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Ladies first

Question:

Our house style (as in most fine dining) is to always serve ladies first and, if a large table, older before younger. Am I outdated? I corrected a server privately when I observed her not following this practice and she told me that in a previous job at [a well-known fine dining restaurant] that they only served by seat numbers, not by gender. She claims their philosophy was that 'ladies first' is an outdated practice and possibly even offensive to women (like assuming the man gets a check at a business lunch). What do you think? Am I outdated? I don’t think I’m going to change what we do but it got me thinking...

– Dining Room Manager, Philadelphia, PA

Answer:

I do notice, in dining out, that this custom of serving ladies first, oldest to youngest, which is certainly how I learned to serve, is less prevalent than it used to be. I attribute that decline to the practical more than the political. Many restaurants use food runners to get the food to the guest as quickly as possible. This is a great practice for getting the food out from under the heat lamps and in front of the guest, but if an operation’s POS system is not clear and convenient for indicating ladies’ seats, the runner may pick up plates in a haphazard order. In addition, many chef-driven restaurants, small plates concepts and others have done away with courses altogether, timing the food to come out at the expediter’s discretion.

Erica Hope, a Philadelphia-based server and manager says, "The custom is both beautiful and chivalrous. Women who think otherwise are more concerned with insecurity and power than their delicious plate of food and should be punished accordingly."

My advice is to maintain your standards and be unapologetic about doing things in a proper and classic style. Guests are more likely to be put off by sloppy service than a conventional approach.

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