Oh, it used to be so easy. Dressing for dinner was a no-brainer when men donned uniform-like jackets and ties, and their dates wore hats and white gloves. Nowadays, with jackets-required spots on the decline, there’s a new casualness in elegant restaurants. But while dressing down for dinner may be physically more comfortable—like casual Friday at the office—it’s opened up a whole new can of sartorial worms. Where are the boundaries? How casual is too casual?
We asked three very different restaurants where they draw the clothes lines.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns (630 Bedford Rd, Pocantico Hills 914-366-9600; bluehillfarm.com). According to general manager Philippe Gouze, Blue Hill “works to connect our guests with their food and the pleasures of dining—including dressing up to go to dinner. We discourage jeans and T-shirts as well as the use of flash photography and cellphones. We would like to keep the whole dining room feeling like a special place to enlighten all your senses.”
Freelance Café & Wine Bar (506 Piermont Ave, Piermont 845-365-3250; xaviars.com). Ned Kelly, who oversees the service in all of his brother’s, Chef Peter Kelly, restaurants, is renowned for his grace and tact. “If someone comes to Freelance Café wearing, let’s say, a tank top, I’ll first ask if he has a collared shirt back at the car. If he says no, then I’ll ask if he would mind wearing one of the big, fully-cut shirts that we keep on hand all wrapped up and fresh from the cleaners. I’ll try not to make him feel too embarrassed about it—after all, how would I want to be treated if it were me?” Kelly notes that “several guests commented last summer that they thought it wasn’t appropriate for men to be wearing shorts to dinner at X2O. They wanted to know why we didn’t make it clear over the phone that shorts weren’t allowed. I agreed—shorts for dinner is pushing it, but I assumed that people would know if you need a reservation, then you probably need pants.”
Harvest-on-Hudson (1 River St, Hastings-on-Hudson 914-478-2800; harvest2000.com). According to Chef Vincent Barcelona, Harvest isn’t about being stiff or formal. “We’re pretty relaxed and welcoming around here, but we do have to draw the line somewhere. We don’t allow shabby T-shirts or those sleeveless white undershirts. And no tank tops!”
// Julia Sexton