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Chapter 5 Casual days in hospitality?

OBJECTIVES

After reading this chapter you should be able to:

1. Understand the reasons why the business casual trend has spread rapidly in American businesses.

2. Identify the positive and negative results of the business casual trend in American corporations.

3. Analyze how business casual fits in the hospitality industry.

4. Determine where and when business casual is an appropriate look in hospitality.

Business casual dress in American corporations has spread rapidly in the past few years. Like many trends, it is generally conceded that business casual began on the West Coast. High-tech start-up companies in Silicon Valley first proved that employees could be productive and creative while dressed casually.

Many cultural changes drove and contributed to the spread of business casual dress, turning it from a trend to the norm. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, advances in technology and increased competition led to the re-engineering of corporations. Downsizing, among other management strategies, became a common method for coping with these rapid changes. Employees had to become even more flexible and adaptable in order to keep up with their industries and deliver added value to their employers.

Realization came slowly in some companies, faster in others, that how employees dressed was secondary to how well their ideas and efforts contributed to the bottom line. By 1992, Levi Straus & Company had reported that 67 percent of 500 companies surveyed allowed casual dress days all or part of the time.

As we now enter the next century, corporate America has embraced casual clothing to such an extent that traditional business suits have become the exception, not the status quo. Most companies have found that casual business dress loosens the sense of formality in corporate hallways, encouraging workers at all levels to communicate better with each other. Most companies believe that casual dress fosters better morale and creativity.

Some companies have found that casual dress has indeed been an easy way to boost morale and to serve as an office "equalizer," making it easy for people to talk to each other. Some report that casual dress helps employees relax and builds team spirit because everyone is dressed similarly. Some say that their employees like casual dress year-round, not only on certain days. "I can work better because I am more comfortable moving around," says one female employee. Some companies cite that casual dress saves employees money on their wardrobes. In creative fields such as advertising, fashion and entertainment, as well as in creative positions in high-tech companies, it seems that dressing down is appropriate and conducive to creativity and innovation.

However, when employees and corporations across the country evaluate the impact of casual dress there are still conflicting reports. While some companies brag about the positive results of business casual dress, others have found that as they have relaxed their dress code, performance has relaxed as well. In some companies this low productivity began to change when, instead of an occasional day in which people dressed casually, it was institutionalized--either on certain days of the week or month, or every day. Once it became the norm, people did not pay as much attention to the issue and they went back to business as usual.

Some corporate executives tell us that they regret the dress-down policy. Men tend to look similar when they dress casual. Khakis and polo shirts still give men a sense of uniformity. But when women dress casual, they have more options in interpreting what casual means, which can lead to confusion and a look that is best left for weekends. For example, tight stirrup pants with a revealing top is often what some women consider casual. With this kind of attire, instead of being looked at as an efficient team member, women are looked at as attractive females, becoming more vulnerable to sexual harassment.

And the added value of casual days as a wardrobe saver has not been equally true for both genders. While some men can save money with polo shirts and khaki pants, women complain that now they need not only a traditional business wardrobe, but a casual one as well. This seems to confirm the theory that "women shop to look attractive and unique, men shop to look like the other guys." In achieving these goals, it appears the women need to spend more money!

Some corporations still do not allow casual business dress. One of our corporate clients says, "It is about credibility. We deal with international clients, and it would be an insult to our foreign clients to conduct a business meeting in casual attire." Some financial institutions also do not allow business casual. "We feel that our customers expect us to dress professionally because we handle their money," says a spokesperson for a bank.

So even as we enter the next millennium, there are industries--or segments within industries--that are exceptions to the general embracing of business casual dress year-round. Hospitality is one of the industries that selectively allows business casual dress.

Several of the hospitality organizations allow business casual dress at their corporate offices only. Many of these organizations began experimenting with business casual dress in the early 1990s during the summers. Today many have casual dress year-round as an employee benefit.

Their casual dress guidelines range from none to loose to very specific. One hospitality respondent defined their company policy as: "Use common sense and, when in doubt, ask." Early on one of the large hotel companies asked us to conduct seminars at their corporate offices to assist employees in selecting a casual look that was still professional. This is now a common request because companies as well as employees are having difficulties in knowing where to draw the line between relaxed and sloppy attire.

Dress is such a vital element of your professional presence that losing what can be a powerful visual tool may be to your disadvantage. Unfortunately, this affects women more than it affects men. Casual does not mean sloppy. It means comfortable, appropriate, and attractive. It is a matter of balance and good sense. Our advice is that when you need to dress down for work, dress casually but professionally. Dressing conservatively is a safe strategy. Before you leave home, look in a full-length mirror and ask yourself: "If I run into anyone from within or outside the company, would I need to apologize or explain my outfit?" If your answer is "yes", we suggest you go back and make some changes.

What one company considers appropriate for casual dress, others may not accept. Jeans, sneakers and T-shirts are accepted in some companies, while other places allow only khakis and polo shirts for men. Others require that men's shirts have collars and that women wear blouses with pants. Other companies ask women to wear jackets if they choose to wear city shorts, and sleeveless dresses or halter tops are universally disallowed.

Even within the same company, the policy may vary, depending on the department. Many departments serve different customers, either internal or external. Some companies, when they have meetings with clients, will let the clients know whether they allow casual dress so the client will feel free to dress casually as well.

While business casual dress in hospitality at the headquarters' level is now acceptable, at the property level it is not. "Hospitality is a seven-days-a-week business," said one of the respondents. "A client would feel offended if, at their wedding reception, a manager, who was assisting with the most important event of their lives, was wearing casual wear; it would damage the company's credibility. We don't have the same luxury that other industries have today to relax our dress standards."

A few of our property clients experimented with business casual dress, but the results were mixed. Some guests did in fact complain that when they had rented space for an important event, they found casually dressed employees to be disconcerting.

An exception to the no-casual-dress-at-property-level norm are hotels and resorts located in tropical or vacation areas. At these properties, employees dress in more casual uniforms; therefore, more casual attire for the managers and support staff is also allowed. (See "The Professional Resort Look" in Chapter Three.)

Also, when going to a hospitality headquarters for a meeting, training or just a visit, ask what the appropriate business attire is and follow their lead. The exception to this is an interview. As Susan Bixler, a nationally known image consultant, says: "If you want the job, look the part; if you want the promotion, look promotable; if you want respect, dress as well or better than your industry standards." Robert Pante, also a well-recognized image expert, recommend to professionals: "Dress for the job you want, not for the one you have; you are already there."

Use your professional appearance including grooming, clothes and accessories to your advantage.

REVIEW QUESTIONS

1. List three reasons why the business casual trend has spread rapidly in American businesses.

2. Name three positive and three negative results of the business casual trend in American corporations.

3. What is appropriate business casual clothing to wear to a meeting at your company's headquarters?

4. Give two reasons why in most hospitality organizations it is not appropriate to wear business casual at the property level.
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Article Details
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Author:Michael, Angie
Publication:Best Impressions in Hospitality
Article Type:Professional standards
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2000
Words:1536
Previous Article:Chapter 4 Professional dress for women in hospitality.
Next Article:Chapter 6 Universal standards.
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