The Hotel Hershey’s Circular Dining Room sheds its formal dress code

Dinner reservations are still suggested at The Hotel Hershey’s Circular Dining Room, but leave the sport jacket at home.

Hotel Hershey Circular Dining Room

In a sign of more casual dining times, the resort restaurant in Derry Township has shed its formal dress code. Sport jackets for men are now optional and resort casual attire, including stylish jeans, are acceptable.

The policy went into effect Memorial Day weekend in time for the summer tourist season.

“It kind of happened naturally,” said John Daly, the hotel’s food and beverage director. “We were turning away a lot of people without jackets. The people chose to walk away because they didn’t want to wear a jacket.”

So diners are settling into a grand dining experience clad in the standard uniform seen at most casual midstate restaurants: polo or dress shirts and khakis or designer jeans for men, and capri pants and casual dresses or skirts for women.

For many, the shift marks the end of a dining era. The elegant Circular Dining Room, designed by Milton S. Hershey and known for its circular shape and expansive windows, was among the last restaurants, if not the only one, in central Pennsylvania with a formal dress code.

Part of the allure of eating in the grand dining room, with its linen covered tables, colored lead glass windows and impeccable service, was dressing up for the occasion.

“It’s sad,” said Richard Andries, a Camp Hill clothing designer. “If you are at the hotel and paying that kind of price for a five-star hotel, and you take that away, it’s like taking the prom dress out of the prom.”

When The Hotel Hershey opened in 1933, men were required to wear jackets and ties in all public areas of the hotel, including the restaurant, said Albert Rossi of Derry Twp., who is a resident historian of the hotel.

“It just maintained a certain standard,” he said.

Through the years, the dress code relaxed in the hotel. But the dress code remained in the dining room, and it was strict.

No jeans or sneakers were permitted, and men were asked to wear jackets for dinner and Sunday brunch only. (Resort casual was acceptable for breakfast and lunch.) Any man who entered the restaurant without a sport coat was handed a jacket to wear during their meal.

It happened to attorney Scott Cooper of Lower Paxton Twp., who met associates for dinner in the dining room about four years ago. He arrived wearing slacks and a dress shirt minus a jacket.

“I was like, ‘This is silly.’ I honestly remember thinking to myself, that’s old fashioned. That can’t be,” he said.

He said he can’t imagine tourists, especially those with families visiting Hershey and Hersheypark, packing sport coats. It’s not something he said he takes on vacations with his family to Hilton Head or Myrtle Beach.

“I have absolutely no desire to bring a sport coat,” Cooper said.

Before altering its dress code, Hershey researched similar resorts and hotels around the country, including those in Palm Beach and Desert Springs, and discovered it was in the minority, Daly said.

With casual Fridays and dress-down days more acceptable, it is becoming harder for restaurants to dictate what diners wear.

Some night clubs like Level 2 in Harrisburg ask guests to dress to impress and not wear hats, jerseys, sports attire, cut off sleeves, baggy pants, sneakers or flip flops. And, in fact the Circular Dining Room still shuns sneakers and tank tops.

But restaurants like Alfred’s Victorian in Middletown have adapted to the times by allowing dress codes to fade.

Twenty years ago, diners would have dressed to the nines for a meal at Alfred’s. Now, diners wearing khaki shorts, polo shirts and jeans, fill Alfred’s tables, and that’s OK, said John Miller, the restaurant’s executive chef.

“More and more people became casual diners. We want them to feel comfortable,” he said.

Christopher Zeigler, restaurant manager at The Golden Sheaf at the Hilton Harrisburg, said he still fields calls from diners and business people asking about the restaurant’s dress code. There isn’t one.

“Restaurants today have to cater to everyone,” he said. “We don’t want to be known as a special-occasion restaurant. We don’t want to have to have people think they have to dress special to be here.”