I will freely admit that I, strong independent woman though I may be, am a sucker for an old-school romantic gesture. Send flowers (and Ubers), hold doors, pull out chairs and, most importantly, pay for my shit, ideally before I even have a chance to do a performative faux wallet reach.
I’m not particularly interested in trying to defend, qualify or reconcile my appreciation for such arguably dated, gendered displays of chivalry with modern feminist values — largely because I tend to think those things can coexist, but also because quibbles over whether trivial things are “feminist” tend to be pretty boring and reductive. That said, I’m aware that many other women are not as easily wooed by these gentlemanly gestures and might instead find them to be patronizing, off-putting, offensive or simply weird. Case in point, a recent tweet from comedian Eve Donnelly, in which she questions the rare but occasionally observed custom of a man ordering for his date at a restaurant.
“I don’t understand the whole ‘guy orders for girl on a date’ thing,” she wrote. “Like if anyonw [sic] ever ordered for me I would think they were insane.”
The tweet sparked plenty of discussion, as viral tweets are wont to do, with most agreeing with Donnelly and some even questioning whether “the whole ‘guy orders for a girl on a date’ thing” even is, in fact, a thing.
As someone who often dates the kind of men who are likely to pull this kind of move, I can attest that it is indeed a thing. While I wouldn’t say that it’s a particularly common gesture, and certainly not one that I would necessarily expect from a gentleman companion, it’s one that I generally enjoy and appreciate, as long as it’s executed under the right circumstances.
For one thing, by “order for,” I mean when someone relays their date’s order to the waiter after discussing and confirming their selection personally. As one person put it in a reply to Donnelly’s tweet, “I think you tell him what you want and he tells the waiter. It’s manners, like holding a door open.” Obviously, I too would be pretty annoyed and confused if my date selected my meal for me and put in the order without even asking my opinion or letting me take a glimpse at the menu. That would come across as unequivocally rude and presumptuous, even if you’ve been with someone for a long time and are familiar enough with their taste to predict their order every time. It’s a boorish, controlling move that also comes off as pretty a big red flag, to the extent that one server in the replies to Donnelly’s tweet noted that they always directly ask a woman to confirm her order if a male companion orders for her, or another who said they “always want to ask the woman if she’s being held hostage” in such situations.
If, however, the two of you have enjoyed the pleasure of reviewing and discussing the menu together (ideally after performing the ever-crucial pre-date menu-peep) and independently made your own selections, a man relaying his date’s choice to a waiter can, to some women, come across as a a kind, polite gesture. For some, it can even be a turn on. “I personally don’t mind it, if it’s not always,” replied one user. “I think it shows a dominant side and it turns me on.”
Personally, I just see it as another sign of the kind of old-school, romantic charm for which, as previously established, I am a sucker. Not to mention, as an introvert with more than my share of social anxiety, any gesture that prevents me from having to speak to a stranger is a huge benefit.
Still, there were plenty in the replies who disagreed, calling the behavior everything from “creepy and controlling” to infantilizing, even comparing it to selecting a date’s clothing or pouring their cereal. To get a better sense of how this apparently divisive gesture is generally perceived, I checked in with a couple of etiquette experts to see whether ordering for date passes for a polite gesture, or a dated faux pas.
According to etiquette coach and author Myka Meier, founder of Beaumont Etiquette and co-founder of the Plaza Hotel’s Finishing Program, the practice is “outdated and no longer considered an etiquette standard,” one that harkens back to a much more restricted era in which women lacked social agency.
Etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, owner of The Protocol School of Texas, agrees that the gesture “is not standard and should be avoided,” though she adds that it’s not inherently bad form as long as both parties are on board. “If someone wants to do it, and there is no problem with the other partner, there is no harm done,” Gottsman tells InsideHook. “The problem occurs when it appears patronizing or the other person does not want someone to order for them.” In this case, however, Gottsman still advises the offended party to turn down the gesture with grace, as the person offering to order on their behalf probably thinks they’re being polite.
“Don’t make someone wrong for trying to do something they feel is nice – even though they are misinformed,” says Gottsman. “You can let them know you don’t like it by saying, ‘I would prefer to order myself. Thanks.’”
If you are a man who is inclined to attempt this gesture anyway, “Always ask first – don’t assume,” says Gottsman, adding that this applies not only to dates of any gender but also to any other dining companions, including children.
“I think if a man wanted to order for a female companion he should ask her preference first: ‘Would you like to order, or would you like me to order for you?’” says Meier. “This way, if she thinks it’s a sign of hospitality, then she can say yes, while if she prefers to order independently, she may do so.”
Ultimately, the solution to this little etiquette debate comes down to the same principle that is true of almost all romantic and/or sexual interactions: When in doubt, ask first.