Ladies of Virginia, your table is ready! A new Ashburn outpost of Matchbox, a D.C.-area wood-fired pizza chain, promises a menu that’s more “female friendly” than ever. Do women pay 77 percent of the list price, to account for the national wage gap? Can women servers take orders from customers without sexually charged comments attached? Nope. There are salads, though!
The mystery of female desire has puzzled pen companies and car manufacturers alike since the dawn of the marketing major—it was only a matter of time before restaurants started weighing in. The first frontier of gender-specific dining outside the home was the steakhouse, that bastion of dark wood and leather, the materials of the patriarchy. Morton’s and Ruth’s Chris tried feminizing their old boys’ clubs with menu additions and targeted ad campaigns; other chains like STK (tagline: “not your daddy’s steakhouse”) opened up specifically with women in mind.
On its face, explicitly marketing food to women seems like a smart business decision: Women hold the bulk of their families’ purchasing power, and they make up a little more than half the population. But some women, especially younger ones who never felt excluded from regular old restaurants in the first place, have pushed back against the trend. Still, given how little we know about what women really want, it’s worth taking a look at what restaurants think we crave.
The image of women laughing alone with salad is so iconic, it’s spawned multiple blog tributes and a play. Of course women like to eat their vegetables! “Don’t worry,” Matchboxfoodgroup CEO Ty Neal told Northern Virginia Magazine. “We still have Angus beef mini-burgers, pizza, and the ginormous meatball.” Pizza is carbohydrate hell, but those mini-burgers sound like the perfect size for a dainty lady-mouth.
Caloric intake is of utmost concern to the womanly diner. Eva Longoria’s now-shuttered Las Vegas SHe steakhouse, which was affiliated with Morton’s, made clear distinctions: They were dubbed He-Cuts, She-Cuts, and We-Cuts.
White Star Ale House in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, offers the same helpful gender prescriptions for beer, which comes in a “man-sized” 23-ounce serving or a “smaller, lady-sized” glass. Twenty-three ounces sounds more like a preemie than a man to me, but hey.
Nothing that tastes like icky liquor!
Women can handle a beer, sure, but probably not anything stronger than that. Ken Emery told Eater that at his restaurant, Burwell’s Stone Fire Grill in Charleston, South Carolina, he and his employees “work hard to try to make bourbon more palatable” to women. Ruth’s Chris catered to the female palate with all drinks pink and fruity, like pomegranate martinis and strawberry basil gimlets. At STK, the cocktails have cutesy names that feel sexy—and that women can pronounce—like “French Kiss” and “Pink Elegance.”
A greasy steak is bound to mess up a gal’s lipstick. SHe included handy mirrors on its dessert menus so women could indulge in something sweet (mmmm, chocolate!) without rushing to the bathroom to re-do their faces.
Men hitting on them!
Devon Mosley, the marketing and PR director of STK’s parent company, told Washington City Paper’s Jessica Sidman that the restaurant is “for the crowd that wants that sleek sexy flirtatious experience.” He even admitted that the women who flock to STK for lady-sized portions were essentially bait for horny dudes. “Our CEO’s mentality is where the girls go to play, the men will follow.”
Ditto the Bracket room, a “female-friendly” sports bar in Arlington, Virginia, which is quickly becoming America’s best state for lady diners. “Our whole thing was to get girls to come because, basically, [then] the guys come,” owner Chris Bukowski told Sidman.
SHe had a catwalk; STK has ads that spotlight the legs and lips of the women who are supposedly the restaurant’s target customers. If anything stirs up a woman’s appetite for a piece of meat, it’s seeing another woman being treated like one.