The death of chivalry

The death of chivalry

“Sorry Madam, gallantry has been taken off the menu”

Much has changed in the way people behave in restaurants. We ignore our guests to talk to someone else on the phone, tweet and snap away at plates of food rather than engage with the person opposite. But above all that, increasingly I’ve noticed that the practice of chivalry seems to have waned. Perhaps I’m old fashioned and in this emancipated world holding the door open for the lady is passé, a relic of the pre-women’s lib world.

 “…you wanted emancipation love, you’ve got it.”

The most obvious indicator of this to the maitre’d is at the point of greeting and seating.

Invariably, when the chair is pulled out from the table, a maitre’d will slide out the chair with the best view (be that of the dining room or the picturesque view outside), specifically for the lady. Increasingly, though, I’ve noticed that it’s the man that takes this seat.

I recall doing just this for a couple a few weeks ago, looking at Madam as I pulled out the woodwork only to be buffeted out the way by her husband. His wife and I exchanged a knowing look as he flapped his own napkin over his lap and she took the seat with a view of the back door and the kitchen porter lugging the black bin bags through it. I made a point of offering the wine to the lady to taste as some small gesture at restoring the balance of chivalry on her husband's behalf. He seemed nonplussed.

 “…the steak please, rare, she’ll have the fish.”

An industry colleague recalls a couple that come into his restaurant regularly… “Without fail, he would take the first seat offered and take both menus, not even letting her look at what was on it. He’d order for both without consulting her. Once the waiter had left the table, she would go to the ladies room and, en route, grab a waiter and a menu to change her order in the loos. He wouldn’t even notice she was eating something entirely different to what he’d ordered for her.” 

I suppose this could be construed as a very crude form of chivalry, taking the stress out of decision-making for the poor indecisive woman. Do some men really think they're flattering their better half by ordering for them? Indeed many high end restaurants used to offer two menus, one with prices on for the man, and one without for the woman, most still do on request.

“…and a glass of white wine for the lady.”

Then of course there’s blatant selfishness as another front of house veteran observed… "One evening this guy came in with his date and asked her if she preferred red or white wine. “White” she replied, “I find red too heavy.” He looked indignant. “But… we can’t drink white all evening can we?” She indicated pretty clearly that she could, and so he studied the wine list studiously before looking up at me. “So, we’ll have a bottle of Syrah and a glass of house for the lady.”

I laughed at the table, assuming he was joking, but both remained deadpan; he was serious. I couldn’t help but mutter something along the lines of, “glad to see the art of chivalry hasn’t died”, which fell on VERY stony ground. She spent the rest of the evening with a face like thunder as he got sloshed on a very expensive bottle of red.

“Remember, being chivalrous is not the same as sucking up.”

If the man in your life is wanting in this respect, this step-by-step video guide to the art of chivalry may help.

Am I being old fashioned, perhaps even condescending in offering the female guest the best view? Or do you like the man to take the lead in the restaurant waltz? In the supposed ages of equality, does it even matter? Ladies especially, what do you think?

More tips from the Captain

Why eating and tweeting can be a bad combination

Dumped over dinner: Why DO people end relationships in restaurants?

How to get the best seat in a restaurant

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