Hi Salty Waitress, I’m an assistant manager at a casual restaurant in Texas. I get along well with the people on my team, but I’m in an uncomfortable position with one server, a woman, and I’m not sure how to proceed (I’m a man, just to clarify.) This server follows the dress code we have—button-down shirts, black pants, apron—but she wears very tight shirts, unbuttoned quite low, that show her cleavage. It makes me uncomfortable, and I’m sure customers might also find it too revealing.
The thing is, our manager is also a man, and I think he and I would both feel awkward bringing it up to her. She’s not technically violating our dress code—it just doesn’t look very professional. How can I address this? Or should I ask another female server to do it?
Assistant Manager In Texas
Dear Assistant Manager,
That is a helluva hornets’ nest you’re in. Before I get into a few courses of action that you could take, I’m going to ask you one straightforward question:
Are you absolutely, 100-percent, completely, hand-to-god positive that she’s showing too much of her chest? Before you go wading into this swamp, I want you to double-check with yourself that you’re not just overly sensitive to this. Run it by your manager privately before you proceed.
At the same time, make sure you know the exact facts and wording of your restaurant’s dress code. If the restaurant doesn’t have one written down, it’s going to make it harder for you to address this in a way that doesn’t seem creepy/personal/judgmental. Before you talk to her, suggest to your higher-ups that they create a written dress code that includes guidelines about tight-fitting or unbuttoned clothing. It might be worth including in your dress code exactly how many buttons can be unbuttoned, to avoid confusion. Just writing down that dress code and talking about it might already solve the problem.
Okay, so if you’re totally sure that her tops violate policy, you have a few options. (Be warned that none of them is easy, because the situation requires you acknowledge the existence of your employee’s boobs.)
One thing you shouldn’t do is wrangle some other poor female employee into the conversation. It potentially makes that other server—who has nothing to do with this—uncomfortable, and it makes it seem like the topic is shameful. It’s possible that due to her body type, the same blouse that looks completely fine on another gal looks a bit more suggestive on her. That’s not her fault, so don’t turn it into schoolyard gossip by dragging someone else into the situation.
Address it like an issue with the dress code, nothing more. I’m assuming this server is a good employee and you don’t have other issues with her, so don’t make this a moral or performance thing.
Instead, give the whole staff a refresher on the uniform policy. Make sure that the dress standards are the same for everyone—you can’t ignore a server who unbuttons her blouse in the same way just because she isn’t as um, well-endowed. So, at a regular staff meeting, run through the expectations without dwelling on the buttons part: “Just a reminder that your shirts should be clean, ironed, stain-free, not too tight-fighting, with a maximum of three buttons undone, and they should be worn with dark-black pants.” Maybe she’ll get the memo?
If all that fails, you’ll have to have a one-on-one chat. If I were you, I’d let my manager handle it, but you should definitely discuss it with him either way. It’s an H.R. thing, after all.
Whoever talks to this employee needs to proceed with a whole bucket of tact and professionalism. Stick to the facts—this is about a dress-code violation. I’d feel like straight-up dying if a boss ever talked to me about this, so keep the chit-chat to a minimum: “Hi Salty, I just want to address an issue with you. You’re doing a great job with your tables and we are so happy to have you on the team, but I’m worried that your shirts may not be in line with our dress code, which states, blah blah blah. I know this conversation is uncomfortable, but please ask me if you’re unclear about our policies.”
Don’t use words like “inappropriate,” which are judgmental. Just state the ways in which her tops don’t conform to the dress code. End of story. This is already a sticky situation, and unclear rules will really turn this into a hot mess. Before you so much as think about talking to this server, get that dress code on the books stat.
Got a question about dining out etiquette? Or are you a server/bartender with a horror story the world needs to hear? Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org.