Dress Code Be Damned! – By John Hendrie

Dear employee – If you are going to represent my Brand, I expect you to look and present yourself with an image worthy of my message, product and service. I want you to be a work of art, providing that memorable customer experience. Easy to say, much harder to effect nowadays.

Dear employee – If you are going to represent my Brand, I expect you to look and present yourself with an image worthy of my message, product and service. I want you to be a work of art, providing that memorable customer experience.
Easy to say, much harder to effect nowadays.
Let’s say the Dress Code is Business Casual. Maybe, the type of business dictates the look. A Bank Officer dresses very differently than a retail associate at a record store. Female employees have so many more options than their male counterparts. So, our policies address cleavage, make-up, skirt too short, fabric too revealing. Other companies require uniforms, which should better define appearance on the job. Then again, we must consider body type, physique and fit. Hopefully, those uniforms are also clean, laundered and pressed. But, now we have a whole different employee-look landscape very much subject to interpretation, yet is right out there for our customers to see – Body Art on a moving, talking, Brand representing tableau – the human body and all its extensions, open to review and view. At least now both sexes have equal opportunity in expression – tattoos and piercings.
Where do we draw the line on how they look and how our customers might respond? Just go back fifty years. Hospitality female employee uniformed impression was individualized around lipstick color, reasonable earrings, coiffed hair, minimal jewelry and painted finger nails. Men might have a mustache and some longer hair, rarely below their collar. That really was it. No other body piercings, other than ear lobes, and tattoos were very rare, except maybe at clubs or sea side restaurants with short sleeved employees. Tattoos and piercings then were mainly the domain of the outlanders –bikers, hippies and other outlaws (military personnel had earned a bye). Wow, have things changed! Now, almost everyone has a little something to express themselves (even this author), most of it hidden from sight (but, it is there – our private statement). So, we business owners and operators must decide what is appropriate for our business and what is not. Welcome to the minefield of public opinion, legalities and individual expression.
Restaurant-hospitality.com has given us some guidelines to consider with their article: “Trendinista: Taking a Stand on Employee Tattoos and Piercings”. Brian Elzweig and Donna Peoples developed these policies and procedures.
1. Carefully review policies in light of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which makes it “unlawful employment practice for an employer…to discrimination against any individual…because of such individual’s race, religion, sex or national origin.” While Title VII has no prohibition on company policies that dictate aspects of employee appearance, it’s important to understand its implications.
2. Conform to state and local laws, which are often more restrictive than federal laws.
3. Take seriously claims of religious and other forms of discrimination.
4. Have legitimate business reasons for restrictions in the dress code.
5. Know your guest base. Some courts now demand data supporting claims that customers object to employees with tattoos or piercings.
6. Understand the implications of your dress code. A KKK symbol will clearly offend many, but do you know the latest trends in symbols, acronyms and what they mean? Also, avoid being overly restrictive; a blanket prohibition of permanent tattoos could impact an employee with permanent makeup, which is actually a tattoo.
7. Be fair and mentor employees. You might not discriminate against body modifications in hiring, but will you promote someone who is aggressively tattooed or pierced? Make that policy clear to any workers interested in advancement.
8. Know when to change your stance. Are you operating under outdated assumptions? Owners and managers might not be crazy about body modifications, but they may be overlooking otherwise highly qualified candidates because of that bias.
9. Make clear the repercussions of violating the dress code. Establish procedures and make sure they are consistently followed.
Ultimately, whatever you decide drives your image and reputation. Flexibility and adaptability are the watchwords in today’s Hospitality business. Do not be foolish!

LRA LogoJohn Hendrie is the author of the LRA blog, focusing on anything and everything about customer experience. LRA Worldwide is the leading global provider of Customer Experience Measurement services for multinational companies with complex customer interactions. For over 30 years, LRA’s innovative brand standards audits, quality assurance inspections, mystery shopping programs, research, and consulting services have helped ensure our clients deliver consistent, memorable, and differentiated experiences to their customers. Many of the world’s preeminent global hospitality brands, as well as companies in the gaming, dining, healthcare, sports and entertainment, real estate, retail and travel industries choose LRA to help them measure and improve the customer experience. For more information, visit www.LRAWorldwide.com.