By Ashwina Garg Mar. 30, 2018
Indian restaurants and pubs have their own caste system. Firangs are the Brahmins of the restaurant world, and next in line are Silver Spoons – celebrities from the film industry. All the hospitality is reserved for them. At the bottom of the rung are single, young men, aka the Sad Stag Group.
While standing in queue to get into a fancy, new restaurant recently, I was surprised to see that my family of four was given a seat before a group of five fresh-faced boys, even though the young chaps had arrived before us. Their excitement, and the hilarity being shared within the group didn’t help their cause much. Neither did the fact that they smelled like they had each dunked themselves in a tub of perfume and dried off in a field of hair gel.
Soon after we settled down, a white couple walked in. To my surprise, they too were seated before our stag party, offering me a chance to come to an insightful realisation. Indian restaurants, pubs, and lounges are the one place on earth where single, young men are at the bottom of the rung. In the restaurant world, they make up the Sad Stag group.
People are generally quick to speak out against the caste system in the real world, but tend to blissfully ignore the caste system in the hospitality industry. This is a gross miscarriage of justice. After all, everyone’s 2000-rupee note is the same ghastly shade of pink, it follows that everyone should get the same service at trendy hotspots. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The hospitality industry seems to have adopted its own form of discrimination.
Let’s look at the breakdown.
The stars bring a dash of glamour to the place that even a couple of Michelin stars can’t manufacture.
Right on the top of this caste system are the Brahmins of the restaurant world; let’s call them the Wandering Goras. It doesn’t matter if you’re a homeless person from Australia, or a drug lord from Ukraine, if your skin is whiter than the average Indian, you will get the cheeriest of “Good Evenings”, the best table in the house, and a host of freebies like exotic desserts and customised main courses that us coloured plebs are excluded from. This luxury, unfortunately, does not extend to our fair friends from the East – the Chinese and Japanese folk – since waiters generally assume they are from the United States of Northeast, and hence undeserving of special treatment.
Almost on par with the Wandering Gora is the next caste, the Silver Spoons. This caste is made up mostly of the celebrities from the movie industry. By that, I mean actors and actresses. Editors, DoPs, lyricists, writers, and other unidentified film folk do not count, no matter how sought after they might be in the reel world, or how many hours they have spent in the vicinity of other famous people. The stars bring a dash of glamour to the place that even a couple of Michelin stars can’t manufacture. Once photographs are taken of these famous movie stars, and placed awkwardly on the walls, managers can cultivate that all-important “ameer ambience”, which in turn attracts more rich people.
All this talk of rich people brings us to the next group – the Suit and Scoot. Mostly comprising corporate people on a company outing, this group is very easy to identify. It is loud and large. It is more likely to communicate in figures than words. It spends freely on cocktails and specials. And it pays bills with company credit cards.
Next in line is the well-respected, but unnaturally loud Ageing Aunty group. Restaurant folk are usually petrified of ladies who lunch (or dine) together, probably because they order everything on the menu and hold large designer bags with metallic embellishments that can easily turn into deadly weapons if needed. But managers dare not mistreat any of these women because the humans of the kitty party are known to be firmly in control of the local grapevine. It only takes one awful rumour to spread via these ladies and their other associated groups, and the manager might find his restaurant empty the next day.
Well-dressed, attractive young women are always welcome at eateries. They could be starlets, models, or college kids celebrating a farewell party. It doesn’t matter. What matters is how glamorous they look and correspondingly, how much glamour they add to the place. This is our next caste, the Pretty Young Things. If you’re having a bad hair day or you stepped out in your faded kurta and slippers, then please excuse, you are not part of this group even if you are both pretty and young. You will probably be seated in a dark corner near the kitchen where you will not be an eyesore. I suspect, the managers are fond of PYTs because they are often the progeny of kitty party aunties, and might decide to follow in the footsteps of their mothers someday. Plus most groups of Sad Stags would kill to have a couple of PYTs around, so that they can climb up the restaurant hierarchy themselves. Obviously, PYTs are very, very popular.
Finally, it’s the turn of the Wholesome Family. This group adds a touch of respectability to the air of glamour and excitement created by the aforementioned groups. The family group is placed a single rung higher than the Sad Stag. It might get good service when there is no one else around, but will be heavily overlooked when there are too many people from the other groups.
I am usually a part of the family group, but I have figured out a way to get myself a better deal from most places. Whenever, I sense I am getting an indifferent vibe from restaurant staff, I whip out my phone and loudly exclaim, “writer”, “blog” and “review” in quick intervals and begin to scribble furiously in my notepad which I carry specifically for this purpose. Now I automatically move to the top of the restaurant hierarchy, and I am guaranteed good service because there is nothing that terrifies a restaurant more than a bad review. The old threat of, “Tu janta nahin mera baap kaun hai” has now been replaced by, “Tu janta nahin mera kitne followers hai.”
So if you do ever find yourself in an underprivileged group at a restaurant, and as a result are served stinky fish or a warm beer, get online and write about it because it’s time for us ordinary folk to get our money’s worth.
Ashwina Garg is a freelance writer and entrepreneur. She is the author of the best-selling book 'Spicy Bites of Biryani' and writes regularly for Women’s Era, Bonobology and other sites. She has a keen interest in social causes and writes for the Hyderabad-based NGO, SAHE and TEDxHyderabad.