Indeed, even with a Harvard degree and a much more visible Armani suit and Coach briefcase, a woman may seem invisible to a waiter or salesman who has a male customer in sight.
"Almost every woman I've talked to has a story," said Tim Zagat, co-publisher of Zagat restaurant surveys. Information compiled for the new 2000 edition of the Zagat Survey of America's Top Restaurants showed that 83 percent of respondents felt that men are treated better than women when eating out.
The survey is based on questionnaires answered by about 100,000 respondents throughout this year and last and compiled in Zagat guides for individual cities. The America's Top Restaurants guide describes 1,130 leading restaurants in 38 cities and provides ratings for food, decor, service and cost.
In breaking out the results, Zagat said 90 percent of respondents in the San Francisco area felt that men were treated better; in New York it was 80 percent.
"This suggests that, when dining in mixed company, men are targeted as as primary check payers by restaurant staff, who lavish better service their way," Zagat said. When men and women dine together, he said, men are usually given the wine list and asked to choose and taste the wine, regardless of the expertise of the women at the table.
Women diners also say they are treated like second-class citizens when they dine alone or with other women and they often get inferior tables and service, Zagat said.
JoEllen Zacks, a media relations manager for the American Bar Association in Chicago, agreed, saying restaurants often try to seat her in the back when she dines alone while on the road. "I ask to be moved; I'm not shy about it," she said.
Zacks said women may also receive inferior service because of a perception that they do not tip as well as men. "It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We don't get treated well, so we tip accordingly," she said.
Zagat said some French, Italian and Spanish restaurants and steakhouses also discriminate against women by refusing to let them work as servers, who can earn lucrative tips.
The practice has generated some litigation. For example, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer sued the Cipriani restaurant family in August for denying women jobs that can generate more than $95,000 annually.
Marlene Rossman, president of the Rossman, Graham Associates marketing firm in New York, said there are similar problems at liquor stores in the city.
"By and large, even as a woman with a lot of buying power, I'm not treated in the same way as a man in a similar situation," said Rossman.
She conducted a study to prove her point, sending teams of shppers and observers unannounced to 11 Manhattan liquor stores between August and November. The shoppers included a middle-aged white female, an Asian American female, a black female and a white male. Each shopper was instructed to get advice on a wine to go with trout.
"The white male got the best service, the white woman indifference or condescending service; the Asian American was either ignored or given patronizing service and worst of all was the service received by the black woman," a summary of the findings said.
"I was either ignored or treated with disdain," the black shopper said in the report. She said most salesmen assumed she wanted an inexpensive wine, showing her bottles under $10 even though they did not ask her price range.
Dr. Wanda Dobrich, a psychologist and partner of D and D Industrial Consultants of Montclair, New Jersey, which conducts gender bias training for employers, said while men in service positions sometimes are demeaning to women on purpose, often they simply do not understand their behavior is insulting.
For example, they might not realize that there is anything wrong with seating a woman in the back of a restaurant.
Women are also often socially conditioned to be more polite and are concerned about seeming to be rude or "bitchy," said Dobrich.
"What do you do when you are treated, but treated lesser?" she asked. "How much assertiveness is too much?"