2009


I tend to expect that if I'm dining with a man, the server will ask for my order first--not because I feel I'm entitled, but because that's almost always what happens. Agreeing with most of the above posters that it's an outdated custom, but doesn't offend me.
posted by tomatofruit at 7:49 PM on March 25, 2009


If you asked an expert on etiquette they would say that it was "proper" for the woman to order first. No matter who the server asks, the gentlemen should defer to the women to order first. I think the answers here are just reflect how casual or less etiquette-bound our society has become. File my answer under old tradition, not offensive to me.
posted by inkyr2 at 7:51 PM on March 25, 2009


On the contrary, people might well be offended if, while serving at an upscale restaurant, you didn't start with the oldest woman and work down, etc.

Think about it this way: in formal social settings, people need a single set of rules, known in advance, so they know what to expect and can thus be comfortable there. The ladies first convention does indeed have its origins in a more chivalrous time, but you can completely strip out that content and still have a perfectly good reason for still doing it that way, i.e. it's what everyone in those settings expects.

What constitutes a "formal social setting" at a restaurant is probably something to be played by ear. Most restaurants either are or aren't, and they know it. If this is being offered as "tip," you're probably at a reasonably-upscale yet still technically casual dining establishment trying to brush up its image.

You won't offend anyone.
posted by valkyryn at 7:51 PM on March 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


I like it, and upon reflection, I usually order first. Even if the waiter/waitress isn't specific when asking, I like to be given the opportunity by my date to go first. When we order food to share, I have him do the ordering. I might, however, get a little irritated with my date if he goes ahead first without hesitation. But I agree with asking the table in general if they're ready to order, and who'd like to start - leaving it to the guys to let the ladies go first.
posted by lizbunny at 7:53 PM on March 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


This practice is typical in my experience in any restaurant a notch above very casual, and no, I don't mind at all. (I'm female.)

Look, someone has to start. I recognize that servers often have a system of in which order they take orders (clockwise, wevs). Starting with the ladies makes the older people feel that you're being properly deferential, and gives you a consistent ordering routine. Win-win.
posted by desuetude at 7:55 PM on March 25, 2009


The only way who gets asked first would bother me is if my male companion was clearly ready to order and I was not and the server held us all up waiting for me to decide. I sort of vaguely notice that I'm often asked first, but I don't care about it either way. Don't expect it, don't resent it, mostly don't notice it. On the other hand, I rarely eat anyplace "fancy" so YMMV if you don't live in the sticks.
posted by jessamyn at 7:55 PM on March 25, 2009


I am female and I wouldn't even notice, I don't think. I usually order first no matter what group of people I'm with, because I always know exactly what I want immediately. Then the server usually just goes around the table in order, or people pipe up and order as they decide.
posted by peep at 7:56 PM on March 25, 2009


I don't care if I'm asked first or not. It does not offend me if I was asked for my order first. I figure each waiter-person has their own opaque-to-me system of memorizing what plate goes to which diner and I wouldn't want to interfere with that any more than I would want someone taking offense of how I arrange my work processes.

However, getting the menu w/o prices would indeed cheese me off.
posted by jamaro at 7:56 PM on March 25, 2009


I find it annoying, but not offensive. What really grates is when the server looks to me to order first and I'm not ready, so I suggest that someone else go...and then the server continues to look at me, waiting for me to order. I get that it's customary or whatever, but I just *said* that someone else should go first, please.

As long as we're on the subject, I'll also point out that if one person is ordering for the table (say you're at a wing joint, or a pizza place, or some other establishment in which is it common for a table of two to four people to share food) it's not appropriate to then look at the man/men of the table and ask if that order is okay with them. I just ordered it. They're sitting *right there*, and if it weren't okay, I'm sure that they would've said something. I'm totally capable of telling you that we want these four wing sauces and four pints of the house beer.
posted by MeghanC at 7:58 PM on March 25, 2009


I find it odd when a waiter asks a man first when there is a woman present, just like artychoke. But I was raised in Texas, so perhaps have similar Southern views on etiquette.
posted by grouse at 7:58 PM on March 25, 2009


I think there was a NYTimes article about this a couple months ago. The consensus among restaurant owners seemed to be that the level of potential offense to those who expect to receive this treatment but fail to get it is far, far higher than the level of potential offense to those who might find it sexist. And so they continue to do it.

(It also strikes me that you'd have to visit a tradition-following restaurant multiple times to be able to spot the pattern, and even then it would only be through inference. On the flip-side, if the 'wrong' person is asked to order first it'll be noticed right away by those expecting the old-fashioned treatment.)
posted by nobody at 7:58 PM on March 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I usually find this happening for business lunches, personally. I am inevitably the only female, and I usually get asked to order first. I don't like it much - I find it to be outdated and annoying - but I'm by no means offended. (I tend to use the opportunity to show my decisive, business side, so it's OK.)

Personally, I prefer it when the waiter/waitress will include everyone at the table when asking who is ready to order, and then starting with whoever begins talking and moving around the table from there. It doesn't even have to be verbal, just a raised eyebrow and an expectant face, and whoever is ready to start will start talking.

Short version: Not offended, but I find it outmoded and sort of annoying.
posted by gemmy at 8:00 PM on March 25, 2009


Hmm, good point nobody, I never thought about it in that light. I usually just bartend during the day so this is mostly a non issue, but I do pick up the occasional server shift. I guess I will have to think about this one a bit more.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 8:01 PM on March 25, 2009


I think theres pros and cons to doing either. It all depends on the people who are being served. The "waitstaff" really can't be expected to know what is proper or not to the customers. They are all different. I really think they ( the waitstaff) are taking a chance at whichever sex they choose. Sometimes its a big chance as to what they should be doing for those people at that table at that time. Sort of a damned if they do and damned if they don't kind of thing. What works for some ( customers) doesn't necessarily work for the next customer(s) or even the people at the next table. I'm a guy and I always hold doors open for women. I do it for men too, as I'm walking through, but I'll wait for a woman to walk past first. Isn't that a similar thing? As for taking orders, I always motion for the waitstaff to take the womens orders first and I've never had anyone say I'm rude or wrong for that. I always thought of it as just being mannerly. My wife says no too by the way. Just my 2 cents worth. Ok maybe 3 cents worth.
posted by Taurid at 8:01 PM on March 25, 2009


I generally expect it, in a decent place. I would not be offended if it did not happen, but in some teeny unimportant way I would think less of the service. Just as if the waiter leaned in from my left to pour wine.
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:04 PM on March 25, 2009


My sense of time is apparently skewed. Here's the NYTimes article on the subject, from October 7th.
posted by nobody at 8:05 PM on March 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't take offense to it. I do notice it, as most restaurants in NYC seem to do it, whether the server is female or male, young and hip or older and more traditional. I think it's a mildly archaic "ladies first" kind of thing, and it doesn't bother me. I'm usually indecisive so I just tell them to ask me last most of the time anyway.

When we were in Italy, all of the servers tried to have my husband taste the wine if he was the only male at the table, but he doesn't drink. One waiter tasted it himself when only the women at the table were drinking. Now that kind of surprised me.
posted by bedhead at 8:12 PM on March 25, 2009


As a former server, the daily sexism and sexual harassment I experienced from my coworkers, superiors, and customers made it so that I would never be able to even notice such subtle sexism. Restaurant work is hell on women, this barely makes a blip.

And as an eater, I don't care. I guess I'd be happy that restaurant sexism has come so far that this is what we worry about now.
posted by birdie birdington at 8:18 PM on March 25, 2009


I don't get offended by anything, ever.
posted by beukeboom at 8:25 PM on March 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm a bloke, and I'd feel awkward having my order taken (well, asked for) before the ladies at the table.
posted by pompomtom at 8:34 PM on March 25, 2009


I don't care either way. Actually, I though this was pretty much the norm.

(21/f/have lived in West Virginia and New York)
posted by Silly Ashles at 8:37 PM on March 25, 2009


I would not be offended, but I do think it's an outdated and unnecessary practice

Manners are not outdated and unnecessary. Politeness does not go out of style. Chivalry is not dead yet.

I would be offended as a male if they asked for my order first.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:37 PM on March 25, 2009 [10 favorites]


I don't get offended by it due to gender reasons. However, food allergies make my going to a new restaurant an anxiety-provoking event, and having a waiter wait for me and not go on to the next person doesn't help.

Often, I prefer to order last, as it gives me more time to run the menu items against the matrices of what I can and can't eat. I can also ask questions of the waiter, and have them still be fresh in their mind, and not have others be waiting for me to order.
posted by spinifex23 at 8:40 PM on March 25, 2009


Would I think, as Bella Sebastian says, that the server was being ridiculously outmoded? Yes.

This surprises me, mostly because in my experience this is the standard way orders are taken in every restaurant, always. Even a regular family dinner would see the eldest female served first.
posted by Adam_S at 8:41 PM on March 25, 2009


Nope, not offended. And I like it when my husband pays, too.
posted by HotToddy at 8:48 PM on March 25, 2009


My favorite is when they come back to the table and try to hand me my wife's credit card.
posted by Scattercat at 8:54 PM on March 25, 2009


If there's just two of us (M/F) then I haven't ever noticed a pattern. If there's a group, I expect the server to just go around the table in order, irrelevant of gender. On the occasions when I have noticed them taking my order first in a group (jumping back and forth across the table to get the ladies orders), I have thought it rather silly and outdated, but I'm not offended.

I am offended by my boyfriend or coworker being given the bill. There is a restaurant near me that gives women a menu without prices. I have never been there, precisely because that offends me (though some part of me wants to go, just to make a fuss about it, but that would be childish).

Manners are not outdated and unnecessary. Politeness does not go out of style. Chivalry is not dead yet.
Agreed, but I don't see how assuming that a woman must order first is really "polite". I hold doors open for people following me, regardless of gender. That's polite. Holding doors for women and not men isn't polite, its rude and sexist.
posted by Joh at 9:01 PM on March 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Probably wouldn't even notice, definitely wouldn't be offended either way.
posted by Quietgal at 9:17 PM on March 25, 2009


Just as if the waiter leaned in from my left to pour wine.

Where are you people coming up with all these rules?

I guess this reaction just comes from my background of never having eaten anywhere more 'fancy' than Red Lobster. (yes I am serious)
posted by ArgentCorvid at 9:18 PM on March 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm a fairly hardcore feminist and I am neither offended when this happens nor appalled when it doesn't. I only have so much outrage. Ignoring archaic chivalry leaves me a comfortable reserve of righteous fury to call upon in cases of unequal pay, sexual assault, honour killings and other serious gender douchebaggery. You know. Stuff that actually makes life really suck for women. Also, secretly, and less self-righteously, when I go out to dinner, I quite like being treated like a special princess. And I mean, me first for food?! Sweet. I won't complain about that.
posted by t0astie at 9:21 PM on March 25, 2009 [5 favorites]


Raised in New Orleans and dining in some of the fine old traditional restaurants, the waiter would address the man and ask, "What would the lady like?" My date (male) and I would have discussed the menu and I made my selection, told him (my date) what I wanted, then he would give the waiter my order first, then his. I never spoke with the waiter or staff unless it was to thank them.

Since my date ordered the wine, the waiter would pour him a small amount in his wineglass. My date would taste the wine, tell the waiter if it was okay. The waiter would then pour a full amount in my glass, then pour a full portion for my date.

Yes, it was quaint and old fashioned, but I loved it.
posted by JujuB at 9:21 PM on March 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


I've had waitstaff (in Austin) specifically say, "Well, we're going to go with the lady first!"

As a man, I enjoy getting extra time to make sure I know what I want to order. But as a person in the modern era, this is a nauseatingly sexist practice.
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:23 PM on March 25, 2009


If there was just two of us I wouldn't notice or care. There's a fifty/fifty chance anyway so it's likely to be me fairly often. But if there was a group and the server went around the table out of order picking the females only first? Totally weird. I've never seen that happen and I'd be totally flummoxed by it. I expect them to go in order so I know when it's my turn.

But then I also don't get why it's polite to ask the female first. What is it about me that makes me such a fragile snowflake that I can't bear to wait? What does it even matter who goes first, it's not like we all have to choose different things (so my choice might get used up) or the person who goes first gets a discount or, well, anything. I'm going to get my turn, I can hold it for a few seconds. My pretty little head can remember what I was going to order for the time it takes him to talk if necessary. This is why I think it's sexist. There's no reason for it, people just treat females differently because they're female and that's stupid.

And as for choosing the oldest first, that way lies dragons. If I'm out with my friends I guarentee you can't tell which is us is a good six years older than the rest and any scenario where you tried would end in offence. Maybe if I was with my Mum and going somewhere fancy, but she's pretty good at waiting her turn too so whatever.
posted by shelleycat at 9:24 PM on March 25, 2009


Not offended, but I've also never taken notice of it. I don't really care in what order my order is taken, as long as it all comes back accurately.
posted by cmgonzalez at 9:26 PM on March 25, 2009


This is totally a trick question.

There is no way to know what proportion of the population prefers it this way; and even if you did, if you adapted to always doing it one way, then you'd almost certainly still be offending a large chunk, even if that chunk is the majority.

Don't make it a point to do anything. The waitpeople I've met who are most perceptive and sensitive find a way to ask for orders without specifying who should go first. My wife likes it if I'm chivalrous (so do I) but I've dated girls who would've been annoyed at it. It's possible to walk up to the table and address the group, ask for orders, and look expectantly at them; the question of order will occur to them, and if you watch their reaction you'll see who should go first even before they tell you.

Since there's really no way to tell ahead of time what people will like, just let them decide, methinks. At least that would seem to be the tip-maximizing solution.
posted by koeselitz at 9:27 PM on March 25, 2009 [5 favorites]


even if that chunk is the minority
posted by koeselitz at 9:28 PM on March 25, 2009


Slightly irritated, especially when they are skipping over the men and coming back around to the women, as happened to me a few nights ago. It's archaic and silly - I wouldn't say it offends me exactly, but I do think it's precious, silly, and bound to create awkwardness. Speaking as both a server and a diner, the best system is to start on the server's right or left and go around the table in order. No confusion, no potential for offense.
posted by Miko at 9:29 PM on March 25, 2009


If I was an architect, and had to place two restrooms in a hallway off that restaurant, I might ask myself, Hmm, which should be the lady's and which the men's? All other things being equal, I'd put the lady's room first, because I've never heard anyone say "men first."
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:31 PM on March 25, 2009


I don't think I would even notice if the waitstaff took my order first. However, I DO get offended when the waitstaff hands the check to my boyfriend.

I found this very interesting. Is it a double standard? I can't tell.
posted by Aquaman at 9:36 PM on March 25, 2009


In reality, you should put it first because women need the restroom more often and stay in the restroom longer.

The table thing is just one of a thousand bajillion "ladies first" holdovers from a semi-imaginary courtly phase the Western countries endured between the Renaissance and the latter half of the 20th century. Egalitarianism and pragmatism when strangers are interacting is most welcome to me and rarely gives offense.
posted by Miko at 9:39 PM on March 25, 2009


I'm a girl and I wouldn't be offended if I got asked first. In fact, I can't remember if I've ever been consistently asked to order first ... in the upscale restaurants, yes I suppose, but then it's expected.

I would be annoyed if the waiter put me on the spot and refused to take the guy(s) order(s) until I ordered, but that has never happened to me.
posted by Xany at 9:39 PM on March 25, 2009


Exactly what koeselitz said, or just starting with whoever's closest to the server to avoid awkwardness as Miko said, is what I prefer to have happen. I don't find it offensive, precisely, when a server does take women's orders first, but it seems kind of pointless when what koeselitz suggested can be done and is frequently done. Half the time someone at our table is still dithering and wants to go last anyway.

I've also been in a situation where a server asked my husband what my order would be, while I wasn't at the table. We hadn't been there long, so it wasn't a case of "god, they're taking forever; I'll go over and see if she told him what she wants before she went to the bathroom so we can get this over with." We were pretty furious.

It really annoys me if the bill is always handed to the random possessor-of-male-genitalia at the table. (Partly because it indicates the person who took the credit card wasn't paying any attention when they took it...)

Come on, why do we even have to spend time thinking about gender when we're eating? Not every meal is a mating ritual. I think that's what it boils down to for me.

Absurd.
posted by wintersweet at 9:44 PM on March 25, 2009


I wouldn't be offended, but I'm one of those girls who appreciates old fashioned courtesies. However, I wouldn't REALLY care either way.
posted by I_love_the_rain at 9:45 PM on March 25, 2009


I just read a fabulous book called the Waning of the Middle Ages, and the author very vigoursly places the origins of chivalry towards women in the middle ages, 1200 to 1500.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:47 PM on March 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nope, not offended. I mean, you have to start with somebody, right? However, I give you kudos for dropping the check in the middle of the table. I hate when waiters hand it to the guy. On reflection, this makes no sense whatsoever, but it irks me just the same.

I guess you could always do that thing where you try to make eye contact with both people you are talking to. You know: (look at woman) "Hey guys" (look at man) "are you ready to order?" (look back at woman). This seems like it might work if it was in a natural, "we're just having conversation here" kindof way, but I've never waited tables, so maybe not.
posted by rakaidan at 9:47 PM on March 25, 2009


Seconding JujuB. I do the ordering, having discussed the menu selections ahead of time with my date. It is not customary in the Bay Area but at the restaurants we frequent they have got used to it; the more aware waitstaff hand me the check as well.
posted by jet_silver at 9:49 PM on March 25, 2009


I would like to get a general consensus on this, since this "tip" was posted on our employee bulletin board the other day.

MaryDellamorte, what kind of restaurant is this? I'm pretty shocked that this is just treated as a tip posted to a bulletin board, and not something mandatory and part of basic training. I've eaten at nice restaurants from coast to coast (NY, Chicago, San Francisco and many cities in between) and I cannot recall a single time that a server failed to take my wife's order first. You seem to treat this suggestion as a bizarre sexist anachronism, but I really think this is an almost universal practice of any decent restaurant. I find it really strange that anyone who works as waitstaff would treat this as a puzzling or questionable thing!
posted by jayder at 9:58 PM on March 25, 2009


Jayder, someone had printed some sort of list of "waiter offenses," I can't remember how it was worded exactly. I agreed with most of them, but there were a few that gave me pause...like the one that I brought up. The restaurant I work at is by no means upscale, but it is not a dive either. Our primary focus is an extremely extensive beer selection, with food being second. But most of the food comes from Sysco, so you do the math.

The other "offense" that made me pause was the one that said "bandages on hand." I really do not get this one. Working in the industry and with your hands, injuries happen all the time. If you get cut, you wash it and through on a bandaid. Which I think is better than showcasing an open wound or bleeding on the table. So I do not understand why it is such an offense to have a bandage on a hand. I can see the point if they said "old and dirty bandage," but it didn't. And maybe I can see the point if it's an extremely posh and upscale restaurant where people are paying out the wazoo for perfection...in which case they'd probably just send the server home with their wounds.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 10:11 PM on March 25, 2009


My wife and I both appreciate it when the waiter asks her to order first. We like it mostly just because we don't have to sit and stare at each other (or others in the group) wondering who is going to order first. It's nice to have a process so you don't really have to think about., there's just this unwritten rule that everyone can follow. That, I believe, is the reason for the existence of etiquette. Neither of us gets offended either way though.

Honestly, if this is something that offends people, I'd be shocked if they ever told you. It's such a first world problem that I would think anyone whom it offends would be embarrassed to admit it.
posted by rmtravis at 10:28 PM on March 25, 2009


Thanks for the clarification.

The other "offense" that made me pause was the one that said "bandages on hand."

Even though I understand the logic of your point with regard to bandages on the hand, seeing a server with a bandage on his/her hand would really gross me out.

I suppose the thinking is, a bandage calls the patron's attention to the fact that the server has a cut/oozing sore on the hand, and is therefore extremely disgusting, and may lead the patron to wonder what is oozing through the bandage.
posted by jayder at 10:40 PM on March 25, 2009


The bandage thing is a bit more understandable. However, being treated a certain way, order taken first, merely for being female, is being discussed as a sexist anachronism because it is a sexist anachronism.

We're equal.
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:49 PM on March 25, 2009


Interesting thread. Looking back, I (female) am nearly always asked my order first. It's never offended me and, as a former server, it seems the most pragmatic strategy. Male server asking women first: avoids any guy at the table who is itching to pick a fight feeling like "their" woman is disrespected; doesn't alienate any woman who wants/"deserves" to be a princess; is standard polite behavior ("ladies first"). Female server asking women first: avoids accusation by women at table that they're trying to pick up on "their" man; princess/politeness comments apply. (I don't necessarily mean actual fights, just feelings that can translate into less tips.)

A long-winded way to say that this practice makes perfect sense to me: it's the least likely to cut into the bottom line or cause a problem. I never had any woman actually complain that I took her order first. The servers aren't waiting tables to right the injustices of the unenlightened sexist past, they're just trying to make as much money as possible.
posted by sfkiddo at 11:05 PM on March 25, 2009


Thanks for all the answers everyone, I got a lot more than I expected. It's good to get a different perspective on things.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 11:20 PM on March 25, 2009


Female, not offended. If they try and take my husbands order first, he asks what I would like to order. In upscale restaurants, I tell him what I would like, and he orders for me. FWIW he was a waiter years ago. Also, chivalry is not dead.
posted by 6:1 at 11:27 PM on March 25, 2009


Not offended at that, no. Heck, I probably wouldn't even notice. What I AM offended by is when the wait staff picks up the check with my credit card (especially if they see me putting it in) and then sets it in front of my fiance when they bring it back. I doubt very much there are any males with my obviously female given name - CHECK before you set it down in front of the guy that the guy is paying. Or just set it in the middle of the table!
posted by strixus at 12:17 AM on March 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


I always thought it is considered polite and professional to take the woman's order first. This is how it went down in almost every restaurant I have ever been in.
posted by chillmost at 12:34 AM on March 26, 2009


From the waiter's perspective, there is a dilemma of choice. If, to solve this dilemma, one would ask "what's your name" and then take the orders alphabetically, would the person with a name in front of the alphabet get offended, or the person with the z-name?

In the case of the above question one uses tradition for solving the dilemma. Invariably: by putting the lady last, one would make a statement against tradition, which is nevertheless tied to it.

The only solution is to stop serving people. 'Folks, you need to go into the kitchen and look what's there. Ladies not first or last: the fastest wins, please.'
posted by Namlit at 12:40 AM on March 26, 2009


Well speaking as a guy, I always defer to the woman/women when ordering. That's just common politeness. Almost all places I've ever been to, from the corner pub to the nicest restaurant in town, will ask for the ladies order first, if its just a couple-few people. However, no-one I know had ever been upset, if for whatever reason, the waitstaff started at one end of a large table and worked around, regardless of gender. Thats just practical. On the other hand, my old school Mother typically will tell me her choice and remain silent, expecting me to order for her. So, I guess it varies. I have a hard time figuring out why some people would actually get worked up about that.
posted by elendil71 at 2:52 AM on March 26, 2009


Pch.

Not even.
Dude, people are dying in Darfur and doesn't even enter the equation of fazing me.
posted by watercarrier at 3:05 AM on March 26, 2009


My most common restaurant attendance of late has been in mixed groups with one or two women, and two or three men including me, from a wider social circle of about two dozen people. I honestly haven't noticed any consistency in waiter behavior, but in terms of patron behavior, the normal thing to do is shake one's head, maybe say "I'm still deciding" or "I'm not ready yet, thank you" and indicate to one's companions, while continuing to contemplate the menu. Both genders among my dining companions do that. Of us all, the one person most likely to exhaustively peruse the menu is female, and the one most likely to be ready to order before we even sit down is male (me), but that varies depending on who's familiar with the restaurant we're in.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:51 AM on March 26, 2009


(I should point out that the presence of the waiter at the table puts everyone on the clock, and it's considered impolite, in my circles, not to have come to a decision by the time the rest of the table has ordered.)
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:53 AM on March 26, 2009


At a nice restaurant, I expect that the oldest woman at the table will be asked first, followed by the rest of the women, followed by the men, but I am not offended if some other order is chosen.
posted by leahwrenn at 4:01 AM on March 26, 2009


I wouldn't be offended by it, not that I've ever noticed it happening before but I'm kind of taken aback by the people insisting that to ask the lady at the table first is good manners. I actually don't get it? How does asking the female at the table first have anything to do with manners?
posted by liquorice at 4:44 AM on March 26, 2009


Nope.
posted by Abbril at 5:15 AM on March 26, 2009


I just equate it with good manners when a waiter asks the woman first. If it's not a fancypants restaurant, I don't care. But otherwise, I almost find it a bit rude when it doesn't happen.

I'm a woman, and pretty absurdly feminist, so I actually have no clue why I feel this way.
posted by timory at 5:37 AM on March 26, 2009


I don't think it would offend Mrs. Plinth.

At a higher end restaurant, I would expect that to be the practice and I would expect it to be unnoticeable, the same way I would expect the waitstaff to appear when it's clear that we're either ready to order or need some assistance in making a decision and to take the order correctly and accurately without a pad and paper and deliver said meal without inquiring "who had the Grand Slam breakfast with sausages with capers and truffle oil?"
posted by plinth at 5:38 AM on March 26, 2009


I agree with Jessamyn--it's only truly irritating if the server goes out of her way to make sure the woman is asked first. Same thing with opening doors. I prefer that whoever reaches the door first opens for the other people and I find it truly irritating when a man insists on opening and waiting when it causes more of a inconvenience (e.g. if I get there and open it and he insists on taking the door out of my hand and making me kind of scoot around him. Get over it.)

When I was waiting tables, this practice was even more pronounced with wine opening, where there's an even more complicated protocol involving the host (whoever ordered the wine), the women and men.
posted by Pax at 6:05 AM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've never noticed it before either and had never heard of this practice. I wonder what other "obvious to everyone else with proper upbringing" manners I have missed too. I do notice the bill is always in the middle of the table unless someone intercepts it. If a server refused to take anyone else's order before mine (assuming I am the eldest female at the table) I would think the sever was rude and on a power trip. Isn't the stated purpose of manners to make everyone comfortable, and if someone makes a faux pas then gloss over it without drawing further attention?
posted by saucysault at 6:11 AM on March 26, 2009


I was taught the same thing in Waitressing 101. I'm not offended if someone goes to take my order first.

I AM offended if someone goes to take my order first and I open my mouth to give said order and someone else BUTTS IN. But then it's not the waiter's fault, it's that self-important jerk on the other side of the table.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:42 AM on March 26, 2009


Slightly OT, but related - When I went shopping for big ticket items with my ex-boyfriend in tow, quite a few of the (male) salespeople would always hover around him and completely ignore me. Let me tell you, those salespeople got themselves some serious stinkeye from me and lost their sales.

This scenario would bother me.
posted by anniecat at 6:45 AM on March 26, 2009


It's just good manners. If the waitstaff didn't start with the most senior lady present, I'd wonder if he or she had been raised by wolves.
posted by _Skull_ at 6:52 AM on March 26, 2009


Chiming in, admittedly without reading most of the responses: I personally don't care how the orders are taken, but my boyfriend would rather that the server ask me first. I kept that in mind during my own stint in foodservice, and I didn't seem to have a problem, though a lot of the time I simply asked if the table was ready to order, and someone spoke up.
posted by alynnk at 6:53 AM on March 26, 2009


I think what a lot of people are missing here is that "proper manners" includes not drawing attention to oneself or one's actions. If a couple is out, asking the woman first is default, but if she is still pondering, go ahead and ask the man, or ask the woman if she needs more time. Do not hold up or make a production out of waiting for the woman.

I often eat out with friends. Most of us tend to sit next to our (hetero) partners, and I'd find it really absurd if the waiter skipped around picking out all the women first, rather than just going around in a circle.

My fiancee often pays with her card, and it's really irritating that they hand the receipt and card back to me, when her name isn't even ambiguous, it's clearly a woman's name. At that point, the meal's over, so what're you gonna do?

If a waiter asked me "what the lady would like," I'd probably say, "to have a waiter who isn't sexist," and walk right out. Like I said, "proper manners" is the art of being polite and not drawing attention. Asking a woman to take a pass on ordering her food is just plain rude. If she wanted the man to order for her, the man would have said something to the effect of, "and she will be having..." rather than needing the waiter to prompt him. If the man does not say something to this effect, it's probably because the woman is quite capable of speaking for herself.
posted by explosion at 7:03 AM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is absolutely essential! Otherwise the biggest alpha would just grab all the food and everyone else would go hungry. No?

It's more pronounced at a dinner party. Guests are served first (in order; starting with children, then ladies, finishing with 'leading' person (male or female)), then hosts. In a restaurant it is the person who is paying who has the last say.

Eating together is a fundamental social mechanism. The very fact that people are getting so het up about the way things are done shows how important it is. Whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, there is an order to the way things happen. Food is a funny thing; it brings out very primal instincts and putting it within a structure reassures the beast within everyone.

I wouldnt have it any other way. If it offends then you are making an ass out of yourself, you may aswell rail against the order of days in the week.
posted by BadMiker at 7:06 AM on March 26, 2009


The waiter came over to our table to take our orders and then looked at me expectantly.

"I'll have the..." is all I got out.

"Ladies first," he cut me off as he finally turned towards the women. THEN WHY DID YOU LOOK AT ME, YOU DUMBASS? I was annoyed to be made look like a un-mannered fool.
posted by yeti at 7:09 AM on March 26, 2009


(This is in Toronto). I find that if I am out with a large group of people, all in the same 25-30ish age bracket, the waiter will just pick a point to start at and go around the table in order. If it is a smaller number, the custom seems to be that the waiter will come up to the table and say to no-one in particular, "Are we ready to order?" or something to that effect. If I am out with just a couple of male friends (I am also male) whoever speaks first orders first. If I am out with a woman roughly my age, romantic or otherwise (except in a business context), I invariably gesture in her direction and she will order first, unless she is not ready, in which case I will order. If I am out with someone who is going to paying for me, regardless of whether they are male and female, they will tend to look at me expectantly and wait for me to order first.
posted by modernnomad at 7:32 AM on March 26, 2009


le sigh -- "going to BE paying for me, regardless of whether they are male OR female"....
posted by modernnomad at 7:33 AM on March 26, 2009


Servers can do this all they want if they want to be made fools of. I don't get so much offended as I recognize the chance to allow you to make a fool of yourself since you're treating me and my companions different as we try to do something as unrelated to gender as having a meal. As was said, a good server will ask if you're ready and then wait for direction from the party itself as to who is going next.

Do all the dumb stuff you want - skip over me, cut me off, bring back the check to someone who didn't pay - it's just going to come back to you and/or your tip.
posted by cashman at 8:19 AM on March 26, 2009


I'm sure I've been in restaurants where the server made it a point to ask me first, but I've never noticed. I'm not sure what my server training was on the order in which we took orders, but I generally started with the person immediately to the left of where I stood (the table's "pivot point") and went clockwise, since that was the order in which we entered the orders and served food. I didn't work anywhere shmancy, though.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:23 AM on March 26, 2009


I'm a female. I usually get asked first for my order. I don't think I've ever thought twice about it in any outcome.
posted by eatdonuts at 8:33 AM on March 26, 2009


Ugh, yeah. No band-aids, please.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 8:59 AM on March 26, 2009


This happens to me so much that if I'm prepared to refer the server to my male dining companion if I know I'm not quite ready to order. I've always assumed that's what waitstaff are trained to do.
posted by runtina at 9:40 AM on March 26, 2009


Also, I think a man's opinion that this kind of treatment is not offensive is very much less relevant here, Offensiveness is hard to abstract that way. Until you've been patted on the head at work by an older colleague or treated as less capable because of your sex, it's pretty hard to say that other sex-based treatment is not offensive--hard to say you wouldn't be offended if you were a woman.
posted by Pax at 10:05 AM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sorry, that example wasn't clear--patted on the head by an older male coworker. I'm pretty certain he never did that to a male coworker.
posted by Pax at 10:07 AM on March 26, 2009


I tend to not care, or expect that my order will be taken first. In the event that a server tries to take my boyfriend's order first, he will usually look to me and tell me to go ahead.

What REALLY pisses me off is when they put the check right next to the man at the table, and I put my card in, and they return it to him to sign. I mean, seriously. I don't have a masculine name, it was retrieved from my side of the table. What more do you want? I am perfectly capable of paying the bill, thank you.
posted by Night_owl at 10:07 AM on March 26, 2009


I would expect the waitstaff to ask me first, but wouldn't be bothered in the slightest if I weren't. I go out to eat, and pay for, a special little experience, dishes I don't have to wash, food I didn't have to cook.

Agreeing with above posters who said that this really isn't something to get upset or offended about, and yes, I've dealt with sexism, plenty of it. This is not that.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 10:37 AM on March 26, 2009


Just one more thing about the history of chivalry, from the book I mentioned above. During the middle ages this ritualized chivalry was not a nicety or a mannerism, it was pretty much the single most dominant organizing principle of society. Government was so complicated by interwoven factions that it almost couldn't be conceived of, so all of the mental energy was focused at something you could put your finger on, and that was chivalry and honor.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:43 AM on March 26, 2009


[few comments removed - this is not going to be a referendum on politeness, please do not make it one. Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:22 AM on March 26, 2009


I am not offended at all by being asked for my order first. It would surprise me if it was only me and a male dining and the waiter asked for the guy's order first, although I do not suppose it would offend me.
posted by thewestinggame at 12:22 PM on March 26, 2009


I really doubt I would even notice.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 4:15 PM on March 26, 2009


Not offended. Although it chaps my wife that servers always assume we are on seperate checks because we're both women. Even after I order for her (as is her preference).
posted by CwgrlUp at 5:34 PM on March 26, 2009


Just the opposite of offended: especially, if it's a nice place, I expect the oldest woman to be asked first, then the rest of the women, and then the men. It has nothing to do with who is paying; it's just manners.
posted by natalie b at 5:48 PM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Until you've been patted on the head at work by an older colleague or treated as less capable because of your sex, it's pretty hard to say that other sex-based treatment is not offensive--hard to say you wouldn't be offended if you were a woman.

Yea, as a woman who has never been patted on the head or dismissed as incapable because of it, I think I still have an opinion.
posted by jacalata at 6:29 PM on March 26, 2009


Super late response here, but (a) as wait staff, I learned to do it because every time I tried to take the guy's order first, the majority of men would offer the first opportunity to the females, so (b) as a guest at a restaurant, I feel slightly awkward and pampered the way I do at most acts of chivalry, but certainly not offended.
posted by salvia at 7:41 PM on March 26, 2009


Yea, as a woman who has never been patted on the head or dismissed as incapable because of it, I think I still have an opinion.

Sorry, I really didn't make myself clear...I meant all women's opinions would be equally relevant, men's a little less so. My apologies.
posted by Pax at 5:01 AM on March 27, 2009


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