Derek Picot encourages hoteliers to move with the times when it comes to body art, grooming and facial hair.
Last week, I was asked by a hotelier to give an opinion on whether it was discriminatory to insist that hotel staff appear smartly dressed and clean shaven, have no visible tattoos, and wear no veils or burkas.
On the discrimination point I deferred to the lawyers, but the advice I gave was that staff who are in direct contact with guests should always dress one level above. What I meant by that was if the guests in an establishment typically wore T-shirts, then staff should wear open-collared shirts. If the guests wore open shirts, staff should wear ties. If the clients start wearing ties then put the personnel in suits, and so on. This is how Beverley Griffin, one-time general manager of the Savoy in London, ended up wearing a long-tailed morning suit in a desire to out-dress his customers. Mind you, wearing one presumably allowed him the afternoon off.
Providing uniforms is one way to sort out problems with scruffy staff, but facial hair presents a slightly more bristly problem. Still, if the guests are doing it, and increasingly these hipsters are, then it should be fine for the hotel team too –and, hopefully, with even more style.
MAKING A STATEMENT
All this might smack of grooming snobbery and, of course, the danger is that a sort of reverse effect causes hoteliers to dictate how their staff should look and then in turn require standards from their paying guests. This “golf club” mentality still permeates those luxury hotels where you are asked to wear a jacket in the restaurant. (These same restaurants are often empty, I might add.)
Tattoos are another matter. At a restaurant in Paris last week I spotted a tall waitress with a fine example of one. Just above her knee and below the hemline of her short skirt, there was the tail end of a python that wrapped itself elegantly around her long leg before disappearing upwards. I have to say as I get older I find myself rather drawn to this type of imagery and, in my defence, I’m not alone.
Snakes have always had an appeal, and there is no class distinction here – high society has been doing body art for years. The Victorian British-American socialite Lady Randolph Churchill had a snake tattooed around her wrist. Our present royals may, for all I know, be following the lead of Edward the VII and George V who both had tattoos. So it begs the question: why shouldn’t hotel staff be able to display their favoured designs?
“Because…” my favourite Hong Kong general manager tells me when I ask, “…the guests don’t like it.” Well, I think they do and, as with facial hair, it’s all about how much, where and how attractive it is. As usual, hotel managers appear to be the last to face up (pun intended) to the changing attitudes of their customers.
Unfortunately, hotels can still dictate what their staff wear and how they are groomed, provided that they apply their dress code rules to all and make sure their policy is asexual and uniform. Challenges with Islamic dress at the reception desk and in public areas of the hotel have been overcome, with hotel groups stipulating that women may cover their hair, but may not wear a veil or indeed a burka. This has allowed the reintroduction of crucifixes which, for a time, were not allowed if any religious identification was prohibited under house rules. The point hotel managers seem to generally agree on is that guests like to see faces and want more than just eye contact. This seems to me to be reasonable.
After several decades working in hotels, I’m afraid I can’t quite subscribe to the adage: “The customer is always right.” I’ve met too many who were clearly wrong. Nevertheless, in general, it’s the customer that should dictate the product and services not vice versa, and if we attempt something different, they will walk across the road to our competitors where they feel more comfortable.
Hotels that ignore trends do so at their peril. Projecting their own conception of dress code is arrogance and an intrusion on their clients who pay the bill. Hotel staff should be allowed to reflect the style of the guests and wear their art and hair with pride. It is not compulsory, however.
There are now more moustaches than there have been since the seventies. Should I grow one myself? My wife advises not. “You’ll look like Basil Fawlty,” she says.
Derek Picot is a hotelier for more than 30 years and author of ‘Hotel Reservations’