Bigotry Vs. Rudeness Vs. Dress Codes

So is the guy a bigot, or just an asshole?

Something about this article in the San Francisco Chronicle about an ambiguously homophobic comment by a doorman struck the same chord as the ongoing debate in the New York food publications over dress code. Both discussions seem so open-ended and fruitless that the temptation is to say, “go to that establishment or don’t go there but shut up about it.”

But that’s not how problems get solved. “You don’t like that the back of the bus, Ms. Parks? Well, I don’t like hearing about it, so just walk.” No, that doesn’t work at all. Nor is it really analogous, but you get the point. So let’s get into it a little.

To summarize, the San Francisco issue was with a gay man dressed in an outfit he described as, “totally faggy” who was told by a bouncer at an “edgy and popular bar” that, “Obviously this is not your kind of place.” Writer Chris Colin wonders weather the bouncer was being homophobic or just gruff, and asks, “as a society, how do we disentangle generic rudeness from bigotry?”

Meanwhile, a debate has been simmering in the comments boards of New York Times critic Frank Bruni’s blog and Adam Roberts’ Amateur Gourmet site over the appropriateness of dress codes in restaurants. Roberts contends that dress codes are outdated relics (my words, not his), while Bruni makes the case that a restaurant has the right to control its ambiance by controlling what people wear.

Initially, I was inclined to agree with Bruni. It is the restaurant’s prerogative to control it’s atmosphere, after all, and it does feel a little cheap to go to a three-figure dinner and still feel like you’re on the subway. But on some level, isn’t a restaurant that hands an under-dressed patron an ill-fitting loaner jacket saying, essentially, “Obviously this is not your kind of place?”

“Maybe it’s looks-ism. It could be you’re too straight for a gay bar. Or too gay for a straight bar. Or too rich for a poor bar. This one’s such a gray area,” Selisse Berry, founder of San Francisco’s Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, states in the Chron article. That’s a good word, and it seems to apply to both the doorman and the dress-code issue.

Roberts states that the younger generation of mid-to-high-end diners feels comfortable going to dinner in whatever attire they want because the food is the focus, not the dress. “We’re looking at Gourmet, not Vogue, before we head out the door,” he writes.

A restaurant with its own future in mind would want to attract these diners, but at the same time can’t risk alienating its regulars, who are used to coats and ties and cocktail dresses. Similarly, a bar that stays popular because it stays “edgy” can’t neuter its staff’s personality, but it can’t risk alienating customers with gruffness that seeps over into bigotry, even perceived bigotry.

So what are bars and restaurants that want to have a say in their own atmosphere to do? Well, a modicum of flexibility and politeness all around would be a good starting point. Perhaps the bouncer could have conveyed the same message while avoiding offense by saying something like, “wow, that’s a hell of an outfit. I think you look cool, but I hope you won’t feel uncomfortable inside.”

The Maitre d’hotel of a restaurant that insists on keeping a dress code might put its jacketless clientele at ease by sympathizing with them: “I’m sorry sir, I know it’s boiling outside, but you may find the climate in the dining room a little too chilly without a coat. Perhaps this gray one?” The restaurant could also benefit from having some halfway decent coats on, and bending to a patron that adheres to the spirit, if not the letter, of its rules.

Overall, though, no person or establishment will ever please everybody. As long as an establishment treats its customers fairly and respectfully, and serves them a hot meal, a cold drink or whatever else they order, it seems debates over dress codes and attitudes may have to be relegated to the dinner table.

And that is where it will do the most good, anyway. By continually discussing and debating our mores, our society becomes stronger. With any luck, in time, alienation and hostility surrounding these issues will give way to humor and grace, and that would be simply delicious.

Homophobic, or just edgy? [San Francisco Chronicle]
When You’re All Dressed Up, You Need Somewhere To Go
No Jacket Required (An Anti Dress-Code Manifesto) [Amateur Gourmet]

[Photo: via slushpup/flickr]

Bigotry Vs. Rudeness Vs. Dress Codes