Is a ‘No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service’ Policy Really Necessary?

by Chris Martin on September 13, 2014

In America today, almost every single workplace has some sort of dress code for employees. The most common category is “business casual,” though some offices still require suits and dresses. Very, very few businesses will let you get away without a shirt and/or footwear – except for maybe a surf shop employee or a swimming instructor.

Similarly, businesses which serve customers on site sometimes implement a specific dress code as well. The two examples which come to mind immediately are fine dining establishments and golf courses. But every so often, you see a sign in a shop window which reads “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service.”

No shirt, no shoes, no service policy
No service for you, sir.

Have you ever stopped to think what the purpose of this sign is? Do most stores have to constantly deal with a rash of topless, shoeless troublemakers? How did this trend ever get started, anyway?

The Basis for “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service”

The origin story of the “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service” warning involves beachfront stores on the Atlantic City boardwalk a few decades ago. There, it wasn’t uncommon for vacationers to emerge from the ocean and walk straight into one of these establishments. Even floor mats couldn’t completely stop their wet swim suits from dripping water onto the floor and/or their feet dragging and spreading sand everywhere.

Naturally, store owners didn’t want their dirty floors to scare off other tourists or shoppers. After all, such conditions created an almost constant slip-and-fall hazard for everyone inside. As a result, shop proprietors came up with the “N3” phrase in an effort to keep their floors clean for everyone.

No shoes no shirt no service policy
A guy with wet swim trunks and no shoes was here.

Given this background information, you can probably understand why this phrase came about. But how does that explain the modern proliferation of “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service” signs at stores which are nowhere near water or sand?

For whatever reason, this “warning sign trend” spread across the country to storefronts of all kinds. Even in places where the weather generally wasn’t warm enough to warrant this kind of dress. So what gives?

Health Concerns?

Some people believe that the signs persist because of concerns about health and hygiene. The thinking is that germs transported on the soles of people’s feet will somehow make the floors more prone to germs or bacteria. (In fact, some “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service” signs were accompanied by the phrase “by order of the Health Department,” even though few if any such laws exist requiring footwear in retailers.)

However, no evidence exists to suggest that stores that allow bare feet are more or less sanitary than those who do. After all, germs can be tracked in on shoes just like on feet. So shouldn’t these signs be taken down?

Should You Put This Sign in Your Store Window?

These days, what it really comes down to is whether a business owner wants the presence of shirtless, shoeless individuals in his or her establishment. Of course, stores near beaches and lakes may still have good reason to post these signs – just like the Atlantic City boardwalk shops did many years ago. But for all other businesses, it presumably has more to do with the perceptionof what people who don’t wear shirts or shoes may do rather than any reality-based data which pertain to their actions.

Think about it: are these folks more likely to hurt people? Engage in criminal activity? Shoplift? (There’s no place to hide merchandise if they’re not wearing shirts!)

Of course, it’s perfectly within a business owner’s rights to display such a sign. But unless A) people without shoes and shirts are frequently visiting a particular shop, and B) a store owner feels that his business is adversely affected by the presence of these visitors, there really is no need for displaying signs which read “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service” in most shop windows in the 21st century.

No shoes no shirt no service policy
Okay, maybe THIS guy is a little weird.

Written by Chris Martin

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