Work in Progress

Does the body modified appearance of front-line employees matter to hotel guests?

DOI: 10.1080/22243534.2018.1501959
Author(s): Verena HopfInternational Hospitality and Service Management, The Netherlands


The hospitality industry is all about providing service. This service provision takes place in the employee and guest encounter. Hence, this interaction is crucial for the hospitality industry. The employees in this interplay are expected to represent the company and present its brand image. Next to the knowledge and skills of these service employees, the personal appearance is also important. The opinion of the guests about the quality of service is, among other things, related to the employees’ appearance. Hence, companies influence the appearance of employees through grooming standards. Thus, employees are expected to engage in aesthetic labour. This form of labour was developed by the researchers Warhurst, Nickson, and Witz and is the concept of forming and developing the employee’s appearance and aesthetic skills. This includes dress codes, rules for make-up, hair styling, tattoos and piercings. Moreover, in the process of selecting new staff, the employees’ aesthetics are a decisive aspect. A codified appearance, however, is challenged by an increasing societal acceptance of tattoos and piercings, or so-called body modification. Wearing tattoos and piercings is no longer purely related to, for instance, sailors or artists; body modification can be seen as a form of self-expression for anybody. Consequently, the question arises how the hospitality industry reacts to this changing perspective on body modification, as it seems to contradict the idea of codifying appearance for brand image purposes. Since the guest experience and opinion on service quality is crucial for providing service, the guest opinion about being served by service staff wearing visibly tattoos and/or piercings is relevant in the discussion on how the hospitality industry can react to this phenomenon. In a descriptive, quantitative master’s thesis, the perceptions of guests in hotels in Germany are investigated to contribute to the discussion about whether hospitality companies should reconsider their traditional grooming standards.

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