Is it time to tighten up the summer dress code?

Summer restaurant server Tshirt
Restaurant servers, of any gender, should not be baring their armpits, says Advice Guy. | Photo: Shutterstock.


Dear Advice Guy,

We are a casual bar and grill with a deck, so I let my front of house staff dress casually, especially in the heat. I recently got a complaint about a female server’s armpit hair, which, to be honest, I find off-putting as well. Can I include that our female servers and bartenders need shaven armpits or sleeves in my employee handbook? Or do you think that singles people out?

– Manager


Ah, summer, the time of year when I start getting questions about balancing comfort and coverage among staff in the kitchen and dining room. There is a difference between casual and exposed, especially when it comes to food safety and an appealing guest experience. The FDA food code is clear when it says: “All persons working in direct contact with food, food-contact surfaces, and food-packaging materials must conform to hygienic practices while on duty … The methods for maintaining cleanliness include:

(1) Wearing outer garments suitable to the operation in a manner that protects against … the contamination of food, food-contact surfaces, or food-packaging materials.”

So no, I don’t think it is a good idea to include armpit grooming standards, especially gender-specific armpit-grooming standards, in your employee handbook. It singles out particular employees and butts up against their personal expression. My advice is to set forth a policy for all staff that exposed armpits are not welcome in the restaurant. Whether in the kitchen, dining room or bar, it’s a part of the body that is best kept concealed from food and guests, no matter their grooming style. In general, employee hygiene and appearance standards that can be applied across the board, regardless of gender or personal expression, are best. Your north star in setting those standards should be providing safe and welcoming service, neither of which is dependent on guests seeing your staff member’s armpits.

T-shirts can be cool and casual, too.

More on employee dress codes and hygiene standards here.