Ever been seated at the back of a restaurant or right next to the toilets? It turns out the wait staff might’ve deemed you too ugly to sit at the front.
Debates have started globally in the past week about whether or not businesses can discriminate against customers based on appearance, following revelations two up-market French restaurants have a looks-based seating policy.
Patrons at Le Georges and Café Marly (owned by Thierry and Gilbert Costes), have been systematically discriminated against based on their looks, according to two former waitresses, as the terrace area of Café Marly was deemed an ugly-free zone.
The former hostesses with the restaurants told the French daily newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné they had to follow the seating criteria, or else they would be reprimanded.
“The good-looking ones are led to good places, where they can be easily seen. As for the non-good looking ones, it is imperative that they be dispatched to the corners of the room,” they said.
If this wasn’t adhered to, they would be scolded: “What are these ugly mugs doing at this table? Everyone can see them when they come in. It’s very bad for our image.”
If customers tried to make a booking for Café Marly’s highly regarded pavement terrace, customers were told they’d do their best, but their booking couldn’t be guaranteed. When they arrived, the waitresses would make a judgment based on their appearance.
The only exception to the rule was celebrities.
Naturally the hostesses themselves had to fit the good-looking mould. They were expected to have a “model’s physique”, be under 30 and apparently were told off for not showing enough cleavage.
SmartCompany contacted the Beaumarly group, which owns the two restaurants, but there was no response prior to publication.
Whether the discriminatory attitude to seating is surprising or not, experts say it’s not breaking the law.
TressCox Lawyers partner Rachel Drew told SmartCompany there are no discrimination laws which prohibit this type of behaviour.
“Each Australian state and territory has their own discrimination laws, but there are federal laws as well and there are common themes as to protection from discrimination in the goods and services sectors,” she says.
“There are laws protecting women who want to bring babies to restaurants and be able to breast feed, but whether or not you’re good-looking is not an attribute which is protected by discrimination law.”
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Drew says the only way this could fall under discrimination laws is if it’s able to be characterised as sexual harassment.
“If it’s just a matter of wait staff assessing the attractiveness of someone and altering their seating, this won’t fall into sexual harassment.”
Despite this, she doesn’t recommend Australian restaurants adopting a similar approach.
“I doubt it would work particularly successfully in Australia. In the Australian society, people don’t tend to set out to go to a place where the beautiful people are,” she says.
“It could be more successful in French society, as there could be a higher value on the way you’re dressed in the areas where these restaurants are based, but I can’t imagine it being a successful tactic here.”
However, Drew says it’s likely there are more instances of this type of discrimination than people realise.
“It’s not exactly something businesses are going to talk about openly and it would be interesting to see if any other restaurants are doing similar things,” she says.
“It definitely happens in nightclubs, as whether or not you get in is often based on how you dress. It’s a matter of the club determining what type of person they want to come based on how they’re dressed.”
Drew says it’s a matter of how a business wants to establish its reputation.
“It’s the same as many fashion brands not going above a size ten. They discriminate on the way people look because they want to create a certain image of the brand,” she says.
In 2011, fashion retailer Gasp was criticised heavily when it was revealed a staff member had called a size 12 customer “fat bitch!”
Following the incident Gasp was adamant the staff member had acted in the right way, before issuing an apology which many considered insincere.