What is the future of staff uniforms, and how will any such changes affect guests’ perceptions or expectations? There’s much to consider in uniform design and what it means for a brand, so for now let’s focus on one piece of apparel: the necktie.
As a Baby Boomer who has spent most of his days living in and around the Eastern Seaboard of North America, I have perhaps a highly traditional opinion on hospitality neckwear. It used to be that anyone in hotel management wore a necktie, with exceptions being few and far between. And, even on those rare holiday outings, it was not surprising to see the general manager sporting a tie. Nowadays, the diminishing presence of the tie — or oftentimes the total lack thereof — in our industry is cause for alarm.
It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly when the tie disappeared from the GM wardrobe. From limited-service properties to trendy boutique properties, this new informality was seen as congruous to these emerging brands’ modi operandi — laidback, approachable and slightly edgy — bringing the conventions of old more or less in line with that of a “West Coast” philosophy where the tie has not made it out of the closet in decades.
Formalities still exist overseas, though. On a recent trip to Europe, I visited eight properties; not one member of senior staff was seen without a tie. On the continent where our time-honored hospitality customs were written into stone, this makes sense. Furthermore, I can report similar results from last year’s Asian foray, where undoubtedly long-held cultural traditions of strict etiquette are a significant factor.
While formal wear remained unchanged in some regions, this still begs the question: is the hotel world a better place without neckties? If it serves your brand to forgo this accessory, then all the power to you, but I urge you to not make this decision lightly. The necktie has tremendous symbolic value, combining both authority and an aura of trustworthiness. Business suits worn without a tie are not as suggestive in these aspects, which can reduce guest service perceptions.
At the front desk, employees without ties command less respect from guests — how can they be important if they are not wearing a tie? Moreover, if a businessperson arrives at the front desk wearing a tie, will he or she think less of the front desk’s capabilities because of the latter’s relative informality?
On the surface, your logical brain might tell you that the absence of a necktie holds no bearing on your opinion of another individual. We live in an age without prejudging, right? There’s a reason why the phrases “Everyone loves a man in uniform” and “Dress for success” are so pervasive; subconsciously, we know that a person who can dress himself or herself properly can likewise handle his or her business in a suitable manner. Need evidence of this? Look no further than military members — they learn to correctly dress themselves and how to stay clean long before they get anywhere near a rifle. A uniform indicates authority in addition to discipline, dedication, honor and prestige.
Call me old-fashioned. My feeling is that the GM should always wear a tie, as should everyone else with seniority or in a line-staff position that deals directly with guests. By wearing a tie, we demonstrate a degree of professionalism towards our guests and to the traditions of hospitality. The evanescence of this fashion statement is yet another in a long list of those lost in what makes being in hospitality truly special.
When I open my closet and stare at the rows of Italian masterpieces created by Gucci, Salvatore Ferragamo and Brioni, I can’t help but think that this neck apparel used to form the mainstay of my daily wardrobe. Now they serve as relics of an old-world formality reserved for weddings, funerals, speaking engagements and other such major life-defining moments. Outside of those occasions, I can count the number of times I wore a tie last year. Sad to say, I miss those days.