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High Heels & Meals: Gender in Gastronomy

High Heels & Meals: Gender in Gastronomy

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Gender is now hotly debated in gastronomy. How may, should or must one speak? Who to hire? What kind of bathroom options to provide? What works? What not? A serious contribution.


Differences, inequalities, injustices: The confusion

Man, woman, neither, both, sometimes more one, sometimes more the other. It has become confusing. On the one hand, gender differences are no longer supposed to play a role. Especially not when it comes to what sociologists call the desired and scarce social goods, such as income, prestige and power. That would be unjust.

On the other hand, there are persistent struggles for the recognition of the respective gender varieties, i.e. addressing with the appropriate personal pronoun, knowledge and understanding of the sometimes rare and off-centre variants of gender. Those who are not actively interested, however, are already out of the loop when it comes to abbreviations such as CIS (biological classification and identity coincide) and others. What does that mean again?

And that is precisely the point of the whole debate: Inclusion and exclusion. Gender is not supposed to play a role - and yet many look at it, even insist on their own specialness and thus emphasise the difference. However, differences must not be followed by undesirable unequal treatment, and certainly not by unjustified wage differentials. In short: Differences: Yes! Inequalities: Hmm, complicated. Inequities: No!

In recent years, it was considered certain that discrimination also occurs unconsciously, the so-called unconscious bias. According to this, the ambitions and achievements of women are rated lower because of stereotypes, even if the leader himself is convinced of his own neutrality and objectivity and actually rejects discrimination. However, recent research finds no compelling evidence that unconscious bias actually leads to disadvantage. So here it is: inequality can be discrimination, but it does not have to be. Consequently, not everything should be blamed on gender and other personal causes should not be categorically ignored.

Sex and the Caesar Salad: The Service

Women - and men - are discriminated against: negatively and positively. While men are handed the wine list and the wine for evaluation, the meat dish too, women are given the salad and the dessert menu. But this is not meant in a bad way, it is the so-called statistical discrimination. If you don't have any other information, then the average value is the most accurate. In short: without knowing about preferences and expertise in wine, one tends to hand the cup to the man; after all, men are more often connoisseurs, collectors and - that too - drinkers.

Cheers & Change: The Tip

So it's one thing with the drinkers. With tipping, too. The more beautiful and attractive, the higher tips. At least that's true for women. Blonde, in her 30s, busty, that's a good tip.

But think again: it's the men who get more, 20% more. And they not only receive more tips, they also give more. However - as the American economics professor Matthew Parrett shows in a study - they give selfishly. When it gets expensive, with higher restaurant bills, men tend to be stingy (which is not hidden). When generosity comes cheap, with smaller bills at a cafe, men like to tip more.

Of course, the service staff play along with this social game. In service, they know: gay men, single diners, rendezvous - higher tips are given. And there are even more if the service staff introduce themselves by name, praise the guest's choice of food and drink, touch the guest discreetly, e.g. with a hand on the arm, and scribble a smiley on the bill by hand.

So guest and service play the game, and if it is to the pleasure and benefit of both sides, then there is nothing to be said against it. Differences in the tips received can be evened out anyway if the tips are first collected and then distributed among all the staff.

Steak holder: The positions

And that brings us to the next point or position. Generally, more women than men work in the food & beverage industry. However, they earn less on average. The top positions in service and kitchen are still predominantly held by men. There are no women among the 3-star chefs in Germany.

Of course, this is not because men are better at pouring or cooking. Rather, because the working hours in gastronomy cannot be reconciled with family, at least not if one - and it is primarily women - "breastfeeds" children or builds blocks. In addition, discrimination and a harsh tone are still at home in restaurant kitchens, as Madeleine Jakits, editor of "Der Feinschmecker", explains on Deutschlandfunk.

Nevertheless, beware of prejudices. For men, too, it is true that they often pay dearly for a career move with a marginal position in private life and family. The price of having a baby or not having one is only determined in the future, e.g. in the form of a lower pension, less closeness to the children, or the end of a relationship.


You have to provide for performance: The promotion

The promotion of employees purely on the basis of performance or not? In principle, it should be like this: those who are good should move up. However, it must be ensured that everyone has the framework to be good. Here, restaurateurs have to create the conditions for employees to develop their potential, regardless of their gender, whether they have children or not.

As long as firstly, the genders differ and secondly, are unequally distributed among the positions, men at the top, women at the bottom, there is a danger that gender will shape the positions in the company - and as long as gender-specific requirements will go hand in hand with the positions. Top positions are thus male-dominated, so-called female characteristics and thus women are less in demand (regardless of how they actually behave in detail).

Diversity in the corporate culture leads to more diversity in filling positions. And this also means that more excellent candidates are considered for a position. So it's not just the majority of employees who win, who have more opportunities. The restaurateurs also win because they have a larger selection of top candidates for open positions.


And how do you handle that?

Vote here and see how other restaurateurs deal with gender issues when hiring new staff.


When you hire a new staff member: What role does gender play?
None, only performance matters.
There should be equal numbers of women, men and others on the team.
For equality, favor women.
Favor men, there are fewer work-family conflicts.


Terms of conflict: The language

The debate is hot when it comes to language. There has to be a term for everything. However, terms have a side effect. They separate. As soon as women and men are mentioned several times - as is the case here - the difference between the two is emphasised. Even when with waitresses and waiters, we are referring to all of them. However, the difference is kept alive. Two terms = two groups.  For some this is already too many, for others still too few. Still, this is a first way out. Those who use gender-neutral or gender sensitive language in job advertisements receive 42% more applications. 

In personal communication or when automatically sending newsletters and confirmation emails, it goes without saying that the appropriate gender should be used or - if none is appropriate - omit it. Today, this can also be done automatically with the right reservation and newsletter systems. 

And beyond that, calmness rather than conflict is the order of the day anyway: linguistic demands are often shot down with the argument that the whole gendering thing is not important at all. But if it's not about much and you yourself don't think the terms are important, shouldn't you yourself care about the terms? Instead of insisting on the status quo, one could simply adopt the terms that are important to others.


Better with glasses: The toilets

The discussion about toilets is also heated. One toilet for each sex or one toilet for all? The only certainty is that shared toilet facilities with several cubicles and urinals are unsuitable for most - not all! - target groups. Too often there have been bad experiences, even harassment, and often enough some gender groups want to be among themselves - or at least not with certain others.

The only way to do justice to everyone is to have separately accessible individual toilets, for staff and guests alike. The only problem is for the vast majority of restaurants this would require complete renovation of the bathrooms, an unlikely and costly undertaking. However, much can be gained if you are prepared for sensitive guests and situations and respond to their situation with sensitivity and understanding, but also point out your own possibilities. Good talk is golden in this case, when a position is required instead of silence.


King Customer & Fidel Gastro: The Game of the Sexes

Gastronomy is culture, preferential treatment. But also pleasure and intoxication. Guests are pampered, eat, drink, celebrate successes, and wash down defeats. And restaurateurs are not known for their sadness. That's why they work in this field of  sensual pleasure.

The longer the evening, the more daring, casual but also annoying it can get. And again, gender comes into play.

While some appreciate it when things are more personal than formal, others confuse an affectionate service with a private flirt. And since there are significantly more women serving in the service, there are significantly more men among the guests who lay it on thick. If gentlemen in suits become insinuating - female staff members bat their eyelids to make the cash register ring. And the beautiful moment of this game, when everyone feels completely at ease. There is a fine line (which good service staff master) between the slippery slopes of impersonal service on the one hand, and the inappropriate or undesirable service on the other.


Complex of complexes: The procedure

Differences are OK, very much so, among guests and among staff, including those between the sexes. However, if unequal treatment is based on differences that are not related to performance or behaviour, e.g. less tips or less pay, then it is systematic discrimination based on gender, i.e. unfair or discriminatory, and therefore not ok.


A sense of proportion: Fair to all

However, preferential treatment of women, e.g. for equal performance or per se, is also discriminatory. Positive discrimination may be historically necessary to compensate for existing inequalities between men and women. If you discriminate positively against women, you discriminate negatively against men at the same time. Within teams, this can quickly cause discontent. Not nice. So it should always be possible to justify promotions on the basis of performance.



All needs cannot be met everywhere and at all times. So if you can't offer enough toilets for all different genders, you are not necessarily discriminating against one gender. There is simply a lack of possibilities. That is why respectful treatment is important in any case. Because in this way inequalities are more likely to be accepted and understood, and no longer perceived as injustices.


The human being is not a category

Moreover. The more confusing and less clear the differences between genders are, the less statistical discrimination works. In other words: Just because it's a man doesn't mean he gets the meat dish by a long shot. The solution is simple. When ordering or serving, simply ask. Personal service, anyway, is what pleases the guests - everyone should feel comfortable.


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