Should Food, Wine and the Level of Service Dictate Dress Code?

Posted on Jun 26, 2012


In the age of dressing to be comfortable, what is appropriate dress code anywhere these days?

Growing up in the era of “little white gloves and seams down the stockings” am I old fashioned, stuffy,  demanding, or just want to be respectful to the people creating and serving the meal?

Upscale restaurants often have to walk a fine line between appealing to younger customers, who tend to favor a more causal style of dress, while not alienating older diners who generally prefer a dressier, more conservative look.  However, just finishing a fabulous meal at 11 Madison Park, the dress code ran from the young, local hedge fund managers dressed in suits and ties, finishing work and having dinner with either the spouse or date, to older couples dining as if they just finished a round of golf at the local course in their home town.

When leaving, the answer to the question: “Do you have a dress code?” The management’s answer was “People should feel comfortable dining here.”  That begs the question, are the people “well dressed” feeling comfortable next to the diners wearing knit, collared sports shirts and khakis?  Should this level of restaurant favor people in suits, either with or without ties, over the more casual suburban look?  The answer is really in who will pay the prices to dine and should there be a dress code at all?

The restaurant “scene” in New York is transforming dining and nightclubs into a hybred: combing a nightclub with food and beverage.  The dining experience in most restaurants is no longer a quiet dinner focused on fine dining, wonderful and attentive service, and a beautiful ambiance.  It is now about how to combine dining and disco so that the “club scene” is appealing to a younger and out of town audience.  The old family restaurants that have been around for generations do not have music, loud or otherwise.  The portions are moderately priced mostly because the family owns the building so rents can be reasonbable.  Ask the local New Yorkers where they dine and you will find that they are the small, neighborhood family run establishments.  There is a reason that they have been in business for literally 5 or more generations.

The dining room at 11 Madison Park is wonderful with tables spaced far enough apart to allow for conversation, no music, thank heavens, and truly hospitable, knowledgeable and efficient service.  The food is served in small portions, almost bite sized, to fit exactly what you are in the mood to try.  The concept is to surprise the guest.  The menu features the main ingredient of the dish.  No description follows about how it is to be prepared.  The trust is established between the guest and the Captain to relay preferences about your what you like and what you don’t.  It’s that’s simple –trust the kitchen to hear what needs to be done to please you.  The attached photo is an Ode to New York: black and white cookies presented at the start of the meal to honor the tradition of New York with a twist of flavors that are a true delight.

New York only has a handful of dining establishments that provide this level of service, ambiance and quality of experinece.  It would be wonderful if there was an dress code enforced to match the expectation and delivery so that everyone was on the same page.  If you are not sure, when booking the reservation, ask what the dress code preference is: jacket and tie, jacket, or no jacket? 

When you are spending $250 per person on dinner, what is your expectation for a dress code to make you feel comfortable?

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