Discrimination à la carte

In her book, Fight Back and Win, US lawyer Gloria Allred recounts the details of her fight against restaurants that customarily gave a menu without prices to the lady.

Already an established women's rights attorney, it was an opportunity to make her point when some clients asked her to sue a restaurant for violating California's Civil Rights legislation. The restaurant in question was well-known and of a high standard, but when a lady invited her male business partner to lunch the maître d' handed her a menu without prices and to the man one with prices, a common feature at the time of high-end restaurants throughout Europe and, in some cases, the United States. The couple walked out.

Allred recalls asking restaurant owner Virginie Ferry why such a policy was in place. She replied, “Because a woman is a woman is a woman.” My response was, “What does that mean, what does that mean, what does that mean?” It was, apparently, “the French way”. As Allred went on record as saying later, “Since when did a restaurant decide who pays the bill?”

When initially faced with a lawsuit, the restaurant refused to change its policy. That was until the campaign went national and it finally buckled under the pressure. There are still restaurants that have 'ladies' menus', and there are also restaurants exclusively for women. Until the 1800s it was not considered appropriate for a woman to eat on her own, even when they would travel independently and go shopping without a male companion.

The first ladies-only restaurant opened in New York in 1833, and in 1839 the legendary Lhardy in Madrid followed the trend. Still a Madrid landmark and allegedly maker of the best 'cocido' in Spain, it was, according to third generation manager Javier Pagola, also the first to allow women to eat on their own.

A women-only restaurant opened in the Emirates a couple of weeks ago. Known as Burger Trip, the cooks are all men, and of course they are never allowed to set foot outside the kitchen area, while the waitresses are, naturally, women.