• U.S.

Living: Priceless Menu

2 minute read

The order is placed in court

Kathleen Bick wanted to treat Larry Becker, her partner in a Los Angeles public relations and design business, to dinner. The occasion was a celebration, so they chose an expensive French eatery called L’Orangerie. But after sitting down, Bick discovered that her menu was not so much pricey as priceless. As is the custom in some establishments that aspire to Old World elegance, Bick, as la femme, had been presented with a special white menu that delicately omitted the prices. Becker got the regular green menu. The couple left without eating, preferring to do their ordering in court. Citing California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, they sued L’Orangerie for sex discrimination, asking for at least $250 in statutory damages. They also asked for a permanent injunction against the restaurant’s use of a bill of fare that they consider, well, unfair.

Virginie and Gerard Ferry, co-owners of L’Orangerie, maintain that the priceless-menu policy—which they have no intention of discontinuing—is not discrimination, but courtesy. It enables the guest to be treated as such, and allows the host to be the only one concerned with money, whatever the host’s gender. Claims Ferry: “If a lady makes the reservation in her name, she’ll get the menu with prices.”

Not so, replies Gloria Allred, the feminist lawyer who prepared Bick and Becker’s suit. “Restaurants are the last bastions of rituals having to do with rigid roles for men and women,” says she. The priceless menu implies “that women will always be taken care of if they’re with a man, and that we shouldn’t be bothering our pretty little heads about the price of dinner.” Another ritual that Allred abhors is having the man taste the wine, which “suggests that women can’t appreciate fine wine.” As the general manager of another stylish Los Angeles restaurant comments, “Soon we’ll have to offer flowers to the men too.”

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