The Pretty Face At The Door

With gender inequality under scrutiny, the restaurant industry has been forced to take a long, uncomfortable look at itself in the mirror. The reflection hasn’t been very flattering. Despite all of this overdue introspection, though, we’ve ignored the part of a restaurant that has the worst gender imbalance: The Host Stand. Stationing attractive women as hostesses at the front door is one of the oldest and most misogynistic conventions of the modern restaurant and yet, by all accounts, its prevalence hasn’t provoked nearly the same outrage as the subjugation of female chefs in the kitchen.

Go into any of your city’s top restaurants and invariably you’ll be greeted at the door by a young, attractive woman. If a man greets you, he is likely a maitre d, who has greater responsibilities like managing the reservation book, configuring seating arrangements and overseeing guest relations; he will rarely leave the podium to shepherd guests to their tables. Of course, there are many female maitre d’s in the industry too, but you won’t see many of them flanked by male hosts in the way that gaggles of hostesses often surround male maitre d’s like Charlie’s Angels. Unlike their male counterparts, female maitre d’s will often have their authority questioned by male patrons who see a woman’s face at the door and assume she’s just a hostess.

As we delve deeper into the dysfunctions of our industry and its antiquated attitudes toward gender, it’s about time we question the standard practice of displaying hostesses as showpieces. Whereas most other positions in the restaurant are measured by competence, hostesses are hired and judged primarily by their looks. Since restaurant managers are overwhelming male, female candidates for door positions are often scrutinized like beauty pageant contestants. Restaurants like The Coffee Shop in New York City are notorious for only hiring models to work as hostesses. Of course, the visibility these women receive may open doors for their modeling careers but what about the hard-working, non-model applicants who were discriminated against?

Restaurants tend to recruit college-age women looking for part-time income. Hostess jobs pay poorly but they attract students who have classes during the day and can only work nights. Whether they admit it or not, restaurant managers (even female ones) will often hire more attractive women with less restaurant experience over less attractive women who have more. Management may also enforce strict dress codes for their hostesses like requiring they wear heels on the floor or specific-length skirts and dresses. These strict uniform guidelines rarely apply to male staff members.

Young women with limited professional experience can struggle dealing with inappropriate behavior by male supervisors or patrons. Hostesses become defenseless targets when male VIPs or investors leverage their preferred status to solicit favors or special treatment. Since hostesses are trained to be obsequious, their affability is often misconstrued as interest. Rejecting the attention of an important male client or refusing to comply with a male supervisor’s demands may threaten their job security.

In one of the most public cases of restaurant harassment, Martha Nyakim Gatkuoth—a 25 year-old Ethiopian runway model who worked as a hostess at Tavern On The Green—filed a lawsuit in 2008 alleging improprieties by management that resulted in a multi-million dollar settlement. According to the complaint, female hostesses were pressured to perform sexual acts by management and threatened with punitive action if they refused. After the Manhattan District Attorney dropped the criminal case, the E.E.O.C. intervened on behalf of over fifty workers who corroborated her story of institutionalized abuse before the case was settled out of court. It’s hard not to look back on this case as a harbinger of the #MeToo movement but also wonder why it took so long for women like Ms. Gatkuoth to have their voices heard.

As long as we continue to objectify hostesses and train them to be docile, their voices will continue to be muffled. If we want women to be featured more prominently in restaurants, then we must acknowledge the fact that their most visible role is a passive one. In the same way that management has lagged behind in hiring more women in key FOH positions, restaurants need to diversify their door staff to include more men. Changing the gender dynamic at the entrance of a restaurant sends a strong message to guests that the owners care about hiring the most qualified people, not just a pretty face.

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The Truth About Restaurant Reservations

Making a reservation at a busy restaurant can be a total clusterfuck. You have your favorite place on speed dial thirty days in advance and when you finally get through they’re already booked solid? But it’s my mother-in-law’s 65th birthday and she loves your restaurant!! You beg and plead on the phone but to no avail. Even with advance notice, why is it so difficult for the average Joe to get the reservations they want? Some reasons are obvious like supply and demand. There just aren’t enough tables to accommodate everyone. But a few hidden truths are a little more eye-opening. Here are five secrets you might not know about restaurant reservations:

Restaurants hold tables for VIP guests and regulars – Cultivating a loyal clientele is critical to any restaurant’s success. We know where our bread is buttered and will reward our prodigal customers with preferred status. This often results in blocking access to certain tables to ensure they’re available for valued guests. Restaurants also benefit from having celebrity clientele whose schedules are often too unpredictable to book ahead of time. If we don’t cater to the needs of our most important regulars, they’ll take their notoriety and loyalty somewhere else. A nifty trick: Call for same day reservations in the early afternoon since they may release those last minute holds and make them available to the public.

Private concierge services monopolize prime reservation times for their clients – You probably didn’t know but there are companies who get paid to reserve tables at exclusive restaurants. Corporate clientele will fork over top dollar for access to popular reservations without the hassle of advance planning. Whether you realize or not, every time you attempt to make a reservation at a busy restaurant you are competing with shadowy gangs of professional concierge services who are paid to beat you to the punch. These relationships are usually mutually beneficial which gives concierges priority status over random suckers.

No tables are available because of your party size – Restaurants only have a finite number of tables that can accommodate specific denominations. If you’re calling for a party of six, you may be told no because the restaurant only has a few tables in the dining room that can comfortably fit six people. For parties of four, on the other hand, they may have significantly more availability. It’s worth asking the reservationist if there are smaller or larger tables available when you’re booking and adjusting your party size accordingly.

Restaurant Reservations Can Be Soul-CrushingYou need a connection to get in – Some restaurants like Rao’s in New York City only open their doors to insiders. You either know someone who has a table there or you’re eating somewhere else. Loyalty is the best way to build these relationships. That’s how they did it back in the day at Rao’s and that’s how they do it now everywhere else. Don’t expect preferred status without earning it. Restaurant relationships are just like relationships you have with significant others. Expecting intimacy without trust leads to rejection. Take time to get to know the staff, tip them well and eventually, if you’re lucky, they’ll be ready to consummate the relationship.

Restaurants have a dossier on you in their reservation system and your record may be worse than you think – Management will never forget that time you took up a table for five hours on a busy Saturday night or when everyone in your party got shit-faced on 1942 tequila shots and someone puked in the bathroom. Most reservationists will ask your name before offering you a booking so they may access any biographical information you have on file. If you’ve dined there before and have a prior record, a restaurant may mark you as “Do Not Accommodate.” Even a spotty history of cancellations or no-shows may cause you to be blackballed. Keep your rap sheet clean, and you should have nothing to worry about.

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Why Waiting on Waiters is Annoying

There’s an unwritten code among restaurant folk, when someone from another restaurant comes to our house, we do our best to treat them like family. We refill their wine glasses without their asking, spoil them with an extra dessert or send after dinner drinks to show solidarity. Of course, there are occasions when we don’t know we’re serving an industry person, but it’s usually pretty easy to figure out because they’re annoying.

Here are ten easy ways you can spot restaurant people from a mile away:

1. They go out of their way to avoid telling you they work in a restaurant even though it’s totally obvious. – You think we can’t hear you whispering about how you have the same Chateauneuf du Pape on your restaurant’s wine list for $10 cheaper? We knew from the minute you proudly announced, “I’d love to start with an aperitif” that you were undercover. No one uses the word aperitif unless they work in a restaurant.

2. They will eventually end up finally telling you they work in a restaurant, then get upset if you don’t comp anything. – We see you scrutinizing the bill looking for freebies. You’re probably also trying to figure out how generous you should tip, but we also know you’ll spend the next two hours bitching about how you can’t believe we charged you for everything. Then you’ll rant for another two hours about how your restaurant is waaay more generous to industry people.

3. They assume that whatever they do at their restaurant you also do at your restaurant. – “You don’t have tartar sauce for the crab cakes?” they’ll ask. No, we don’t have tartar sauce. It’s really too bad that you work at a shitty pub and they serve their crab cakes with tartar, mate. Have the remoulade we gave you and shut the (bleep) up.

4. They ask too many obnoxiously detailed questions – “Do you know if the kitchen uses Maldon Salt?” You can’t be serious.

5. They pretend to know a lot about food and wine but they really only know about the food and wine where they work. – Will you please stop asking if the wine undergoes malolactic fermentation? You don’t even know what that means. It’s really great that you just learned about this in wine class but this isn’t Kendall-Jackson, just order the damn Chardonnay.

6. They always pronounce ethnic dishes on the menu with an over-the-top accent. – There’s no need for you to sound like Berlusconi every time you order a pasta dish. Simmer down, Caravaggio.

7. They name drop staff members who haven’t worked at your restaurant in years. – Tim? Who’s Tim? Yeah… sorry… there’s no one named Tim here anymore.

8. They hate people who stay late in restaurants yet when they dine out they’re always the last table. – You must’ve forgotten the tirade you went on last week when some douchebag sat there with empty cocktail glasses an hour after paying the check because that’s exactly what you’re doing right now.

9. They always order Fernet Branca. – Even though we all know it’s disgusting.

10. They pay with a credit card and tip in cash. – Restaurant people know that cash tips don’t always have to be declared which helps avoid taxes. Not to mention that most waiters’ credit cards are probably maxed out anyway.

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