Two lesbians eating out (in restaurants) – how to get good service.
March 5, 2012 9:52 AM   Subscribe

What are some ways my partner and I (two women) can signal to restaurant staff that we are on a date and hope to receive service similar to straight couples?

My partner and I enjoy dining out quite a bit. We tend to eat at restaurants in the middle to high price range. We always make reservations, often order expensive items on the menu, and always tip at least 20%. We eat out a lot, so are pretty well versed in fine dining etiquette. However, I often feel like restaurant staff treat us differently when they encounter two women rather than the male-female pair they typically serve. For example, even though we have a reservation I feel like often we are given a bad table (like one near the kitchen door) and they reserve the better tables for [straight] couples looking for a romantic evening. Recently we went out for Valentines Day and were not told of the 3 course special for two, and only learned of it when our waitress mentioned it to the straight couple who came in after us. Finally, we are often not given a wine list unless we ask, because perhaps the waitstaff find it odd that two women would split a bottle of wine.

We currently live in the Midwest but have noticed similar treatment on both coasts as well.

So how do we signal to waitstaff that we want them to pull out all the stops – we want to hear the best and most expensive specials, we want a good bottle of wine, a secluded table, and that we will order and tip accordingly? I have the utmost respect for people who make their living in the food service industry, and I do not think the treatment we received was malicious in the slightest. I would simply like a subtle way of signaling our intentions at the beginning of the meal.
posted by tr0ubley to Food & Drink (24 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You mention it when you're making the reservation. No need to address the same-sex aspect of it at all, just explain that you are bringing a special someone out to dinner and want to make it a memorable evening. That would also be a good time to ask if they have any specials for such an occasion.
posted by hermitosis at 9:56 AM on March 5, 2012 [13 favorites]

Perhaps some subtle PDA would work? For example, maybe you could hold hands when you come into the restaurant? Assuming it's not malicious and just an oversight, a observant host/hostess would pick up on that.
posted by Betelgeuse at 9:56 AM on March 5, 2012 [8 favorites]

If you make reservations on OpenTable (and probably other online services), there is an area for special requests - this would be a good place to put 'Romantic table, please!' or 'Celebrating my partner's birthday,' 'It's our anniversary!' etc etc.
posted by troika at 9:57 AM on March 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm a straight (now-married) man. Prior to that, I dated quite a bit. On dinner dates, I often received "bad tables", or poor service regarding wine or meals.

Restaurants want your money, not your romantic success. If you want something (a different table, a wine list, whatever), ask for it. I suspect it's a service issue, not a date issue.
posted by ellF at 9:57 AM on March 5, 2012 [49 favorites]

Best answer: So as a bisexual lady who used to date both women and men, and a business lady who used to take both male and female clients out for meals on the regular, I am going to challenge your fundamental assumption that restaurants automatically treat opposite-gender couples who are on dates somehow "better" than any other group of people. That just hasn't been my experience.

Now, what I do think is that restaurants tend to treat parties made up only of women--regardless of whether it's a date or a business meeting or sisters or whatever--somewhat worse than mixed-gender parties or parties of only men. This is because sexism, and also because women have a reputation for being poor tippers, probably because sexism. If you don't like the table you're given, ask for another one. That's what men do. Yes, it sucks that women are expected to settle for whatever and smile, but why should restaurants be impervious to the general cultural garbage?

And I do think that calling ahead and telling the restaurant that it's a romantic evening and you want all the bells and whistles is probably good advice for everybody of every gender with partners of every gender.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:03 AM on March 5, 2012 [40 favorites]

When you make the reservation, do you explicitely mention that this is for a special meal? I find (as part of a straight couple), that explicitely mentioning the event at the time of reservation gets an elevated level of service than if I wait till the day of. It sucks that you have to make a special effort every time you want to go out (to specifically mention that you are reserving for a romantic evening) but I think it will make a big difference.

If you already do this and it doesn't make a difference, then the next step depends on your level of comfort and safety at a particular establishment. One idea is to explicitely tell the maitre-d' when you arrive that you are on a date and tip him/her in advance.
posted by muddgirl at 10:04 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Probably the best thing to do is ask for what you want, and possibly drop the phrase, "My wife/girlfriend and I" into one request per restaurant. For example, "My girlfriend and I would like a table by the window." "My girlfriend and I would like to see the wine list." "My girlfriend and I would like to know if you have any Valentine's Day specials."
posted by orange swan at 10:04 AM on March 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

I understand that it might not immediately occur to staff that you are a couple. And that's just a heteronormative oversight that is pretty unfortunate. Now, I am a waiter, and I never give couples of any kind an advantage over any other table. But if you want people to notice you are a couple, a little PDA is fine. Holding hands, PG kisses, etc. Asking for a booth so you can sit next to each other is also a pretty clear signal. But I wouldn't expect special treatment just because you are a pair. So yeah, nthing to just ask for what you want--specials, shared bottle of wine, romantic table, etc.
posted by greta simone at 10:07 AM on March 5, 2012

Personally? I'd really accept that in my region/market you're not getting the treatment that you should, and resolve to do a little educating as part of getting what you want. Ask for the specials, ask for the menu. And if you're offered a table that you don't want, ask for a different one. It's frustrating, I know personally. And if you feel like you're having a consistent problem, contact the restaurant afterward.

There's no reason that two straight women should always get the crappy table and no wine list either, now that I think about it.
posted by Frowner at 10:08 AM on March 5, 2012 [8 favorites]

Personally, I think a restaurant should offer excellent service regardless of the diners or the occasion. Restaurants should be giving you a wine list because wine makes up a huge amount of profit for many restaurants. If your table sucks and there's a better one of equal size available, request it. As ellF says, if you're not getting something, ask for it.

Calling ahead and telling them it's a special date is an interesting approach that's probably worth experimenting with. On the other hand, I can easily see it backfiring in some places if it turns your date into the local curiosity for the evening. Just saying its a "special occasion" is likely harmless, but I doubt it will result in much improved service either.
posted by zachlipton at 10:12 AM on March 5, 2012

There's no reason that two straight women should always get the crappy table and no wine list either, now that I think about it.

Yes. I don't think it's that they don't know you're on a date--it's that you're both women. When I took male clients out for dinner, I got better treatment than when I took girlfriends out on a date, because one of us was a man.

I'm not sure if making it clear you're on a date would improve how the average restaurant treated you, because I think the engine that's making your experience less-than is sexism, not homophobia.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:17 AM on March 5, 2012 [6 favorites]

I agree a bunch of the above posters in the sense that I've gone out with everyone from my grandma to my business partner for dinner and received a high level of service despite the fact that the occasion was clearly not romantic. While I am not discounting the fact that maybe you have not received special treatment, I'd also go so far as to say you might have received the same treatment even if you were in a straight-couple sort of arrangement.

Better to just ask for what you want vs. trying to drop hints. You might get more than you ever expected.
posted by thorny at 10:18 AM on March 5, 2012

You need to eat at different places (better places) if you aren't being treated as well as the other restauranteurs; no need to give your hard earned money to a business that doesn't respect you or your partner.
posted by karathrace at 10:18 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

While I have not had your experience (being straight) I second Sidhedevil's observations and tips. Recently I escorted the female CEO of big local company out for dinner (for her birthday, brought a gift) and noticed the disrepancy.

I would also include in the signalling a subtler shift in your attitude on arrival, that of expecting the best treatment and table, rather than being more modest or humble. In better restaurants, staff are trained to notice who is 'ordering' and will respond accordingly, regardless of location as I noticed recently that I received the bill even though it was a significantly 'imbalanced' situation on the first perception/visual level (third world country, guest was the European male). Attitude and carriage (the Europeans call it "countenance") also matters a lot in getting the best service.
posted by infini at 10:23 AM on March 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm a little baffled by your experience. I am a woman; I went out with a woman on Valentine's Day for dinner and we received the exact same special menus, wine offers etc as the two-gender couple next to us. I more or less assumed the waitstaff assumed we were a couple; certainly we were treated like one. If everyone in the restaurant isn't getting the same menus / offers, then everyone in the restaurant isn't getting the same service, and you should actually have complained on that Valentine's evening. I would have.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:25 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Worked in restaurants for a number of years, and waited tables at nicer spots for most of that time.

I agree with many of the points raised. Restaurants, and servers especially, will do just about anything you ask that is in their power to provide. I don't necessarily think it is unfair that you should have to ask. Generally, I have not seen restaurants or staff make assumptions or make a special effort based on observed differences between one table and another. Usually, it's just logistics. So, don't be afraid to ask for what you want.

Seems like you have seen/experienced different levels of treatment, and that's a shame. But, I feel confident saying that wait staff don't act on assumptions about you or what you are going to order (we make assumptions, but won't deliberately kill our per person average on those assumptions). I always pushed the wine or special drinks (admittedly, I would ask first, but if women at a table weren't sure what they wanted I pushed sweeter wines and cocktails), I always pushed the expensive specials or expensive items on the menu, I always pushed appetizers, deserts... (all of this unless someone at the table indicated to me that they were looking to cut back in some area - cost, calories, whatever, then I matched the right item with the tables expressed interests). And, I always tried to show my table a good time. Even if you are a bad tipper (and I have no idea), you'll be tipping on the biggest ticket you and I can negotiate based on your interests, and I will have tried to make you smile, laugh, enjoy yourself. I feel like all servers at mid to high-price places do this. Otherwise, you got a bad waiter/waitress or you could try a better restaurant.

I will say that, absent any evidence to the contrary (PDA or advanced notice), I would simply treat a table of women as if they were enjoying a ladies night out - a fun, possibly indulgent affair that should be matched with good food and a little social lubricant. Natural biases and common assumptions can't be helped (e.g., I would usually assume everyone at the table is heterosexual but never make assumptions based on that, if that makes sense... I would not ask, where are the men tonight?, unless I had other evidence to go on). So, in short - ask and/or clearly signal. If you want to be more discreet, at least signal that you are out to have a good time: "How are you ladies doing tonight?" "Fantastic, we are out to have a good time." OR "Great, we are celebrating tonight!" "Anything special?" "Nope, we don't need an excuse to drink and have good food!" OR "Just fine, we're hoping to have a quiet night with good wine and a better view - are you the guy/gal that can help us?"
posted by IndpMed at 10:33 AM on March 5, 2012

Best answer: As a lesbian couple who have lived in the Midwest and the Mid-Atlantic, I have to say that my SO and I have definitely had similar experiences. Especially on Valentine's Day - when couples want romantic tables and there always seems to be a section reserved for single straight women who are out to bitch about their lack of significant others. When visiting the same pricey restaurant we have gotten excellent service and been treated as a couple when mentioning "this is a special romantic occasion for us," but when we forget we're treated as straight friends/sisters/whatever. We've never been treated poorly, which may be what's confusing to some of the other posters - there's just a different feeling when wait staff knows that you're a couple. These are professionals who are trying to treat their customers in the way in which they think the customers want to be treated - they certainly will act differently in different situations in order to get the best customer response.

In the Midwest we became somewhat known at even our quasi-regular spots, and were automatically given romantic tables. If we got a new server, usually someone who had waited on us before would introduce us. We'd often get a free drink, appetizer, or some other nod from owners/chefs/bartenders, etc. In the Mid-Atlantic we are less of a novelty and therefore less-often remembered, but still need to mention we're in for a romantic evening if we wished to be treated as a couple.
posted by lodie6 at 10:42 AM on March 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

But, I feel confident saying that wait staff don't act on assumptions about you or what you are going to order

I am not a waiter, but I a friends with waiters, and in my experience this isn't true. Waiters turn 'natural assumptions' about customers into overt assumptions about what they are going to order all the time. For younger, straight couples like my husband and I, it's interesting to watch the correlation between how we're dressed and whether or not we're offered the wine list, or whether the waiter first mentions iced tea or cocktails when we seem hesitant about what we want to drink.

It sounds likely that the OP is being discriminated against based on gender rather than orientation, but IMO that's not any better or more forgivable.
posted by muddgirl at 10:44 AM on March 5, 2012

You don't say how old you are, but I know being/looking young in many restaurants means they think that you are going to be cheap or a poor tipper, and that you probably won't know that they are giving you a bad table. If you are (or look) young, this might be the culprit.
posted by radioamy at 11:04 AM on March 5, 2012

Nthing the tasteful PDA. In Madison, Wisconsin, the missus & I had a running joke about restaurants' propensity to seat the lesbian couple at a nice table by the front window.
posted by feral_goldfish at 11:10 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Weirdly, I don't think I've ever noticed couples being treated appreciably better at restaurants, so there's a data point for whatever it's worth.

I don't eat out at ultra-high-end places all that often, so there's also that. The story's also a bit different if you happen to know your server, be friends with the owner, or are just a regular at the restaurant; these things do usually have a perceptible effect on the quality of service that you receive.

Also, places generally don't love it if you're going to be spending lots of time at your table. Time is money, and some dates can be quite long.

Actually, now that I think about it, I did receive absolutely fantastic service at a pretty nice restaurant during a date last year. The server accidentally screwed up while putting in our order, and ordered both of us the same entree. While I was perfectly content to wait for the correct entree (shit happens, the service was already fast and friendly, and I didn't mind having a bit more time to spend with my [same-gender] date), the waiter profusely apologized, the manager immediately brought us a free appetizer, wine, offered free dessert, and had fresh entrees for both of us out in about 5 minutes. Maybe we received special service because we were on a date, but at the time, I'd chalked it up to good management.
posted by schmod at 12:05 PM on March 5, 2012

Oh totally. You have to cultivate a kindly imperiousness. (An attitude that, of course, ALWAYS includes being incredibly nice and friendly to people who work at restaurants.) I do not have this, but my partner does, and it works miracles. It involves explaining what you want, being willing to reject tables, etc. (This requires practice for some women, who are not necessarily trained to be like "No, I'd rather sit THERE.")

As two dudes going out, at least at places that don't know us, we often get the "do you want to sit at the bar?" thing. Like we're waiting for our dates or something? (But, hello, we're dressed so much better than straight people!) Like, no, actually, we want a great table?

Anyway, we've learned to be verrrrry specific. (And we are also great patrons, etc., of course.)

A cautionary note on the PDA: I didn't even notice that this happened, much less that I did it, but recently at dinner at a very schmancy restaurant, I apparently kissed him on the cheek very briefly, and the ladies out for an evening together all around us basically freaked out ("DID YOU SEE THAT? HE KISSED HIM!" in stage whispers etc.). So, you know. Not errrybody in your restaurant, both patrons but also presumably staff, want the gays of any gender macking on each other, apparently not even the slightest amount.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 12:25 PM on March 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

Thanks for asking this question - sometimes I feel like I'm the only one to whom this happens. When I'm alone (female) and dressed casually, 6-7 times out of 10 I can count on someone trying to give me a seat as close to the kitchen as possible, or whatever the least-desirable seat in the house is. When I went out with my 84-year-old mother recently on a very cold night, the hostess tried to put us in the corner of the room adjacent to a glass door. That ticked me off, but I politely asked for another seat and got it.

I've learned to request the seat of my choice; most of the places I go are pretty informal (no reservations) and I have yet to meet with any real resistance. It's irksome but at least I know I'm not stuck with the crap seat if I ask for another one.
posted by Currer Belfry at 2:41 PM on March 5, 2012

I'm in a straight relationship, so I can't speak to that part of the equation, but generally I find that asking for what I want with a big smile is a great way to correct someone who did not offer something they should have. When they ask you about drinks, say you'd love to see the wine list, thank you so much. Then when it's time to order ask about the specials. If it's Valentine's day, say, "Oh, we'd love to hear about your Valentine's Day specials, if you have any."

Basically, when you have two people of the same gender dining together, waitstaff runs into a problem where if they assume they are a couple and are wrong, they risk offending someone (because the kind of people who get offended about this sort of mistake tend to do so angrily). Whereas if they treat the couple like two single adults, you know at least that the service will be adequate and respectful and social minefields avoided. Sometimes, in some parts of the country, the threat of the social minefield overwhelms the hospitality. Which is sad. It's defensive waitering. But these folks live off their tips, so they kind of have to be careful. It's a tough situation to be in.

But if you, the patron, give them permission to treat you like a couple, I think it will go over just fine. A few cues at the beginning and everyone will know what page you're on.
posted by elizeh at 8:32 PM on March 5, 2012

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