When I was growing up, my parents made my brother and
I recently called John Winterman, who used to work for Daniel Boulud as maître d' at Daniel, and for Charlie Trotter before that, and asked if he thinks dressing up for dinner still matters.
"Absolutely," said Winterman, who's now managing partner at Batârd in New York City. "I break it down into self-respect and respect for others."
Would someone's appearance affect the table they were assigned at, say, Daniel?
"On the record, yes," he said. "If someone comes in making an effort and looking fabulous and glamorous and they know they're in for a premium experience at a premium price, you give them a fabulous table in the middle of the room. And people react to
I break it down into self-respect and respect for others.
Once Winterman had to turn away a regular who arrived at the restaurant in cut-off jeans and flip-flops. "We said, 'Doctor, we're very sorry but we can't serve you,' because once you make an exception for one person, it's a slippery slope."
A C. 1900 Dinner at the Montauk Club in Brooklyn shows how people used to dress for dinner.
Winterman, who said he's "never been in a city where what table you're sitting at is such a competitive sport," was quick to point out that dressing up doesn't necessarily require spending a lot of money. What matters, he said, is "does it fit well, does it create that silhouette, and is it made from quality materials?"
A few blocks south and east from Daniel, Le Périgord on East 52nd Street near Sutton Place is one of the few remaining restaurants that still requires gentlemen wear a tie under their jacket—kind of.
"I'm so glad you called because this is a very important and very interesting subject in fine dining restaurants in New York," said 79-year-old Swiss native Georges Briguet when I reached him at his home above the restaurant. He's owned the restaurant with his French wife, Marie-Thérèse, for more than 50 years, and still spends most of his nights there (in a tuxedo, no less).
And while the restaurant was mentioned in a 1998 New York Times story as being among a handful of places that held onto their tie requirement for male diners, today Briguet has modified the rule. (The other restaurants on the list have either closed or switched to a dress code that requires a jacket but no tie.)
Daniel Boulud's restaurant requires jackets but not ties. Loaners are available. DANIEL
"In the old days, until business went down with the recession in 2009 and 2010, the dress code for men was simply jacket and tie,"
So the solution he's come up with is to separate the restaurant into two sections: Around 80 percent of the clientele, "who are dressed for fine dining" (i.e. men wearing jackets and ties), sit on the formal side of the restaurant. Briguet seats the other 20 percent of "people who are very elegantly dressed but not dressed for fine dining" on the other side of the room, and "everyone is happy."
He recalled a recent evening when a well-dressed couple was sitting on a banquette and Briguet seated another couple next to them. After about half an hour, the man took off his jacket.
In the old days, I would go over and I would ask him to put the jacket back on.
"In the old days I would go over and I would ask him to put the jacket back on, but today with the business being difficult you don't want to frustrate anyone,"
"When she left, she said, 'I'm not choosing to sit for dinner next to a man without a jacket,'"
Ronald and Nancy Reagan smile during their honeymoon dinner at The Stork Club in 1952.
Two early rule-breakers at Le Périgord got away with it though.
Truman Capote, who used to live around the corner from the restaurant, came in without a tie.
The first woman he allowed in the restaurant with pants was Jackie Kennedy, around 1966.
The first woman he allowed in the restaurant with pants was Jackie Kennedy, around 1966. "In those days a woman was not allowed in a restaurant with pants,"
Just like today, when even the fanciest restaurants will give a table to men who aren't wearing ties.
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.