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Why Fine Dining Is Shedding Formal Dress Codes

Restaurant Fine Dining Dress CodesFine dining restaurants have been the hardest hit segment of the food service industry since the country slid into recession two years ago.  Many establishments have closed and other have turned to deep discounting to stay alive during a time when consumers just aren’t willing to spend a lot of money to go out to eat.

As if all that weren’t enough, many fine dining restaurants are having trouble attracting younger patrons because they seem stuffy and “old school” when it comes to atmosphere and dress code.  Affluent customers between the ages of 21 and 30 are much less likely to choose a restaurant that requires a sport coat and tie, once a standard in the fine dining segment.

Attitudes towards traditional dress codes have definitely shifted in the last 15 years.  Many younger consumers don’t even dress as formally as a tie and sport coat at work, and they definitely don’t want to be required to dress that way when they go out for dinner.

Some fine dining restaurants have started to recruit younger customers by changing their dress code.  Many have scrapped a dress code altogether in an effort to broaden their customer base.  In general, the reaction has been positive.  The trend towards more casual fashion has been building for a long time, and if the fine dining segment of the food service industry is going to thrive, it’s going to have to start catering to a younger customer base.

There will always be ultra formal restaurants that stick to a strict dress code and appeal to a very small segment of customers.  But as many restaurants have learned in the past couple years, your customers are perfectly willing to abandon you at the slightest sign of economic trouble, especially if your business model focuses on service and quality rather than price.

As I’ve discussed in a previous post, the customer hunt for value is here to stay, and represents a real shift in how restaurants get business.  For those that aren’t focused on competitive pricing, this shift in attitudes represents a real problem.  Old social morays like dress code don’t help the situation.  In an environment as competitive as food service, those that evolve to shifting customer attitudes are going to be the ones that survive.

About Greg McGuire

Greg has blogged about the food service industry for years and has been published in industry magazines, like Independent Restaurateur and industry blogs like Restaurant SmartBrief. He lives in Colorado with his wife and two sons and enjoys reading, live music, and the great outdoors.

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  1. Ditching the dress code is a great idea! It seems that when you go to a semi-high end restaurant where “business casual” is the dress code, there is a younger crowd. And generally if people are paying $20 – $30 a plate they won’t show up in a holey t-shirt. Not that money buys class but in some cases the jeans that people wear are pricier than a sport jacket.

    • And as younger generations become more affluent attitudes are going to change even more. Like you said, many pairs of jeans cost more than a sport coat these days. The perception that jeans are cheap belongs to the baby boomers, and if fine dining restaurants think they can continue to cater to the older generation’s perceptions and remain in business, they’ve got another thought coming.

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