Fine Dining Dress Codes

A look at the evolving trend of required attire.

You've heard the story, a guy tries to impress his date by making reservations at an elegant restaurant, only to be turned away when he neglects to wear a jacket or tie.     

While this humiliation does still happen every once in a while, we have seen the decline of the formal dress code at fine dining establishments thoroughout the past decade. The days where men would don a tie and women would slip into their fanciest gowns for dinner are, for the most part, a thing of the past. However, there are still a handful of restaurants dedicated to maintaining the refined tradition of fashion and dining.

A common way for restaurants to appease the trend of casual dress, while upholding an air of formality has been to make men's ties optional. James Mcleod, manager at The Prime Rib in Washington, DC, noted, "The restaurant requires men to wear jackets after 5pm, but we loosened up our policy on ties two years ago to adapt to the changing times." In January of 2009, New York's The 21 Club, a restaurant known for old-school style, also stopped requiring ties.

Another trend in high-end restaurants has been to make jackets preferred, but not required. The dress code at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago has relaxed significantly, trading formal requirements for a more casual one where men are strongly encouraged to wear jackets. Some restaurants have drastically pared down their dress codes, such as The 1913 Room in Grand Rapids, MI. According to Jeff Smith, a manager at 1913, "business casual attire is expected, but jackets are unnecessary."

Other restaurants have embraced the turn to casual clothing with open arms. At Menton, the restaurant of celebrated Boston chef, Barbara Lynch, business casual is the attire of choice. However, they encourage dressing with comfort in mind. Menton's private dining coordinator, Sarah Ragsdale, explained that their two tasting menus last two and a half to three hours each. The often uncomfortable nature of formal attire (think spanx and ties) does not typically lend well to long meals.

But several restaurants continue to buck the casual trend. Le Bernadin, The Four Seasons, and Per Se are all New York establishments that stand by more formal dress codes. While none of them ever required men to wear a tie, all three enforce a strict jacket policy. Reservations manager at The Four Seasons, Sonia Colon said they keep a dress code for the sake of tradition. She noted that they find that a lot of customers actually like that The Four Seasons is one of the last restaurants with required attire.

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