Restaurants, Stop With ‘Sir’ and ‘Ma’am’, I’m Begging You

Good hospitality doesn't need to be gendered. Let's find some new ways to welcome people.

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I’ve served as a host at several different restaurants, and in every position, scripted greetings were a part of the job. Sometimes in my sleep I still recite the phrase “we’ll shoot you a text when your table is ready, and in the meantime feel free to get the party started at the bar!” And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with providing employees with some suggested wording to make sure guests get all the info they need, where many restaurants go wrong is in adding—even requiring—gendered language.

It’s not just the formality of “sir” and “ma’am,” either. It’s the “right this way, ladies!” or even “what can I get started for you guys?” that need to be reconsidered, too. These are easy fixes, and ones that can make all diners feel more at ease.

How to make diners of all genders feel welcome

The New York Times reports on efforts being made at restaurants across the country to make all folks feel welcome, from implementing gender-awareness training to offering free meals to trans people of color. And the easiest, but sometimes most important step is to make guests and workers alike feel safe from being misgendered.

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This can start with the employees, making it common practice for workers at every level to share their pronouns. In some instances, adding pronoun pins to uniforms or noting them on name tags if applicable will telegraph to customers that this is a place where they can be open about their gender and expect respect for doing so.

While not every diner who comes in may feel comfortable sharing their pronouns, in the same way you wouldn’t necessarily share your name or other personal details when just trying to grab a bite to eat, there are still optional ways in which people who are comfortable can share. When setting a dinner reservation online, for example, restaurants can add a line for sharing pronouns so the host and servers can have it at the ready.

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Non-gendered phrases for restaurant workers

In every facet of life, there’s no real reason to ever comment on a person’s gender, and the restaurant industry is no exception. There are plenty of inclusive phrases to keep in your back pocket so you don’t become inadvertently inhospitable.

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You can never go wrong with a simple “hello and welcome!” or a friendly “see y’all next time!” Should you feel so inclined to include an identifier, “folks” is tried and true for a group. If you’re, for example, taking an order and want a specific person’s answer, a kind but direct gesture with a little “and for you?” should do the trick.

If you want to get jazzy, you can always play around with a “howdy, partners!” here and a “dig in, party people!” there. Don’t be afraid to add your own spin—there are plenty of ways to do so without offense. Misgendering your coworkers or guests is among the most inhospitable things you can do, so making easy swaps like this is well worth it.

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