Dress codes at restaurants have become a somewhat antiquated notion in the modern world. With the rise of the Hip-Hop culture, the young Dot-Commers, professional athletes, entertainment-world celebrities, and other nouveau riche all “dressing down”, many high-end restaurants have had to loosen their rules a bit or risk losing a good chunk of revenue. And in a resort setting, if you turn away the casually dressed, you may find yourself with an empty dining room. We encourage our guests to follow a “smart casual” dress code. I tell those with enough foresight to ask that “gentlemen are not required to wear jackets, though many gentlemen do; a pair of slacks and dress shirt are certainly fine.” But there is a distinct difference between “casual” and just plain sloppy.
In the last week, I have turned away two parties at the restaurant because of dress code violations. This represents a significant up-tick: in my entire restaurant career I have turned away a total of exactly four parties because of inappropriate attire, including these last two.
I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a fashion Nazi. I don’t mind shorts, I really don’t. In a resort/vacation setting like ours we get people in shorts all the time. But a pair of Tommy Bahama linen shorts, with Huaraches and a polo shirt is one thing. This shows you actually thought ahead, went out and shopped, and took the time to press something that had been packed away in your suitcase. But unshaven guys showing up in Old Navy cargo shorts with ratty T-shirts, who look like they just rolled out of bed, are entirely another. I don’t mind jeans, either, as long as they are of the slightly dressy variety, not full of holes (even though I know the “distressed jeans” are significantly more expensive) or are of the baggy, hanging below your ass genre. (I am not sure if I am a big fan of the “skinny jeans” fad, but thank God something has come along to displace the home-boy baggies that have cursed us for the past 20 years or so.)
I have let people dine in four-star restaurants I have managed in hockey jerseys; some, in old flannel shirts, unbuttoned with the T-shirt underneath exposed to the world (although one of these was Neil Young). I have seated people in motorcycle leathers, women in fishnet body stockings with no apparent undergarments (and who wouldn’t?). I have even seated a clown. Yes, you heard me, a clown: big shoes, orange wig, big red nose, the whole dealio. He was the featured entertainment at a rich-kids birthday party on the property that afternoon and arrived two hours early, dressed and ready for work. But there is a line I will not cross, and both of our recent violators were on the wrong side of it: the curse of the modern world, men in flip-flops.
Women take care of their feet. They rub them with peppermint lotions, get regular pedicures, pumice the calluses off them in the bathtub; they adorn them with ankle bracelets and toes rings and then go out and spend billions of dollars annually on shoes to show off the finished product. At the grave risk of sounding sexist here (and there are no exceptions to this rule), men’s feet are ugly. I think even gay men would agree with me on this one. Why is it then that construction workers, who wear boots and wool socks at their sweaty jobs all week, or white-collar professionals who wear dress shoes 50 hours a week to the office or to court, suddenly get the urge to bring their gruesome digits out into the light of the day on a weekend getaway in Napa Valley? It is my very strong opinion that open-toed shoes on men should just be against the law. No ifs, ands, or buts about it: wear Jesus sandals, go to prison. (They all wear them there, so you should feel right at home.) Flip flops on men rank at the top of my fashion disdain list; just above athletic apparel, ball caps and bicycle shorts.
I always try to be sensitive in these situations and try my best to not embarrass the guest. I apologize and ask if they have the ability to go upstairs to their room and change. I ask them this well out of earshot of any other guests or staff. People with a little bit of common sense will understand that I am not refusing to seat them because our restaurant is so damned fine I could never let them in to our place dressed that way. It’s because of the lack of respect they are showing to all the other people who took the time to shave, shower, and put on something nice; and I will not allow someone’s anniversary or birthday dinner to be lessened (or ruined) by those who didn’t. Showing up to dinner, dressed like you’re going to an MTV Spring Break beach party in Ft. Lauderdale, at a place where the Maitre’D is in a suit and tie, charges $100 per head, and has white linen tablecloths and Riedel stemware, just screams “I don’t give a shit about you, myself or anyone else.” And would it kill ya to put on a tie?