Le Bernardin Responds

You may recall my post No Jacket Required (An Anti Dress-Code Manifesto) in which I argued that restaurants shouldn’t impose a dress code. Subsequent to that post, I took one commenter’s suggestion and reached out to Le Bernardin, one of the restaurants mentioned in the piece, for comment regarding their dress code. I spoke to Mandy Oser, Director of Strategic Partnerships, and she forwarded my questions to Ben Chekroun, Le Bernardin’s long-time maitre d’. Here are his responses:

What is the dress code at Le Bernardin?

Jacket is required and tie is optional.

How is it enforced?

One way is by having available 10 jackets in our coatcheck for those who might arrive without one.

Does the dress code only apply to men or does it also apply to women?

Not exactly in the same way but dress code does apply to women as well.

What is the purpose of the dress code? Do you think it contributes to the overall experience of a meal?

We feel having the dress code contributes to the whole atmosphere of the dining room. If there was no dress code and we permitted people to dine with us in shorts or sleeveless shirts, we would lose the ability to set a limit to what is acceptable or not.

Is it possible to be a four-star restaurant without a dress code?

We don’t think so.

Is the trend shifting to more casual dress?

Absolutely–we believe it has started with the work place, ie. many businesses have casual Friday‚Ķ and it trickles down.

Will there always be a dress code at Le Bernardin?

Yes, to some extent.

Thanks to Ben and Mandy for taking the time to respond.

21 comments

  1. http://thefoodmonsterblog.blogspot.com

    I think Le Bernardin needs to get with the times. You can most certainly have a 4-star restaurant without having a dress code.

    It should be completely optional. Coat suggested if you will. While I like to look nicer for a nicer meal, I certainly won’t give my money to any restaurant that requires me to be such.

  2. I’d like to know what size their jackets are…one size fits all? Or do they expect a visiting gentleman wear a jacket too small while eating? I know many a men who wear suits to work all day long and on a weekend when ‘fine dining’ refuse to wear a jacket; however i do acquiesce that a business dinner during the week is different, but then the men are already and most probably in suits

  3. I think that what’s interesting about this interview was how vague the dress code for women was. He acknowledges that such a dress code for women exists, but is not very specific about it — whereas for men it’s clear that a jacket is required. So women are left in the position of having to guess as to what appropriate attire for such a place is.

  4. I am all in favor of dress codes. I’m really tired of how slummy people look these days. It’s about respect!

    I was at an afternoon weekend wedding a few weeks ago where a female attendee came in a black tank top, cargo shorts, black socks and black shoes. The husband wore a white t-shirt, an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt and a pair of dirty blue jeans, their 11 or 12 year old daughter was wearing sweatpants. If I had been the wedding planner I would have told them they were obviously in the wrong place and asked them to leave. You can buy perfectly nice looking clothes at Goodwill if it’s about finances.

    Is it just too much trouble to clean up a little? It was a hot day and most of the men were wearing jackets and not ties. Or a shirt and tie without a jacket. They looked and seemed to feel fine. Most women were wearing pretty sundresses, nothing fancy or formal, but they had made an effort to recognize the occasion. Again, it’s about respect!

    Without standards or dress codes you can imagine what turns up at restaurants. I’m totally on their side in this.

  5. I have to agree with dress codes. Nothing is as abhorent in restaurants (short of someone talking on their cellphone) than to be underdressed. There are plenty of options for alternate restaurants for those who wish not to wear a jacket or can’t bear to be without jeans for just one night. For those who can, I’ll see you at Le Bernardin and their counterparts.

  6. Regarding the vagueness of the policy for women, I suspect that any woman who would put serious thought into what would be appropriate attire would not end up selecting inappropriate attire for a place like Le Bernardin.

    I suppose that their vague policy is a side effect of the freedom that women generally enjoy regarding clothing choice. What is appropriate attire for women is much harder to define objectively without sounding draconian. You can’t categorically say ‘shoulders must be covered’ without eliminating many acceptable choices, and if they starting measuring hemlines I imagine they would face a lawsuit at some time.

  7. Since when do chefs, maitre d’s, restaurateurs, etc. decide what makes a 4-star restaurant? I gave 4-stars to a few restaurants that had no dress code and would again.

    Does that mean a terrific sushi place cannot get 4 stars? Or a bbq place? Or a steak house?

    Ridiculous.

  8. My feeling is that people who overreact to a reasonable dress code are people who are screaming bundles of id of who just dislike being told what to do. They also care more about dress codes “destroying their freedoms” than the Constitution being trashed.

  9. Thank god for dress codes! Can you imagine those Hawaiian shirts, short pants and baseball caps worn at the finest restaurants in the world by patrons who are either too damn sloppy or too self-righteous regarding their freedoms?

    If we left the choice in the hands of many of this blog’s commenters, we’d have Le Bernardin turned into yet another Irish pub and/or sports bar.

    Thank god for dress codes!

    (And did you all notice that Europe doesn’t have as many problems with this? Because we Americans tend to dress poorer and less classy)

  10. I dont know what the big deal is with being against dress codes. You dress accordingly to the environment. If you are unwilling to do so, maybe you aren’t ready for that kind of experience. There are plenty of fantastic places that have no dress code.

    And when chefs talk about stars, they are talking about ratings from established organizations such NY Times, Michelin, etc. There are clear guidelines for not only food, but service, decor, sometimes wine lists, etc that all factor in to something being 4-star. If you left it up to any random diner, they’d be handing out stars left and right (I’m sure McDonalds would get a few 4-stars as well).

    Take New York for example, I believe there are only 5 NY Times 4-star restaurants…Le Bernardin, Jean Georges, Per Se, Masa, and Daniel. The only one where jackets are not required is Masa (and yes, it is Japanese cuisine). Not even celebrities get special treatment for this. Daniel Boulud once had to tell P. Diddy to dress nicer when dining in his restaurant.

  11. The Food Monster & vwc

    Yes, please take your money elsewhere. It is your right to spend your money elsewhere and it is my right to be glad that you are dumb enough to not want to eat at Le Bernardin because you might have to put a little effort into your appearance.

    mimi sheraton

    Obviously the chefs and management of restaurants do not grant themselves stars. But they have a pretty good idea what it takes to get four stars. Probably a better idea than you do, if you’d believe it. So while the Mimi Sheraton One-Dimensional Four Star Review may not care about how a restaurant’s atmosphere and personality are controlled by the application of a dress code, the Michelin Guide representatives sure as shit do care.

    But it’s not simply about the “stars.” It’s about me wanting there to be a place where formality and tradition are still appreciated as good things. They know that, and so do the many, many people who agree with me, and we would really rather you not show up at our restaurants wearing Big Johnson T-shirts and flip-flops.

  12. The dress code doesn’t bother me. It’s part of the fun to get dressed up for a great meal. What did bother me during my last visit to Le Bernadin was the man talking on SPEAKERPHONE at the table next to us. The staff did nothing about it and my husband and I finally said something to him. If Le Bernadin is going to pick their battles I think I would rather see a man without a jacket than hear one on a cellphone.

  13. If all of you don’t like to dress up for an evening out in a fine restaurant, then don’t go!

  14. Uhh – actually, NO, I’m fairly certain that Mimi Sheraton knows more than you Zach — possibly about everything.

  15. Mom knew best…she once told me that in difficult situations or those in great conflict, that I should be the classy one because over the course of a life, REGARDLESS of money, class defines a gentleman and a woman. At that time, we had very little money. Fast forward to today—I’ve made a buck or three and been fortunate to have dined at Per Se and Le Bernardin. I wore a suit to both because I not only respected myself, I wanted to respect the experience. Complaining about having to wear a jacket to fine dining makes no sense. When it is totally YOUR world, you may choose to do as you wish. When you live in THIS world, please do so with a modicum of dignity. People will respect you for that.

    Cheers!

  16. Uhh – actually, NO, david adjmi, I’m fairly certain that Mimi Sheraton is an antiquated, misguided contrarian who, at least in that post she just made, sounded completely ignorant of the modern restaurant scene. Your sycophancy comes off as really pathetic.

    Let’s look at each element of her post:

    Since when do chefs, maitre d’s, restaurateurs, etc. decide what makes a 4-star restaurant?

    This is completely WTF and she must know that this is an absurd counterargument. She sounds like a shitty, populist politician trying to rally the masses against some imagined evil. Without dedicated restaurants, chefs and their staff there wouldn’t BE any 4-star system, much less any truculent critics trying to villify a place as exceptional as Le Bernardin because they had the gall to maintain traditional standards. I think, primarily, chefs want to create a place where people will come and eat, and they can make a living. Part of that is having to cater to the world of egotistical and wildly inconsistent critics. Could you imagine trying to please both Mimi AND Frank Bruni? It must be maddening. So, no, don’t try and blame the restaurants for trying to convince you to deign to give out your precious little stars.

    I gave 4-stars to a few restaurants that had no dress code and would again.

    I don’t really care. What are we supposed to say? “Congratulations”? I don’t see how this has any bearing on Le Bernardin’s right to enforce a dress code. I should have made this more clear in my last post, but Mimi Sheraton isn’t the only person on the planet passing judgment on restaurants. There are many, and many of them put a lot of weight in the “ambiance” element of the rating. Rightly so, if you ask me, and also rightly so if you ask a restauranteur where all their money goes. Not every critic is grinding Mimi’s axe.

    Does that mean a terrific sushi place cannot get 4 stars? Or a bbq place? Or a steak house?

    Again, this is absurd. First, let me simply say: Masa. And steakhouses are far more guilty of manufactured class and dusty formality than most four-star-class restaurants. As for a BBQ place, yeah, fuck it, let them have four stars too.

    Ridiculous.

    Exactly.

  17. zach:

    i would respond to you but i am not properly attired.

    mimi:

    let’s rendezvous at 7, chez di fara

    cheers

    david

  18. I can’t believe people are complaining about a jacket rule. Is it really that difficult to slip on a sports coat for dinner? The food there is so amazing and is worth putting a jacket on to eat. It is their place and their rules, I seriously doubt they will be missing those that won’t dine there because of the jacket required rule. Don’t believe me, try and get a reservation there 2 weeks in advance.

  19. I’m dining at Le Bernardin tonight and found this site while querying the dress code. While I respect the idea of setting a tone and an atmosphere for the dining experience, I strongly prefer restaurants that make it optional.

    Food, not what other people are wearing, is the main attraction for me. Top-notch restaurants and seeing people stylishly dressed ranging from jeans all the way to suits and ties is my favorite experience.

    We’ll see how tonight goes.

  20. Jacket or no, dress code or no, you cannot dictate proper behavior. My one trip to Le Bernardin included watching regulars (blue haired, moneyed types) shove hands in cocktails, remove pimentos from olives, leaving said pimentos shriveled and drying on cocktail napkins. Ugh.

    Of course they were seated before us, even though we had a reservation, which went ignored, far too long. Makes you wonder what type of class they’re after. Who’s really monitoring the enforcement?

    Where I come from, messing up someone’s reservation and forgetting them at the bar would warrant an apology. A little grace. But that’s just how we were raised. And yes, we were nicely attired, jackets and all.

    Jacqueline

    The Leather District Gourmet

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