Is it time to dress for dinner again?

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DanielDaniel restaurant, New York

A few years ago while I was dining at Paul Bocuse in Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or outside Lyon, a couple walked through the dining room wearing shorts. They had just changed out of the long pants they had dined in, so at least the (then) three-starred restaurant’s staff had required them to change. But the gentleman had not worn a jacket during the meal, something that would have been unheard of in the past (and maybe had something to do with Michelin dropping a star from the restaurant’s most recent rating).

At Daniel in New York last December, the people in the group I was hosting with Art In Voyage had all dressed appropriately, the gentlemen not only wearing the required jackets but ties, to boot (and no boots). But at another table, a group of twenty-somethings sat wearing felt crowns (think Jughead from the Archie comics) that would have looked just right at a Burger King but not in one of Manhattan’s toniest dining rooms. When I passed the host stand on the way to the men’s room, I asked the maitre d’, “What’s up with the crowns?” I thought maybe he hadn’t noticed, but he just shrugged and said they were just being festive. I told him I thought it was odd.

It was also disruptive and changed the dynamic of the dining room.

But dressing down has been where dining out has been going for a while now. Even Le Bernadin, another star-rated Manhattan restaurant, has dropped its jacket requirement. In Central Florida, Victoria & Albert’s is the only holdout. In New Orleans, Galatoire’s requires jackets, Antoine’s prefers them, Arnaud’s doesn’t care. I remember thinking back in France that if Paul Bocuse had surrendered the war was lost.

But according to an article published in the New York Times, dressing up for dinner is making a comeback. And not just jackets required for gentlemen but stricter enforcement of even moderate dress codes that specify no flip flops, sneakers or blue jeans, presumably even if you paid $200 for them.

It’s partly a response to the past couple of years of eating in sweatpants and loungewear. With most people not having to get dressed to go into an office, they weren’t going to dress to go to dinner.

But the return to dress code enforcement also has to do with the restaurants themselves wanting to present a unified experience. I’ve always taken exception to being called a food critic; I prefer the term restaurant critic. The distinction is that dining out is more than just the food. It’s the service and the atmosphere, as well. And like it or not, we, the customers, are a part of the atmosphere.

So I’m all for the return to dressing properly to dine out. But I’ll be interested to see if more restaurants enforce their dress codes. An interesting note in the Times piece noted that Le Bernadin dropped its jacket requirement because it was deemed the jackets they kept on hand for men who had forgotten theirs were not sanitary. That’s a good point, but it doesn’t mean you have to remove the requirement. Restaurants that post signs reading no shirt, no shoes, no service don’t keep a stash of button-downs and Buster Browns for underdressed customers. All of my guests on the New York trip went to the effort to pack the proper clothing.

As long as the dress code is made clear when making a reservation, I think it’s fine for management to turn away people who don’t follow it.

And they can tell those people on the other side of the dining room to take off those silly felt crowns.

What do you think?

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