Monday, March 19, 2012

Family Seating and Male Seating at a Restaurant

I've talked about the strict gender segregation before, but I don't think I have fully explained what that means in daily life, even to something as simple as going to eat at a restaurant.

Restaurants, though not all, have two sections: family seating and male seating. The latter is seating for men only and women do not go in those sections at all. The booths are not hidden, but sit in open view. For example, in the malls, male seating is typically out in the open, without curtains or anything. Family seating is a different matter. In the mall, family seating is behind a set of walls. In restaurants, family seating is set into a different section of the building. The booths and tables are curtained. If a restaurant only has one section, it means that only males can go in. There are not any female-only restaurants, that I am aware of, in the area.

Only males can sit in the male section. I believe fathers can sit there with their sons. Family sections are designated for families--fathers can join if they have daughters or a wife with them. And of course, women are only allowed to sit in the family section.

Generally, this isn't a problem. But sometimes, restaurants only have male sections, which means that a woman isn't really supposed to go inside. I could be wrong (and Saudi readers are welcome to correct me), but that is definitely the impression I get. Yesterday, I went to the bookstore (bookstores are, as a rule, delightful--and this one was no exception). Following my grueling shopping expedition, I was very hungry and had an hour to kill before my taxi came to pick me up. There were a number of coffee shops, including Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, a Cake shop, an arabic pastry place, etc. As I walked along the row of shops, I realized that none of the stores seemed to have family seating, which meant, that I couldn't go in. My son was starting to get desperate. Luckily, I found the family entrance to Starbucks and was able to get in.

I bet none of you even imagined having different sections for people at a restaurant, did you?


  1. Wow, that IS really different. I guess you have to plan out your errands accordingly. (That's what I used to do in Manhattan, only the issue was decent bathrooms that the kids could use.)

  2. The bathroom situation here is dismal and scary. I must post about that as well.

    So there is the whole seating issue thing, plus bathrooms, and dare I add another complication, prayers 5 times a day. Errands are not a simple matter here.

  3. There are so many new and exciting things to learn here, aren't there? Often you can go in and order food in those types of shops but you have to wait for and eat it outside. Some will allow you to wait inside. It depends on the shopkeeper but most of the chains that you mentioned, Dunkin Donuts, etc. will let you order. Most women just send their driver in to get their food. One good reason to have a driver! :)

  4. Oh man, that family entrance made me think of the blacks entrance at the back of the fancy house. Oh, how low that must make someone feel. I could see that being very difficult when there are not that many family restaurants. How does this help promote women not running off with other men? I guess they can't see them and get to know them. But, it just seems so sad. Are they embarrassed by women? I have always thought the men love their spouses greatly, so you see that in the way they talk to the women? Mmm, I am probably reading into this more than I should.