Legend goes that once upon a time, parents set the rules of dining-out etiquette for their children. No elbows on the table. Sit up straight. Be clean. These were the days when a restaurant meal was a special experience, an event to be savored maybe just a few times a year.
Today, dining out for lots of people is an everyday thing. And as eating out has become common, the public's behavior has, too.
Yet these people are grown-ups now, with no nearby parents to whup them upside the head when they're being boorish.
In response, restaurants have been forced to create more rules for customers.
No cell phones. No cigars. Jacket and tie required in upscale restaurants. And now, even for more casual eateries, no dressing like you just came off the losing end of a monster truck rally.
It seems ridiculous that restaurateurs would be forced to require their customers to get some class, but Houston's at the Esplanade recently posted a sign advising guests that baseball caps worn backward and tank tops for men are not appropriate.
One would-be diner, turned away at the door, muttered that he wondered what this world was coming to.
What, indeed. Houston's, while not upscale dining, is a nice place. It doesn't seem it would have to enforce a "no visible armpit hair" rule for its clientele. Leave it to Phoenicians, who have always had a healthy respect for relaxed wear, to knock casual down to crass.
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"Mom and Dad used to tell us not to wear hats at the table," says Houston's manager Brad Cox. "Even when it's hot out, our guests expect a certain level of elegance." Many local restaurants have opted for dress codes, he adds, including Merc Bar, Roy's, McCormick & Schmick's and Morton's, all in the Esplanade.
Barcelona, a funky nightclub/higher-end restaurant that opened in Ahwatukee earlier this year, doesn't leave anything to chance. The posted dress code is strictly enforced, management says, restricting cutoffs, flip-flops, tee shirts, men's sandals and tank tops, jeans and baseball caps.
Not everyone likes being told how to dress. Earlier this year, state Senator Ken Bennett, R-Prescott, drafted a bill that would make it illegal for restaurants to "deny access to what otherwise would be a public facility based on the way they are dressed." His bill, which didn't pass, cited leather-clad bikers as victims of discrimination.
I think the solution is simple: Restaurants should have a designated "parent" on staff, to smack around customers who don't know the rules of dressing and eating in polite society.