Discipline & Decorum Issues

We have all tried to tell our children what to wear, when it wear it, and how to wear it only to be shocked by their attitude towards conventional garb. What they enjoy wearing comes from the Salvation Army or Goodwill outlet stores and the more threadbare, the better.

A major challenge exists for restaurant operations as to what constitutes a proper dress code in today's world. You have sloppy, sloppy sloppy; casual, casual casual; business casual; upscale casual; casual formal; business formal; and formal formal. The industry is definitely struggling especially at the high end to determine "the rules of the road." With the increased casualization of our dress codes and with the ensuing informality of life in general, the restaurant industry has faced a myriad of changes or adjustments in their approach to their rules of discipline and decorum.

Today the industry fights a constant and confusing battle to determine the rules of dress code. Stories are told about restaurants requiring coat and tie only to find that exceptions are made on a regular basis.

Recently I dined in a most spectacular hotel restaurant. The bar had a beautiful mahogany look with displays of rare cognacs (snifter of Hennessey Ricard was priced at $275.00). The restaurant offered wonderful wines with a great sommelier, and presented a serious menu with even the knife, fork and spoon being ala Carte. A very genteel piano player played and sang gentle music while servers ran around answering your every request with "my pleasure". The dress code, according to one staffer, was coat and tie, and the first thing I noticed were guests with jackets and no ties. After two iced-down Absoluts straight up, it really did not matter.

I ordered a wonderful esoteric salad with greens from the far reaches of the world. I followed up with a perfectly cooked strip steak, spinach with oil and garlic, and half a bottle of Sterling Diamond Ranch Cabernet.

At precisely 9:01 p.m. enter yuppie family with newly born. The gentleman was in his late thirties and was dressed in a golf shirt and slacks. The wife was in upscale, beach casual and the infant had a pacifier in mouth (for at least part of the time). When the pacifier fell out, the noise level drowned out the singer/piano, guests, wait staff, bartender, and one choking guest seated in the corner.

The issue is that while the family spent big, they lacked respect for the level of the restaurant, as well as their fellow guests, which made them disruptive to say the least. The moral of this story is that poorly communicated and fuzzy rules for dress code and decorum can come back to bite you badly where it hurts. It can cause the dissipation of one's restaurant business. Rules are standards and while management must make adjustments, they must uphold the integrity of their concept in order to maintain and perpetuate their success. This is especially true in concepts where even the knife, fork and spoon cost extra.

Thomas Haas is President of Thomas J. Haas Associates, Ltd. Mr. Haas is a food service industry consultant specializing in strategic marketing, and is a leading analyst in the industry. Mr. Haas can be contacted regarding consulting and public speaking engagements by fax at 904-321-0779 or by e-mail at haaspitality@aol.com