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That's not mine! The wrong order – AGAIN


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Over the years, I've noticed something odd: When I'm dining out with a friend who happens to be a man, waitstaff frequently switch our orders. If the main courses consist of vegetarian lentil stew and sliced steak, the soup ends up in front of me. Black coffee and coffee with milk? I get the milky coffee. Desserts consisting of a fruit salad and a slice of chocolate cake..? Guess who gets the fruit salad? And, without exception, these are all wrong.

So, we grin, and swap. Usually, the waiter looks confused, smiles weakly, and melts away. Occasionally there's a mumbled apology, but not usually, although I think this is more due to embarrassment than lack of manners. Not a huge deal, no point in making a fuss over it. But it's happened so often, I can't help wondering what is going on.

There's no question of my being easily confused with my dining partners, since I'm short, undistinguished, and definitely female, while my dining partners are seldom ordinary looking, and unquestionably male (and most are tall). I'd guess it was simply the projection of gender cliches, but with just two people at table, that seems hard to believe. This is not a regional or temporal thing, either: it has happened over the course of a couple of decades, and on both sides of the Atlantic. Oddly, although I've experienced this in both the US and Northern Europe, it has never happened to me in Italy, where gender stereotypes flourish very openly (more so, I'd say, than in the US or Northern Europe).

I'd love to hear how often you get your dining partner's food: Does it happen a lot? what sorts of items are involved? Any idea of what on earth is going on?

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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Almost all the time when I'm at a restaurant with actual menus. And generally I'll end up with the "lighter" of the two options almost every single time. Now, I'm as flummoxed as you are as to how this happens, since I'm tall, blonde, obviously female, and pale as fresh cheese and my dining partners are generally shorter and dark and unquestionably male.

Last week is a great example - I ordered a pair of grilled spiny lobsters with drawn butter and seafood cream sauce, and he ordered a light fillet of Wahoo seared in olive oil with spices. Yeah, I was lookin' at a hunk of fish. Same at dessert - I ended up with the fruit platter and he got the chocolate cake. And I ended up with his Mimosa and he got my Scotch on the rocks!

Definitely not a temporal or locational thing for me either; it's happened in both hemispheres for more than a decade. It's worse here in Ecuador, though, where there are extreme gender stereotypes. I've been chastized in the park for smoking my ladylike little cigars, too.

Elizabeth Campbell, baking 10,000 feet up at 1° South latitude.

My eG Food Blog (2011)My eG Foodblog (2012)

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Do you think that some of it is that a waiter forgets who orders what, and then automatically assumes that the salad/steamed fish/light dish is for the woman and the hunk of red meat/deep fried lard/etc. is for the man? I'm not excusing it, I'm just saying that I think a certain amount of stereotyping may be in play here.

Of course, the best way is to have the waiter actually remember who each dish is for, especially in any kind of finer dining establishment. At casual places with wait staff who are essentially bored students, I wouldn't necessarily expect so much. Personally I'm all for the approach where the waiter comes to the table and says what each dish, leaving a pause for someone to raise a hand or otherwise indicate that the dish is for them. Ok, so they are admitting that they can't remember who each dish is for and it isn't exactly a high class experience, but at least I don't end up with the wrong thing in front of me.

Edited by Jenni (log)
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This never happens at the better places I go to, but every time I'm out at a casual place with my husband, he gets my beer and I get his coke, he gets my steak, I get his chicken. sigh...

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I can't recall this happening too often to me, but from time to time, my husband will be served my beer & I get his glass of white wine. :hmmm:

I don't want white wine with my bacon cheeseburger - gimme my beer!!

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Do you think that some of it is that a waiter forgets who orders what, and then automatically assumes that the salad/steamed fish/light dish is for the woman and the hunk of red meat/deep fried lard/etc. is for the man? I'm not excusing it, I'm just saying that I think a certain amount of stereotyping may be in play here.

. . . .

That was my first thought (it certainly makes sense), but that would still beg the question of why this hasn't ever happened in Italy, where there is certainly no shortage of gender stereotyping! I'd have to add that the waiters who've done this haven't struck me as the sorts who would accept gender stereotyping in themselves (but it's no secret that thinking something doesn't automatically make it so). I've had this happen in all categories of restaurants, incidentally, from the very modest, to the high end, and this has also happened when I've ordered fish or chicken, if my fellow diner happened to order something vegetarian.

I'm hoping some of the members who work, or have worked as waitstaff, will weigh in on this.

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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There is one restaurant in Palmdale that I rarely visit (and only if friends insist on it) because they have a way of serving that makes little sense to me.

After introducing himself or herself, our server will hand out menus ask if drinks are wanted, take those orders and disappear and a bus person will appear with water.

The server will return with the drinks and stands poised with an order pad.

Apparently he or she writes the orders as given.

Some time later, the bus person with a helper, if the party is large enough, brings one or more trays with the plates. The trays are placed on stands and the plates distributed.

Every time I have been there in the past two years, since they adopted this method of serving, I have been given the wrong plate. Not only is it not my plate, it isn't the plate of anyone at our table.

The last time I was there I was served a plate of fish. No one at our table had ordered fish.

I am allergic to iodine I can't have ocean fish.

I indicated this to the bus person and she said "But that's what you ordered." I said I had not and explained why. The two bus persons departed with empty trays and stands.

Several minutes later, the server sauntered up to the table and asked "what is the problem?"

I indicated the cooling plate in front of me and said I did not order this fish. I am allergic to ocean fish. I ordered the pork cutlets(3) - there is no way you could mistake my order as I indicated how I wanted it cooked.

The server grabbed my plate, knocking the flatware next to it onto the floor and walked away.

I insisted that the others please eat their dinners before they cooled too much.

Everyone else had just about finished eating when the server returned with a plate containing ONE small pork cutlet, one small red potato and a tablespoon of mixed vegetables.

At this point I did not feel hungry so did not eat any of it. We called for the check, I told the server that I would not pay for a child's portion that I had not consumed and asked that it be taken off the check or have the manager come to the table.

The check was adjusted, a minimum tip was left but one of the guys found the bus person and tipped him as he had been attentive, filling water glasses and bringing coffee &etc.

In the past I have had similar mix-ups at my table, not always me. On one occasion I had asked for a tonic water with lime but got something with alcohol in it. Fortunately I barely tasted it - because I am very allergic. I had a lot to say on that occasion! :laugh:

The sad thing is that I do like their food and used to go there often until they changed their server policy. The old servers were older, lots of experience and in modest clothes.

I am an elderly woman, perhaps I appear quiet but I am not one to be put upon. I speak my mind! Loud and clear! I stand up for myself and for other seniors if I see someone getting less than optimal service.

Edited by andiesenji (log)

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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ARggh andiesenji, I am infuriated for you!

I've noticed when I dine with men and we order the same thing that whichever portion is larger the guy gets it. I have a *ahem* healthy appetite. It's so annoying.

Grace Piper, host of Fearless Cooking

www.fearlesscooking.tv

My eGullet Blog: What I ate for one week Nov. 2010

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Do you think that some of it is that a waiter forgets who orders what, and then automatically assumes that the salad/steamed fish/light dish is for the woman and the hunk of red meat/deep fried lard/etc. is for the man? I'm not excusing it, I'm just saying that I think a certain amount of stereotyping may be in play here.

. . . .

That was my first thought (it certainly makes sense), but that would still beg the question of why this hasn't ever happened in Italy, where there is certainly no shortage of gender stereotyping! I'd have to add that the waiters who've done this haven't struck me as the sorts who would accept gender stereotyping in themselves (but it's no secret that thinking something doesn't automatically make it so). I've had this happen in all categories of restaurants, incidentally, from the very modest, to the high end, and this has also happened when I've ordered fish or chicken, if my fellow diner happened to order something vegetarian.

I'm hoping some of the members who work, or have worked as waitstaff, will weigh in on this.

I think stereotyping, as Jenni suggests, has got to be a big part of this, at least in restaurants with poor ordering practices, where no note is taken of seat position or busboys deliver orders. I waited tables for nearly ten years in a range of places, but my last job was in a hotel bistro here, where people ordered at the counter, and then their meals were brought ocut to them. I hated 'calling' plates, and it was often tempting to make assumptions about who ordered what, at small tables, but it usually ended up being embarrassing (to me!).

But I wonder just how well those stereotypes hold... I have a semi-regular lunch date with female friends and we often order steak, chips and beer, usually while wearing skirts and makeup.

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Ridiculous in any kind of establishment to get this wrong for a table of two. Unless the person serving the food didn't take the order and wasn't told who was having what. Anyway in that case they should ask not just assume.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I have rarely had this happen, and here in New Orleans, it would be a sign of a poorly trained waiter. Once in a while I have to serve food to a table that is not mine and if I don't who gets what, I will apologize and ask before placing a dish in front of a guest. It is my experience that I cannot assume who gets what.

Edited by Argol (log)
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I have had somewhat of the same experience, I always prefer smaller meals (steaks, spareribs and mussels being the only rare exception), but I am a rather, well let's not beat about the bush, fat man, so I always get the big heaping of food. I have however found a way to counteract this, when I see the waiter is going to give me the wrong food, I just give him a nice long intimidating stare, they usually remember after that.

"My rule of life prescribed as an absolutely sacred rite smoking cigars and also the drinking of alcohol before, after and if need be during all meals and in the intervals between them."

-Winston Churchill

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My brown-skinned, black-haired friend and I (fishbelly pale, blonde) ordered dessert - she ordered banana cream pie, I ordered chocolate cream pie. Then we swapped places at the table for some reason, so our waiter served us the wrong items (I assume he had a table 'map' and place 1 ordered X, place 2 ordered Y). Friend looked at the poor lad and said "hey! You cant go by color!".

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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The gender cliches associated with red meat/fish/vegetarian dishes/salad or 'light'/rich desserts I kind of get, although I think they're absurd, but the coffee/dairy product thing bewilders. It is also the single most common mix-up I encounter: Is milky or creamy coffee generally considered girlier than coffee without? Most of the people I know prefer their coffee with dairy, regardless of gender (although I can't think of anything more revolting... I could sooner handle salt in my coffee).

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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  • 2 weeks later...

I always prefer to order offal and any other unusual dishes that are offered. My husband, while he enjoys a bite or two of my order, will usually order some sort of seafood. As evidenced by others, the untrained/unexperienced waitstaff will switch our orders. It doesn't bother me too much...

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