It becomes increasingly obvious that animal mating systems cannot be classified into distinct categories, but transitions between mating system classes are continuous. Positioning a certain mating system at this continuum is often not straightforward, however. Depending on which characteristic is considered, a mating system may end up at very different positions on this gradient. Here, we explore the potential conflict between mating system classifications that may arise when they are based on different criteria by investigating the mating system of the cichlid fish Simochromis pleurospilus in which males defend small patches of homogeneously distributed food resources (turf algae) vigorously against food competitors, but they allow specific females to use them. We hypothesized that male defence may generate high-quality feeding patches serving to attract females, and hence male territoriality constitutes a form of courtship. Our field data show that males selectively allow approximately one-third of the visiting females to feed on their territory and that females preferentially feed in male territories and usually sample several territories successively. As males protect food patches against other algae grazers and guard females from harassment by food competitors, females gain nutritional benefits from visiting male territories. Hence, males appear to generate essential resources for females, which is the key feature of resource-defence mating systems, although the distributions of resources and of males and females are characteristics of an exploded lek.