Dishin’ That: In defense of restaurant dress codes

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About a month ago, I received a question regarding the lack of patron dress codes in Portland-area restaurants. What did I think about the matter, a reader asked. Should tasteful dress codes be posted? Enforced? And if so, to what end? Should men without collars be kicked out of high-end places? Is a skirt, markedly above the knee, inappropriate at a James Beard-chef run, award-winning establishment?

Not exactly fancying myself the Amy Vanderbilt of acceptable restaurant attire (or a girl’s school disciplinary administrator), I did what I usually do when dancing around a fun and thought-provoking question. I gave an honest answer and put it out to my readers for further feedback.

Reactions and comments came in almost immediately from those defending their right to be “casual.” The buzz word was comfortable, and it was used in almost every email or message.

“I’m there to eat, and want to be comfortable doing it,” one guy said. “I’m not interested in making a fashion statement, or being judged because I’m wearing a Phish shirt.”

“Only women really care how people are dressed in a restaurant, or almost anyplace for that matter,” another man offered. “As long as I’m comfortable and not wearing a wet bathing suit, who cares?”

I thought few people did really care, but was proved wrong when the following comments arrived last weekend. There was this from Sandy Scully:

“I, personally, resent people (especially women/girls) showing up at ‘nice’ restaurants looking like they have just come from the beach without stopping to so much as comb their hair – and don’t get me started on flip-flops. It’s discourteous to both the venue and the clientele. What has become of self-respect as well as consideration for others? And why is the reaction to objections to this sloppiness so very angry? Exactly what could be done regarding anything other than a suggestion regarding attire outside of a private club would, I have no doubt, be regarded (most vociferously) as an intrusion on freedom of expression.”

And this, from Matt Morris:

“You recently asked about dress codes in nice restaurants, and I for one would like to see them make a comeback. It seems Crooners and Cocktails would be a great place to start, since they’re sort of retro and fancy. Other places that are booked months in advance, like 555, would be another. If people really want to go there, they’ll dress the part if it’s required.”

In reviewing other pro-dress code emails, one woman stated she wasn’t ashamed to say her motive was to keep her husband’s eyes on her, and not the “hussy” seated just inches away.

“Isn’t that one reason waitresses have uniforms?,” she asked.

Unless working at Hooters (or the coming-to-South Portland Tilted Kilt), servers wear uniforms for many practical reasons that have nothing to do with tempting married men. However, that question did lead me to another realization surrounding the dress-code debate: Unlike most of my fishing-for-feedback columns, no one from the hospitality industry weighed in.

That said, I’ll be making phone calls and restaurant visits over the next month or so, if I can drag my BFF with me. It will be interesting to field what my industry cohorts have to say about the concept of a defined dress code beyond “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service.” Hopefully, some restaurateurs will share their own views of what, if at all, they’d like to see in a dress code, versus what they actually do see.

As for servers and bartenders, how about a few wardrobe malfunction stories to spice things up? I know they’re out there.

Peas & Q’s

Q — You’ve been missing a few things lately, and that doesn’t seem like the outspoken, opinionated, funny waitress my coworkers and I have come to enjoy reading. Where do you stand on the minimum-wage debate, for servers and bartenders in particular? Also, you’ve talked about the pros and cons of dating other restaurant people, but only in passing. Why not dig deeper? Surely with all your years in the business, you must have something to say on the matter. — Sharon H. and the staff at a Portland bar.

A — Sharon and Co., of course I have things to say on both questions. Lots of things. Thanks for loading the smoking guns, and stay tuned.

Natalie Ladd lives in Portland. When not pecking away, she can be found serving the masses at a busy eatery, or tirelessly conducting happy-hour field research. Hospitality questions or comments should be sent to, and may be featured in a future column. Follow Natalie on Twitter: @Nhladd.