A little informality in the dining room is not necessarily a bad thing – as long as the service doesn’t suffer as a result
Well, civilisation as we knew it has finally come to an end. Yes, the speaker of the House of Commons has ruled that the honourable gentlemen no longer need to wear ties in the chamber. It’s not quite the last bastion of sartorial correctness – there are, after all, plenty of establishments that maintain strict dress codes – but, let’s face it, the writing is on the wall.
Several times recently I’ve been in a trussed-up minority, most obviously in places operated by Nick Jones (Soho House & Co) and Robin Hutson (Home Grown Hotels), but also in some Pride of Britain member properties. At the Ned in London I was struck by the sight of a restaurant manager in chinos with an open-necked shirt, jacket and… wait for it… white trainers! To be fair he looked 10 times better than me and the freedom to be so casually clad removes much of the upstairs/downstairs division that has hitherto separated those who receive service from those who give it. So though I personally feel naked without one, the passing of ties and their associated formality may not be such a bad thing in general. If anything, it makes special occasions more special because of the contrast between black tie, with gorgeous dresses for the ladies, and what is worn the rest of the time.
There now follows a warning. Front of house professionals dressed as lumberjacks are liable, without tremendous self-discipline, to behave like lumberjacks. I mean no disrespect to those who fell trees for a living – a useful calling if ever there was one – but as soon as you put someone in jeans and a checked shirt they are going to feel more off duty than on. Of course it’s nice to be greeted with “Hi, guys, just let me know if you want anything”. However, this cheery welcome soon turns to dust if the cup of tea or glass of gin you crave is not forthcoming. Maintaining high standards of service despite the casual facade is arguably more difficult than doing it in uniform, such is the temptation to join one’s guests by chilling out. And if you’re reading this, Mr Lumberjack, the name is Peter, not Pete.
I have picked on one trivial element here, but there is a general trend away from stuffiness and towards celebrating food and hospitality in simpler ways. The focus seems to be moving away from old symbols of sophistication like starched white tablecloths in favour of locally grown organic produce and cheeky little puns smuggled into the menu. Fresh beats exotic; quirky trumps dull.
Fortunately, for those of us who cling to tradition, even though I applaud the trend I have tried to describe, there is solace still to be found. Britain’s heritage is perhaps our greatest selling point, and it keeps a rain-soaked island with congested roads right up there among the top eight tourist destinations in the world. Preserving the look and feel of a bygone age through formal service and surroundings will always please a large number of our visitors.
So let MPs undo their top buttons if they want to. Just not in front of Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Peter Hancock is chief executive of Pride of Britain Hotels