3:00am | September 5, 2011
Is a Dress Code a Good Thing?
Last week, there was a couple in Bottega for dinner, and every time I walked past them I had to kind of grit my teeth. She looked great: sundress and sandals, casual but put together. The guy, on the other hand, wore a torn red T-shirt, shorts that were rumpled and stained, and a pair of beat-up flip-flops. Every time I spotted those flip-flops, I had to resist the temptation to move the couple to a table in the back.
The more virtuous side of my brain says, “They’re paying for the meal; they have the right to wear what they like.” My brain’s snarky side (which seems to expand on hot days) says, “He is embarrassing every table that chose to dress appropriately for dinner.”
Having lived and worked in the Napa Valley for the last 25 years, I’ve gotten used to lunches being ultra-casual but at dinner I can’t help feeling that our living décor (our customers, mostly men), has gotten a little too relaxed. For years, whenever I’ve been invited to a private event at a friend’s home, the invite has usually stated, “Napa casual,” which means nice jeans and a stylish shirt. To give this kind of notice makes sense to me; I like knowing a dress code in advance as there’s nothing worse than being over- or underdressed for an occasion.
What do you think? Have we overcasualized our dress codes? I think food tastes different when you’re in your shorts in the backyard eating some BBQ versus when you dress up a little for a good restaurant. Your attire is part of the experience. I sense that many restaurant patrons – at least in the Napa Valley – are more comfortable under-dressing than over-dressing for dinner. Is that good or bad?
Contrast the Napa Valley with how people dress in Rome. When I was in Rome last year, I went into a very simple osteria. As soon as I heard “osteria,” I thought I’d feel comfortable in jeans and a nice shirt. I was wrong. The rest of Rome was impeccably attired and even in this small place, men wore ties and Brioni suits. I didn’t enjoy my meal because I felt uncomfortable with how I was dressed. I felt my jeans didn’t show enough respect to the people cooking my food and the other diners in the restaurant with me. Granted, Napa isn’t Rome, but still….
Does it affect your experience when someone in a restaurant is dressed too casually? Do you even notice? Should a restaurant put dress code suggestions on their web site and let each reservation know in advance that people who are seriously underdressed will not be seated? Or is it best to just ignore the beat-up flip-flops? Is the tyranny of a dress code a thing of the past? Please don’t snark me out on this one. I’m casting the net for answers in deciding this difficult question. I’d appreciate knowing how you feel about this.
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