Should hotel companies legislate staff facial hair?

A study entitled “The Frontline Provider’s Appearance: A Driver of Guest Perceptions” calls into the question guests’ level of assurance when interacting with staff who have facial hair.

Not surprisingly, hotel guests think that the most effective employees are men and women who smile and are attractive. When it comes to facial hair, however, the guests weren’t so sure. They assigned greater assurance ability to clean-shaven men, but for reasons that are not clear this effect held true only for Caucasian men and not for African-American men.

In the article featured in the November 2013 Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, authors and professors Vincent Magnini, Melissa Baker and Kiran Karande used the concept of how appearance translates to assurance. They asked a panel of 102 people drawn from a national consumer panel to judge employees’ knowledge and courtesy and their ability to convey trust and confidence—all based on their photograph.

From this comparison of carefully designed photographs of models, hotel guests ascribed greater assurance ability to clean-shaven men, and to all men and women who smile and are attractive. The beard effect did not influence the guests’ assessment of the African-American models, but the bearded Caucasian men were judged less effective than their clean-shaven counterparts (smile or no smile).

The authors suggest that the practical implications of their findings are that: (1) hotel companies generally should not permit their employees to wear beards, except in special situations; (2) they should incorporate genuine smiling training in their customer service training (since guests can immediately determine when an employee is faking it); and (3) within appropriate legal and ethical boundaries, hotel companies should put in place, manage, and enforce grooming policies that could influence the facial attractiveness ratings of their employees.