Why Women Love Starters and Puddings Best
Antony Worrall Thompson, celebrity chef and author of over 30 cookbooks, has been a household name since the 1980s. He may have been absent from our tellies lately, but his vibrant personality and marvelous recipes have very much remained in the hearts of foodie lovers everywhere. Watching him talk at the Gibraltar Literary Festival last month was wonderful (take a look at Miss Pollyanna’s article about the fascinating life of our Ready Steady Cook star) – but the one discussion that really resonated with me was his insight into the eating habits of women.
Are women’s dining needs being met in restaurants?
Let’s go back a bit…
It’s 1981 and we are in London. It’s the year of shoulder pads and brick mobile phones, the time of the filofax and the yuppy, the era that women entered the workplace and started to chip away at the glass ceiling. Chef Antony is young and enthusiastic – and after having worked in restaurants from a tender age and spending a lot of time staring at women (in general) and at them dining, he has come to two conclusions:
1. Women eating out together are never looked after in restaurants as well as men on business lunches are.
2. Women always have trouble choosing between which starters and puddings they want, and because their appetites are not as big as that of their fellow male diners (or they are watching their weight) they rarely order a main course.
Which is when Worrall Thompson came up with the concept of his first restaurant Menage à Trois. A female dining experience offering a menu consisting entirely of starters and puddings.
As Anthony Worral Thompson mentioned in The Guardian back in 2003, ‘I’d taken a lot of women out to dinner,’ he said. ‘I’d noticed that they always wanted two starters. I’d also noticed that if you saw two women eating together, they’d always be stuck by the loo or the kitchens, like second class citizens. They were getting a rough deal. So Menage was a restaurant for women – and, of course, it helped a lot when the Princess of Wales started eating there.’
The restaurant was such a huge success that he sold franchises to Washington, Bombay and Melbourne to name but a few of his worldwide establishments. It was certainly a great concept for that era – but thankfully things have moved positively onward for women in the last thirty years. We are accepted a lot more in business, we are more than confident about going into restaurants alone or with friends and we have a lot less to prove when it comes to eating what we want and as much as we want.
But, for me at least, my main issue with restaurants still remains…
I WANT MORE THAN ONE STARTER!
It happens all the bloody time. I go to a nice restaurant and I’m hungry. I want a decent lunch because I’m not out to impress any shallow guy pretending I live on thin air and unrealistic expectations alone. Then I glance down at the menu and I am sent into a dizzying spin of indecision.
This is what is going on inside my brain…
I’m hungry, I’m having a starter. Yep. Perfect. The soup sounds great, wait up they have seared scallops. I love scallops, but they will probably only have three on the plate and that’s hardly filling so I will have to have a main too, I suppose. The salad sounds good too but that’s also a starter, why is it not offered as a main? Why are all the tasty things starters? Let’s look at the main courses. Red meat? Nope, too much for midday. Fish, boring. Risotto? No way! I’ll fall asleep after eating all that. Oh bugger, I’ve just accidentally glanced at the desserts. They have brownies, I love brownies. Why can’t I just have soup and scallops and a load of cakes to share with my mates? But what will the waitress think if I only order starters and puddings? But I want lots of lovely little things to pick at and eat, not just one huge lump of food on my plate to plough through and not leave me any room for the puddingy treats at the end!
Yes, all that is going through my head.
So I will then conform, order an insubstantial starter followed by a main meal that makes me full and drowsy, and then force myself to have cake because I want it although I really don’t have the room for it. Then I will feel sick and resent paying the price of a main when I left half of it on my plate anyway.
It’s no coincidence when you visit tapas bars, Asian restaurants, sushi joints and meze tavernas that the tables are full of women. Much like in life, we want a lot of what we fancy, all at once, in no particular order. We jump about, from dish to dish, conversation topic to conversation topic, never quite finishing the first before being tempted by the next and round again to the beginning. Our minds don’t work in a linear fashion (guys, are you listening to this?). We like choice, we get bored easily, we have tight jeans on, we want our food like our men – fresh, uncomplicated, attractive and not too heavy. We don’t want to get food envy when our companion’s plate looks more delicious than our own, and we don’t want to fork out twenty quid on a massive hunk of meat then feel guilty about leaving it.
So Antony Worrall Thompson – if you are reading this – please bring back Menage á Trois. Maybe not with it’s cheesy innuendo filled 80’s name, or the concept of it being just for women, but a restaurant where small fabulous dishes is all that’s on offer. Where a woman and her friends can fill their table with lots of lovely little plates of lots of lovely little things (not just one of each, ta) and finish off with enough room to polish off the apple tart, tiramisu and brownies.
You can leave the big round plates to the big round men. They are probably sitting there trying to block out our inane chatter anyway and could do with something substantial to concentrate on!