Are Restaurant Dress Codes Making A Comeback?

If restaurants want to add a vexatious clause in their guest policy, they only need to ask the guests to wear "proper attire" before they are allowed to dine. And, opposition to the idea of a restaurant dress code is not a wholly 21st-century thing. An early 20th-century dress code, imposed by the Fred Harvey Eating House chain, was so controversial that the Oklahoma supreme court was asked to weigh in on a dress code requiring dinner jackets for men. And, in 1924, it did, per Restaurant-ing through history.

The court opined: "Society in America has for years assumed jurisdiction to a great extent to dictate certain regulations of dress in first-class dining rooms, and these conventions of society cannot be entirely ignored without disastrous results to those who serve a metropolitan public in such capacity." per Justia, adding that, "Unlike the lower animals, we all demand the maintenance of some style and fashion in the dinning-room ... "

The pandemic changed restaurant dress code protocols

It would take nearly a hundred years before dress code conventions like those were set aside, and it was thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, that even the starchiest of restaurants in New York City did away with the "jackets required" rule, per The Wall Street Journal. Before that, restaurants like Eric Ripert's Le Bernardin were happy to loan out jackets to those who might have forgotten to wear one, but the pandemic made the policy both "unsanitary" and "unworkable," and the jackets were described as "germ magnets."

Another development that saw "jackets required" become "jackets optional" was the coming of pandemic-driven outdoor seating, which made dress codes in Manhattan restaurants like La Grenouille and Daniel even more of an option, even though Brooklyn's River Café continued requiring them. 

But as things return to normal, The New York Times says restaurants appear to be shifting back. Guests set to dine in New York's Les Trois Chevaux are informed as soon as their booking is confirmed that the establishment "expect[s] our guests to arrive in proper dinner attire, and for you to celebrate the style that downtown New York City can bring." It also adds that "Blue jeans, shorts and sneakers are strictly prohibited." 

Dress codes are making a comeback

Few seem to be complaining about the return of dress codes at high-end establishments, at least for now. River Café owner Michael O'Keeffe tells The Wall Street Journal that even with his uncompromising dress code, "We don't have any trouble being full every night with people dressing up." Even in restaurants where jackets have become an option like Le Bernardin, Ripert says he's been surprised to see jackets making a comeback. 

Restauranteurs like Daniel Boulud agree, saying "We have a lot of young customers, and I tell you, most of them dress up without [my] telling them that they need to dress up," per The Wall Street Journal.

There are those that believe there is a place for dress codes. Stylist Leckie Roberts tells Today that dressing up for dinner doesn't just show respect for those who made the effort to create the meal experience; she says "it's nostalgic, associated with a time when the world was less chaotic and stressful — and we weren't stuck inside wearing Lululemon pants." Manhattan-based fashion designer Priscilla Von Sorella agrees, saying "They [restaurants] have really suffered a lot in the last two years," she said. "Whenever you enter their establishment, especially if it is a nicer establishment, it is a way to show your token of appreciation and a level of respect," per The New York Times.