Can you charge someone extra, simply because of their gender? In Australia you can, but the end result may not be what you had anticipated.
This week, a vegan restaurant in Melbourne closed down after customers slowed to a trickle. The loss of business is related to a “man tax” imposed by the café on male diners.
Handsome Her, a restaurant focusing on vegan meals and specialties, opened in 2017 with some controversy. In addition to serving up food, the café opted to indulge in some social justice as well by charging men a tax of 18 percent more than women who chose to dine there. According to the restaurant owners, men were asked to pay a premium of 18% more than women for their meals – despite being served identical items.
According to Handsome Her owners, the difference in pricing was not to punish men or to accommodate larger servings for larger appetites. Instead, it was a statement on the gender pay gap.
The 18% price hike for men’s meals was not the only social initiative tackled by the now-closed dining establishment. The restaurant also had “rules” for diners, including specifying that women would be given priority seating over male diners. The outside chalkboard ironically read “respect goes both ways.”
Despite the signage and stated policy, owner Alexandra O’Brien stated that the tax was optional.
“If people aren’t comfortable paying it or men don’t want to pay it, we’re not going to kick them out the door,” O’Brien said. “It’s just a good opportunity to do some good.”
After just a short time in business, the café is closing, largely in part to negative responses to the biased policy from their own community. The owners now frame themselves as victims, referring to themselves as the “punching bags of Melbourne” and attempting to elicit sympathy for their gender bias.
“We were just one little tiny shop on Sydney Rd that was trying to carve out a swathe of space to prioritize women and women’s issues, and suddenly we became the punching bag of Melbourne and the internet,” O’Brien lamented. “Yes, we are the evil, discriminatory, man-hating dykes who charge men more when didn’t you know the wage gap doesn’t even exist!?”
Framing the man tax as a social initiative and as a response to the gender gap was not enough to bring patrons to the door — both men and women spoke out against the biased policy and simply avoided patronizing the establishment.
Owners expressed surprise that pushback came not from just what they called “men’s rights activists,” but the community at large. There is some ongoing support online for the brand as they closed, but a handful of supporters who think it is a good idea to charge one gender more than the other was simply not enough to support the failing business.
While discriminating against patrons because of gender is not illegal in Australia, owners of Handsome Her discovered it does not make for a good business model or an effective strategy for attracting paying customers.
So the saying goes: “get woke — go broke.”
~ Patriotic Freedom Fighter