After a dining experience at your restaurant last week, I'm boycotting it from now on.
You have a lovely restaurant in an excellent space with delicious food. There was only one thing that perturbed me: the waitstaff's insistence on outdated sexist etiquette.
We were in a group of 4 men and 4 women, coworkers, sitting alternating men and women. When passing out menus, the waitstaff handed them to the women first. When taking our orders, both for drinks and food, the waiter took all the women's orders before the men's. Not just starting with a woman and then working his way around the table, as is bad enough, but literally skipping over each man and confusing everyone. The bread was also passed out to women first. When we were finished our meal and had provided our credit cards to pay, we received them back in their billfold segregated by gender, as if our credit cards were attending a high holy day at an orthodox temple.
I don't blame your waiter for this; since the minutiae of your restaurant all seem carefully thought out I assume this treatment is an official practice. It's also not a capital crime; I was not so offended that I flipped the table over in rage. However, I believe it's problematic and I'd like to share why.
One reason is the origin of the customs. Like opening a door for a woman or pulling out a chair for a woman, these rituals were put in place because women were considered the weaker sex, incapable of taking care of themselves and in constant need of a watchful male eye. While no one is accusing your waiters of harboring these views today, their history still resonates.
Even more importantly, any time we treat men and women differently for no good reason, we emphasize our differences over our similarities. This makes it more acceptable to treat the genders differently on larger, more substantial issues. For example, if women are treated differently than men, why not pay them differently as well? No one has this train of thought consciously, but ingrained cultural habits all contribute in small ways to perpetuating our lingering culture of sexism.
But wait, you might say, these things are simply common courtesy. Sure, but they're only considered courtesy because we were raised to believe they fell into the category of courtesy. It's not intrinsically courteous to preference one group over another; in fact, the opposite is usually true. Would it be courteous to serve all the white people at the table before the black people? That makes me uncomfortable to even think about. What about the tallest people first? What about taking the orders of all brown-eyed diners and then all blue-eyed ones? Gender is as immaterial to dining as is eye color.
I raised this debate on Quora and one of the answers there said it best:
When people try to make the argument that chivalry is okay because it's based on good intentions, or because it's nice to have doors opened for you, or because (we can all agree) it doesn't matter one bit from a practical standpoint whether you order dinner first or last -- they are completely missing the point.
It is irrelevant whether the waiter intended this as a sign of respect and politeness, or whether it was weird inefficient and took an extra ten minutes to place the orders.
It matters that the waiter looked at a group of professionals, and said to the women “You are different.”
I realize your restaurant did not invent these practices - and when I encounter them elsewhere I'll let those establishments know as well - but there's no reason why you can't take the initiative in reforming them. It is 2014 and we are in New York City, one of the most progressive and welcoming and diverse places that has ever existed in all of human history. Let's act like it.