Are 'female friendly' restaurants sexist?

Four women sit around a restaurant's dinner table. Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Do women really want to go to "their sugar daddy's steakhouse"?

Restaurants, it seems, have figured out that women eat food.

At least that's one explanation for the proliferation of "female-friendly" restaurants such as the steakhouse chains STK and SHe, and the Washington DC area sports bar the Bracket Room.

Unfortunately, writes the Week's Kaitlin Roberts, most of these restaurants miss the mark.

SHe, for instance, features "smaller, 'she-sized' steak portions, mirrors on the dessert menus so women could reapply their lipstick and 'sexy' decor".

And then there's the catwalk, she notes, "where women in scanty clothing perform for the restaurant's female and male guests".

STK ran an ad campaign with fashion models frolicking and sipping champagne with the tagline "Not your daddy's steakhouse. The Bracket Room features waitresses in tight-fitting black tank tops.

You know, what women look for in their dining experience.

"It's one thing to distance steakhouses and sports bars from the realm of old boys clubs and guys' nights out," writes the Washington City Paper's Jessica Sidman. "But small plates and sexy decor? If this is what these restaurants believe women want, their target audience should be insulted. In their attempts to appeal to women, restaurants like STK end up condescending to them."

She continues:

In the context of a female-oriented restaurant, the small portions and healthy foods peddle the notion that women don't want to eat a lot, and that they don't enjoy nachos or New York strips. The idea that a steakhouse is somehow a "man's" restaurant is already backward, but the suggestion that women want a feminized version of one is even worse.

Bustle's Marisa Riley says that the idea of restaurants being more welcoming to women isn't necessarily a bad one, but the recent examples have gone about it the wrong way:

I can definitely get behind great advertising, decor, and food that doesn't scream 'Hey ladies, pleeeease come eat steak here, it'll be super sexy', but then again, isn't that what happens at just a normal both-sex-focused restaurant?

Roberts says that female friendly restaurants may only be a "trivial restaurant trend", but criticisms such as Sidman's show "deep-rooted concerns about how women are viewed and treated".

What women really want, according to Roberts, is to go to establishments where "their safety is valued and their minds and bodies are respected".

Sidman thinks she knows what's really behind this trend. These restaurants aren't trying to attract women - they're trying to attract men who want to go where they think they can find women.

"Rather than a restaurant that caters to women - whatever that means - STK appears to have been designed as a pickup playground," she writes. "It may not be your daddy's steakhouse, but it's definitely your sugar daddy's steakhouse."

Roberts concludes her article by noting research that shows women are an increasingly powerful economic force in the US. According to the blog She-conomy, women make 85% of purchases, and a Nielson report finds they control "as much as $15t (£8.9t) in consumer and business spending".

If restaurants aren't taking what women want out of their dining experience seriously now, she concludes, they're going to have to start soon.

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