Is Wine Service Sexist?

A few nights ago my family and I enjoyed dinner at a popular San Francisco restaurant. The ambience, food, and service were impeccable. Or so we thought.

With our entrees my wife and I ordered a half bottle of 2009 Clos du Caillou Chateauneuf-du-Pape Les Safres. When the sommelier brought the bottle he presented the label to me for examination. He chatted with me while he opened the bottle. He poured a splash in my glass for me to taste and approve. When this familiar ritual was finished and he had left the scene, my daughter, now in college and very much in tune with the political and social ramifications of sexism, asked if I thought wine service in restaurants was sexist. Why didn’t mom get to taste the wine, too? Were the actions of the sommelier just then an indication of sexism at work in the public dining room? I thought for a moment and said, “Possibly, but if so, I think completely unintentional, totally unconscious.”

Over the past few days I’ve given this question quite a bit of thought. I don’t think the man pouring our wine earlier in the week was a chauvinist, but how could I really know? So what if his deference to me was unintentional, or, worse, unconscious. Maybe he was trained to present and serve wine to the man at the table first. I do know that on only the rarest of occasions has a bottle arrived at our table and the waiter or steward poured a taste in both my and my wife’s glasses. Now, granted, I do most of the wine ordering and so reflexively attending to me first is not without cause. But shouldn’t the other adult at the table also be asked?  What no waiter knows, except those at the local eateries we frequent, is that my wife makes the lion’s share of our income, that it is her paycheck that pays for our dinner. The wine, in a purely technical sense, is hers. Of course, we can’t expect restaurant staffers to know that. But, given today’s social realities, should the man-as-breadwinner cliché still be in play? Should such an assumption be a given?

According to Freda Mooncotch, who blogs on wine at The Wine Wench (www.winewench.com), as of 2005, citing data from the New York Times, “women purchased 77% and consumed 60% of wine in the United States,” and, in 2009, “the Wine Market Council reported that Women account for 64% of wine consumers in the United States. Additionally, WineSpectator.com published their 2009 survey results and discovered some interesting things:

–Women drink 60 percent of the wine consumed in the U.S.

–93 percent of respondents drink wine at least once a week. (Given that the survey was of Wine Spectator readers, this is not an accurate reflection of the public at large.)

–80 percent drink most of their wine with meals.

–79 percent prefer red over white, rosé or bubbles

–66 percent spend an average of $11 to $20 per bottle.”

Given the preponderance of the evidence that women buy and drink boatloads more wine, literally, than men, why are they so easily and so often ignored if they happen to be dining with a man? My wife and I have decided that from now on, when dining out, we will discuss our wine selections as we have always done, but she will place all wine orders. We’re going to keep a running tally of how many times wait staffs defer to me despite her having taken the lead at the table. I really hope we’re wrong about wine service being sexist. I have a suspicion we’re going to be disappointed.

I would love to hear from readers who have experienced possibly sexist treatment when ordering wine in a restaurant. And, for women dining without a man at the table, have you ever been condescended to or treated with anything but the most respectful service? I’d like to hear about that, too. There is no excuse, in this day and age, for women to be taking a back seat to men. Especially when it comes to something so essential as wine.

9 thoughts on “Is Wine Service Sexist?

  1. Anonymous

    I had an unbelievable experience, albeit about 15 years ago, and, in fact, in the Bay Area. I was working a women’s basketball game at Stanford. Our whole production crew were women. My husband happened to be doing a 49ers game and came and joined us for our production meeting/slash dinner at a local restaurant. The female producer was clearly in charge of the table, running a meeting with all the other female professionals throughout dinner. My husband, believe it or not, barely said a word. And at the end of the dinner, you guessed it, the waiter brought him the check. Still in shock over that one! Will be interested to hear the results of your research. And thanks for raising such smart, confident daughters! (I wouldn’t have imagined anything less:)

  2. schmitztc

    As the only wine drinker of our married duo, i do all the ordering and drinking of the wine. My husband enjoys the process of choosing and likes to discuss my decision, etc, but he is definitely not part of the ordering. He makes that very clear with body language and verbal reminders when necessary. But, alas, there is still many a waiter who will continue to defer to him throughout the process. Wine service sexism is alive and well in PA!
    Caryl

  3. Alana Gentry

    I had an amusing experience recently. My adopted son brought a nice bottle of wine to celebrate his birthday at the high end restaurant where he works. The young but ostensibly trained waiter asked him if he wanted to taste the wine, my son was non-commital for some reason, so the waiter turned to his right (I was on the his left) and without asking set the glass in front of a male guest who we all knew wouldn’t know if a bottle was corked or not. I sat there and watched as no one at the table said anything at all. It turned the purpose into a silly ritual with no meaning. If the bottle was corked and my son or myself had said something secondarily, it would have been embarrassing to all involved. But what can you do? Sexism in wine service definitely still exists. My husband and I always tell the waiter, that I’ll taste the wine.

  4. gnevs

    Interesting topic. Waiters typically offer Mike the taste but he almost always orders the bottle. At Chick’s Weekend, I think that the person who orders usually gets offered the taste but my recollection could be fuzzy from the pre-dinner wine. I will say that when dining with women only I have never felt dismissed and have never had to wait for a wine list. Mike and I will also keep a record of what happens now when I order and will report back.

  5. kpohagan01

    My experience lately has been that the steward will either 1) approach with the bottle and look expectantly at the couple to see who will take ownership or 2) if at a table with a large group, attend to the person who ordered the wine–and in one case with a group of ~14, utilized 2 different folks-the one who ordered the white and the one who ordered the red. I’m more sensitive to how they drop off the check, especially in a business setting in mixed company, as often times, I’m paying. What I do not wish to see is the check obviously presented to a male if I am the only female at the table. Often I make it easy on the waiter by asking for the check proactively.

  6. Wine Everyday

    Being a woman & a wine lover, I have sooo much experience in this…..

    1st, let’s address last night. You said ‘my wife & I ordered a bottle….’ Who actually did the ordering? If you were the one conversing with the waiter, then you should have been presented the bottle & offered the 1st taste. If the waiter was present when both you & your wife were coming to an agreement on a bottle, then the waiter should have either a) asked ‘who would like to taste’ or b) offered you both a taste. To offer EVERY adult at the table a taste is a waste of time. Only those ordering should get a taste. Lest we forget what that 1st taste is about… to see if the bottle is good, not if we LIKE the wine… that’s another post.

    I do 99.9% of the wine ordering when we dine out. I hold the wine list way to tight to let anyone even get a peek at it. More times than many, when the bottle arrives at the table, the waiter will 1st look at my husband as if to ‘ask PERMISSION from him’ to present the bottle to me. My husband, knowing all this has ENRAGED me, now has a standard reply: ‘I did not order the wine’. So, then the waiter will turn to me, and the ceremony will now begin. The waiters tip has now been decreased by a significant amount…..

    Your next question: When women dine out without men at the table… There have been times when we weren’t even OFFERED a wine list. Then after requesting it, it doesn’t arrive quickly enough. Maybe they figure we were just playing around….? Clearly the message here is that a bunch of women aren’t either a) sophisticated enough to read a wine list or b) they don’t have enough money to buy one. I’m not sure exactly, but either way when this happens we never go back to the restaurant.

    All this being said, there are a few restaurants in Annapolis where my husband & I frequent, where this insulting behavior doesn’t happen. Maybe because they know us, but I’d like to think because they are more progressive with women and wine.

    Cheers Tom!

    1. Tom Riley

      Eileen,
      You’re right about offering all a taste. It is wasteful. So, sloppy rhetoric on my part. But, all your other points are spot-on, and I’m sorry but not surprised that you have experienced these things. Much appreciation for your quick and thoughtful comments. Also, good idea on like v. viability of the wine presented. Too often the customer is deemed lacking in the acumen necessary to determine if the wine is correct or flawed. That makes me nuts to get second-guessed. Too often the staff speaks to folks at the table, without any knowledge of who’s at the table, as if this was your first time ordering wine. In NorCal, this is a major mistake as folks from all corners of the wine trade are everywhere!

      Thanks again!

  7. Kylene

    It’s funny that you address this topic! Last night at dinner with my in laws, my brother in law and I ordered a bottle of sangiovese and were both presented the bottle and offered a taste. That had never happened to me, but it was appreciated! Usually, the husband is the sole voice of approval, in my experience.

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