The sexism in Indian bars and pubs goes beyond “gin is an old lady’s drink.”
It’s happened at least 6-7 times with me recently. When I head out for an evening drink or lunch with a lady friend, I have started becoming very aware of how the waiters measure us up and serve our drinks. Most of my lady friends like their drinks stiff and straight-up-no-bullshit. I, on the other hand, don’t mind peering through the cocktail list and indulging a pub by sampling their creativity. I am always up for trying out concoctions with exotic ingredients, the hibiscus liqueurs, coconut reductions and elderflower syrups. I enjoy the theatre of liquid nitrogen and the oak-cherry smoke (which is often listed as an ingredient and generally adds quite a few hundreds to the drink’s price) and get quite excited about my drink being served in a stemless skull sourced from the dark craters of the moon. This is how pub time usually plays out for my friends and me:
My don’t-give-a-shit lady friend: I’ll have a large whisky, no soda, no ice.
Me: I’ll have the Missionary Gang Bang On Mercury (Cocktails are so outrageously named these days. They add a few dashes of cherry bitters to a simple Screwdriver and call it Popsicle Orgasm. Or some such).
The person taking the order: Very well, good sir (They are never this posh. Mostly, they just do a bored head bob, but one tends to embellish, a la Jeeves, when one can).
In most cases, the person who takes the order generally does not serve your drinks. There’s hierarchy — defined by different shirt colours — and while these order-taking chaps will saunter about, make small talk and even dance with you on a busy night while pouring shots into your mouth, they don’t serve the drinks. A different bunch of guys do that. And they always serve the flouncier glass to the lady.
Waiter: Here’s your Overpriced Cocktail With An Idiotic Name, ma’am, and your Neat Masculine Drink, sir.
My friend and I exchange glances and drinks.
Who gives you the right to assume that the cocktail, the flowery-syrupy-fruity concoction, the gin and tonic, has been ordered for by the woman? Why would you assume that a woman cannot ask for a neat whisky or a rum and Coke? Why do you think you have the right to attribute gender to alcohol? While this observation started off as a mild joke, after too many similar experiences, it infuriates me now. For starters, bars and pubs are absolutely unaware of the fact that they are perpetrating a stereotype that should be nailed into a coffin by now. In Indian cosmopolitan cities, women have gone beyond Cosmopolitans and Pina Coladas. More importantly, men have gone beyond the usual Old Fashioned. They don’t mind trying out something New And Adventurous because male ego is not necessarily as fragile as it used to be. Given the present social climate, we have to sit up and realise that sexism and ignorance is perpetrated through the simplest of practices. Assuming that the gin will be for the woman at the table is sexist. Finding it funny that the man is ordering for an ornate cocktail and smiling slyly is abhorrent. When you make service charge mandatory, the least you can do is provide hospitable and sensitive service and good behaviour. It is also the responsibility of the property to train their staff on the same lines, something that is shockingly absent in today’s hospitality industry. There are very few places across Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore that have memorable service. I could name the good ones, but embarrassingly, it will be quite a short list.
The solution is to simply ask. Reach the table with your tray and ask which drink is for whom. A more evolved approach is to ask the order-taker who at the table asked for what – but then again, “evolved” is not something that can be expected out of establishments in our cities. So, just ask. It is a tiny gesture, but one that is loaded with history and prejudice. When you serve the wrong drink, you immediately differentiate a man from a woman. You tell the woman: “Hey, because historically only men drink “hard” drinks because they are strong enough to handle them (duh), I am serving the drink you asked for, to the man. This demure, lady-like cocktail with feeble amounts of alcohol must have been ordered by you, because how on earth can a woman dare to be as strong as a man and down a stiff drink? It is unthinkable. I still think you are not as strong as a man. I still think you cannot handle your drink and will need a man’s help to get you home. I still think that you are weak.”
The next time you are about to serve a table, before you place the orders, play this monologue in your head. And, if you want to avoid disrespecting the woman, just ask: “Who asked for the Overpriced Cocktail With An Idiotic Name?”