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Feb 20, 2010 09:04 AM

Appropriate Attire at a "Business Casual" Restaurant?

I'm taking my boyfriend to Bouley next week for his 27th birthday and I was wondering what I should tell him to wear. I know it's 'business casual,' but i don't want him to be over or underdressed. Can someone give me some recommendations?

And for myself, is it appropriate to wear a strapless dress to a business casual restaurant? It is dark, elegant and down to my knees, but I'm a little worried that maybe showing off my shoulders too much would be declasse in such a nice restaurant?


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  1. Just about every restaurant in Manhattan has relaxed their dress codes.....whatever you, as a couple, decide to will be fine.

    For me though....never any jeans, shirts with a collar and long sleeves, neatly pressed pants and closed toe shoes with socks. For the women....anytime they wear any kind of dress is fine by me.

    2 Replies
    1. re: fourunder

      Sorry, the above was poorly should say ....never any kind of jeans or t-shirts(period). Men should wear...shirts or sweaters with a collar and long sleeves, neatly pressed long pants and closed toe shoes with socks.

      1. re: fourunder

        Ditto. Clean, pressed chinos are acceptable pants, too.

    2. You might feel out of place at Bouley in a tube top and short-shorts, but not the dress you describe. In my experience, American restaurant dress codes are aimed at men: women usually have the sense to dress appropriately for a nice restaurant. It's much more often the guys who show up in sleeveless tees, baseballs caps, shorts, sandals, sweat pants, ratty jeans, and other too-informal attire. I see it everywhere on weekend nights: women well turned out, their dates dressed like utter slobs.

      I think Chowhound fourunder accurately characterized what business casual means in most Manhattan restaurants. They're just hoping their male customers put in some minimum level of common-sense effort without having to turn too much business away. If they actually mean "jacket required", they usually say so on their website. Call if you're uncertain: the reservationist answers that question a hundred times a day. Bouley says "jackets preferred but not required": maybe you could convince your boy to wear one, but they'll seat him without one. Still, his attire should be nicer than what he'd wear to his local tavern.

      Here in Boston, there's not a single place left that requires jackets for men in the dining room. Venerable 19th-century dining institution Locke-Ober (famous for being JFK's favorite) is the strictest: it still shuffles people who don't meet its rather low standards (no athletic shoes, hiking boots, denim of any kind, shorts or tees) to the bar. And people still show up underdressed, and get furious when the host refuses to seat them in the dining room. Pretty sad.

      8 Replies
      1. re: MC Slim JB

        "Here in Boston, there's not a single place left that requires jackets for men in the dining room."

        That's reassuring news. I'm hoping to visit your city (from the UK) in the next 18 months. I've long had a personal ban on eating at places that require jackets - although I can't think of anywhere in the UK that still does.

        1. re: Harters

          I don't get it... What's so wrong with wearing a jacket? You put one on. You don't look like a hobo in a nice place. What's the problem?

          Due respect to the other posters... Business casual requires a jacket. Tie is optional as is a buttoned down shirt. But something with a collar is required (as are shoes, underwear and socks (or maybe not socks because no one can really see them (or I guess underwear for that mater)))

          Lastly, the strapless dress would be more than appropriate and being overdressed is never a problem.

          1. re: StheJ

            No problem. If folk want to wear a jacket that's fine. If a place wants to require customers wear a jacket, that is also fine. I just prefer not to wear one so don''t go to restaurants that require it.

            By the by, my last Michelin starred meal in the UK has a "smart casual" dress code. Not a single person was wearing a jacket. There is a place near me where most men wear a jacket (not a requirement) - I think it's an age thing. Most customers were older than me (I'm 60 this year) - those of my age and younger were not wearing jackets.

            I would take a similar view about ties but can't recall anywhere in the UK requiring tie for many years.

            Of course, customs are different in different countries. Learning about them is part of the pleasure of travel.

            1. re: StheJ

              I don't agree that there's a set-in-stone definition that says business casual requires a jacket, as the OP's uncertainty indicates. In my day job (not just my company, but pretty much the entire industry), that is clearly not the case: many companies define business casual as including khakis and golf shirts (something I would never wear to a Bouley-level restaurant) and they say nothing about jackets. I routinely get ribbed as Mr. Formality for regularly wearing a sport coat.

              Bouley itself provides a useful counter-example: in the same sentence, it says, "Business casual: jackets preferred but not required."


              1. re: MC Slim JB

                Just looked at the website of a Michelin starred place not too far from home that I havnt been to as it used to have a jacket required policy. It now says "Please note that our dress code is ‘Smart Casual’ : strictly no jeans, t-shirts or trainers."

                Another, rather old-fashioned place, has also relaxed its jacket required policy, now stating "Whilst many gentlemen choose to wear a jacket and tie in the restaurant in the evening it is not obligatory. We welcome gentlemen wearing smart clothes, but trainers, t-shirts, tracksuits, shorts etc are NOT acceptable."

                Which is fine with me and they'll now be seeing me over the next few months.

              2. re: StheJ

                Business casual doesn't require a jacket. This is what differentiates restaurants that are jacket required (Per Se, Le Bernadine) and those that are business casual (EMP, Bouley). If business casual required a jacket we wouldn't need both terms.

                1. re: KTinNYC

                  I think the fact that extended threads like this one continue to appear regularly on Chowhound and elsewhere demonstrates that the term still means different things to different people. If it were universally understood as having a single meaning, we wouldn't be here discussing it. American English is malleable, constantly evolving, and this term is a relatively new coinage, maybe 20 years old.


                2. re: StheJ

                  Business casual, almost by definition, means NO jacket or tie is necessary.

            2. A jacket for your boyfriend, over a handsome (collared) shirt would be most appropriate. Might I suggest a shawl or wrap of some kind for you, as well. If you feel uncomfortable in your strapless dress, you can leave it draped around your shoulders and it would provide some additional warmth if the restaurant is not warm enough for your comfort. It is always easier to remove a grament than to wish one had it with them.

              Making a special effort to dress enhances the dining experience; after all, this is Bouley, not the Hunker Down and Chaw Sports Bar.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Sherri

                Thank you all so much for the advice! I'll tell him to wear pressed pants with a collared shirt and if he feels up to it, a jacket. I'm relieved to hear that the dress will be more than welcome, although I will bring a pashmina wrap just in case!!

                1. re: stah00

                  Sherri's advice is a really good idea in restaurants in general. Many are underheated or over air conditioned. (Mrs. MC always brings layers for exactly this reason.)


              2. Business casual typically means khakis and a button down, collared shirt, I think. Some folks may, but I definitely don't think a golf shirt is "business" casual, it's just plain old casual. :-)

                If jacket isn't required, a button down, collared shirt with or without a nice sweater should be appropriate..

                I think of strapless dresses as more cocktail or other evening party than business casual, but that doesn't mean it would be declasse to wear it, just that you'd have more than met the business casual minimum standard.

                1. Of course, if you're a welder, "business casual" may be a problem.