Restaurants are part of the fabric of daily life, and, as such, the best and worst parts of our society are woven into them. Considering that, it should be no surprise that female restaurant critics encounter their (un)fair share of sexism while on the job, but some of their firsthand accounts still manage to boggle the mind.
Salon published an interesting piece by Cara Strickland this week called “‘No one suspected me’: Women food critics dish on dining out for a living.” In it, various food writers detail the most egregious instances of inequality between how male and female critics have been treated by the restaurants they review. Not only is the convention of the “women’s menu” (with no listed prices) alive and well, but the critics’ male dining companions are often handed the bill automatically—and there was, on at least one occasion, an entirely separate and superior wine list offered to men but not to female food writer Besha Rodell.
“This phenomenon might be hard to discern at first,” explains Strickland. “It may appear that whatever just transpired is just how things are done at this particular establishment. How would you know? What do you compare your treatment to?” And that’s exactly the point. When a restaurant is up for review, it’s typically a newly opened business, and critics only have their own experience to go on. If they’re short-changed on the entire meal from the start, they have to write a review based on the experience they were offered—and then everyone loses. It’s not that restaurants actively consider female critics somehow less than their male counterparts; it’s that hosts and servers and chefs naturally assume “distinguished-looking” men are critics, while failing to consider that the women at the table might be.
Smaller portion sizes, sexual remarks, disregard for low ratings unless a man is publishing them—these women have experienced it all. The Salon article is a compelling read from top to bottom, and we encourage anyone who eats food to check it out.