Help Wanted: Tattoos/Piercings Not a Problem

Discussion
Aug 23, 2005
George Anderson

By George Anderson

Unemployment in Hawaii is at an all-time low and restaurant operators and retailers are learning that, to find good employees, it is necessary to get beyond their looks, as in the case of body art (tattoos) and piercings.

Eighteen-year-old Nick Brashears is apparently one of those employees.

According to the Pacific Business News, Mr. Brashears has “two eyebrow piercings, a nose ring and a stud below his lower lip, plus two dime-sized ear piercings along with tattoos on his arms and legs.”

He had been working at a Subway but left because he was asked to remove his jewelry. His new employer, Cyber Bite Cafe in Waikiki, apparently is happy with Mr. Brashears just as he is, nose ring and all.

As he tells it, “They don’t care about the piercings. They just care about my work performance.”

Bill Tobin, managing partner of Tiki’s Grill & Bar and chairman of the Hawaii Restaurant Association said, “There was a time when restaurants were able to be very picky about whom they hire. Now that unemployment is so low, we have to take the best people regardless of tattoos and piercings and try and accommodate them or compromise.”


Rainer Kumbroch, operations manager for Roy’s Restaurants, said, “We try to be flexible. But anything that is outwardly offensive to people is just not allowed. In the hiring process, you get a lot of that out of the way.”

Moderator’s Comment: Are employers are out-of-synch with the modern definition of beauty and acceptable appearance when they refuse to hire teenagers
and young adults bearing tattoos and/or body piercings? Where do you stand on this subject in terms of the rights of employees to self-expression and employers to run a business?


George Anderson – Moderator

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17 Comments on "Help Wanted: Tattoos/Piercings Not a Problem"


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Ian Percy
Guest
15 years 6 months ago
I’m with Karen 100%. I’m looking for a salesperson who knows what they’re doing and knows how to serve people. If they’ve got a tattoo or piercing, fine. My nephew who has a dozen piercings and who does piercings for a living is the kindest kid you can imagine. When he came to my Baptist minister father’s funeral, he came without any of his piercings out of respect for him. That shows a kind heart. One of our local eateries is a Sunday morning biker hangout. We’re talking serious tattoos, dew rags and the whole ‘born to raise hell’ uniform. The thing is these people are all accountants, physicians, and CEOs. Judge them from their biker outfits and you’ve made a serious mistake. The Bible says that a beggar may be a king in disguise, so be careful how you judge people. While I was typing this, we received an email about how Stanford University got started by poorly and simply dressed Mr. and Mrs. Leland Stanford who had been shunned by a snobby Harvard… Read more »
David Livingston
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

I don’t think this has anything to do with employers being out-of-synch. It all comes down to what the customer or client finds acceptable. Regardless of the unemployment rate, if offensive looking employees are running off customers, there is nothing to be gained by hiring them. Beauty is defined by following the money and TV ratings. When models and actors find that they can earn more money by having tattoos and piercings, then society will have changed its definition of beauty.

Charlie Moro
Guest
Charlie Moro
15 years 6 months ago

I had a friend once tell me that this current generation looks at body piercing and tattoos the same way the generation in the 60’s looked at pot smoking and long hair. I think they are now out of sync with some of the same generational impulses of the current generation. I may not agree or want to have a piercing or tattoo, but ask around, you will be mildly surprised as to who actually has the hidden heart or spouses name in a spot of their choosing.

James Tenser
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

As so often occurs, our panel’s collective wisdom is impeccable on the topic of employees’ body modification. I hear calls for safety as a decision criterion in environments such as pet shops (and perhaps manufacturing or construction jobs?). Also for appearance that is appropriate to the selling situation – i.e. no “unappetizing” body decoration in a restaurant. Yes, different target consumer groups will likely have more or less favorable reactions to the clerk with the bolt through his cheek. But when quality service is delivered in a retail setting, most customers will tend to be tolerant of individual differences most of the time.

That said, I discourage my sons from making permanent body modifications on the theory that, as fashion changes over the decades, they may regret a visible tattoo or scar. I also believe they might limit an individual’s advancement in the corporate world, justly or unjustly. Not to mention the hassle of passing through airport security…

Ken Kubat
Guest
Ken Kubat
15 years 6 months ago

On Sunday, I popped into Trader Joe’s for some last minute dinner items. As I waited in line at checkout, I observed the friendly, courteous service being provided by the 30+ year old, heavily tattooed/pierced clerk … had I seen this guy on the street, I may have alerted authorities to the possibility of an escaped convict in the neighborhood! I suspect TJ’s (like Whole Foods and the ‘cyber cafe’) is pushing the envelope on hiring “non-traditionals,” but I was pleased with the overall experience … having my stereotype modified (or busted!) was a surprisingly pleasant bonus to the consistently good service I’ve come to expect at TJ’s.

P.S. TJ’s had 5 checkout lanes open, each 4 deep with customers, on this lazy Sunday afternoon!

Connie Kski
Guest
Connie Kski
15 years 6 months ago

In addition to the appearance factor, when I hire new employees in the pet shop and tell them the dress code includes things like no dangling or hoop earrings and no piercings where I can see them, I also tell them about a wonderful employee whose belly ring (that was covered by her regulation shirt) that got kicked and hung up in a bunny’s hind foot. Also, about the parrots that are very attracted to metal studs in eyebrows, etc. For us, it’s not only an appearance issue, but a safety issue.

I’d rather lose a potential employee before hiring and training due to the piercings issue than lose them afterwards due to a piercing injury or deal with a medical claim.

It’s not that much of a problem for us … one mention of the bunny kicking the belly ring and they wince!

Jim Leichenko
Guest
Jim Leichenko
15 years 6 months ago

Considering the fact that I haven’t dated a girl in ten years that did not have a tattoo, I would have to consider them pretty mainstream for this generation. (Somebody, however, is going to make a lot of money in another ten years doing tattoo removals.)

That being said, it is not out of the norm for individuals with an abundance of tattoos and body piercings to be perceived as un-hygenic and, therefore, unappealing to restaurant goers. Employers will have to decide on a case-by-case basis what’s right for their business.

George Whalin
Guest
George Whalin
15 years 6 months ago

Body piercings and tattoos may be perfectly acceptable to some people. At the same time, there are others who find them offensive and in bad taste. Any retail store or restaurant that serves consumers of all ages and backgrounds would do well to understand that anything that turns customers off will very likely result in lost business. Regardless of how difficult it is to find and keep employees, it is far more difficult to find and keep a steady flow of customers coming through the doors.

Mark Barnhouse
Guest
Mark Barnhouse
15 years 6 months ago

Although I’d never get pierced or tattooed myself–the whole idea strikes me as silly–I don’t care if others choose to do so. Retailers simply have to understand their customer base in order to develop the policy most appropriate for their business.

In Denver, a successful local Japanese fast casual chain called Tokyo Joe’s has many, many employees with tattoos and piercings. They recruit partly via a table-tent message that describes their employees as “the few, the proud, the pierced.” I have found their employees, for the most part, to be intelligent and hard-working (by all appearances), whether pierced or not. I have no idea how many potential customers are turned off by the pierced and tattooed employees, but given how busy these restaurants are, I’d say customers care more about the food than anything else.

Stephen Putnam
Guest
Stephen Putnam
15 years 6 months ago

The reality is: No customer ever walks out because the employee doesn’t have a tattoo or piercing. Some, not most, do walk out if the employee does. Is it worth the risk?

Karen Kingsley
Guest
Karen Kingsley
15 years 6 months ago

As bad as service is in most retail outlets, I can honestly say that I couldn’t care less what someone looks like if they are going to provide quality service. Certainly, a cyber cafe is likely to attract a clientele less likely to care about piercings and tattoos; however, it would help retail overall if hirers would make the effort to look past some of these superficial aspects and focus on their abilities.

Certainly, there are some stores that couldn’t accept truly avant-garde looking people, however, I, personally, would like to see our definition of what’s acceptable expanded. My local supermarket makes an effort to hire handicapped workers – an effort I applaud. One of the women has distressingly long and prolific chin hairs – many of them five inches long. There is no question that she breaks conventions of acceptable personal appearance. Yet, I have to applaud the store for giving her meaningful work. I can’t see the difference between her and young people whose personal definition of beauty differs from the norm.

Tom McGoldrick
Guest
Tom McGoldrick
15 years 6 months ago

For front line employees, appearance is part of job performance.

How appropriate tattoos and piercings are is mainly a matter of the type of customers you are trying to reach. To some customers, tattoos and piercings are a sign of credibility; to others they are just gross.

As always, it comes down to knowing your customers.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

I’ll never forget when I saw my first tattooed, pierced clerk. . .he also sported black lipstick and carried a purse. Where was he? At one of the original Whole Foods locations in Dallas, Texas many years ago. Every time I’ve visited since, he’s still there, only he’s a manager and probably has stock options galore. This is still my favorite Whole Foods. . .I used to go there deliberately anytime I returned from a long stint on the road because the people were so genuine, welcoming, and helpful – a great “welcome home.” There was also a tongue-pierced, tattooed girl with flaming red hair at the register who gave excellent music and concert recommendations, and pithy employee banter over the speakers was a major attraction for customers. Whole Foods understood and understands that giving opportunities to those on the fringe can be a recipe for success. I’m with Karen on this.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
15 years 6 months ago

When I’m eating, I don’t appreciate taking a visual beating.

Applied facial and body tapestry are, for me, no rhapsody.

For those among us who have a different social persuasion,

May there be stores and cafes to accommodate their occasion.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

We are talking about hiring, not firing, which would possibly bring a slightly different range of responses. Obviously when hiring both prospective employer and employee have a degree of choice as to whether the environment and relationships internally and externally are mutually compatible. An employer unable or unwilling to look beyond superficial appearance, for anything other than such an extremely good reason as health and safety, is probably not one for whom a highly tattooed or pierced person would want to work. As for customers who are put off by an employee’s appearance, I should think neatness and hygiene are far more important in a retail setting than either tattoos or body jewelry. I would be far more concerned about an employee with dirty fingernails or greasy hair than their choice of adornment.

Mark Burr
Guest
15 years 6 months ago
Retailers need only be in-synch with their customers. It’s not a matter of being out of synch with those who choose tattoos or piercings. It’s also not about limiting your choices for associates either. If you are ‘the place to work,’ then you’ll have no problems either way. In that case, even though you may have a few tattoos or piercings, you may look for a way around them to get the job. The problem is that few retailers really are ‘the employer of choice.’ Likewise, they aren’t the ‘store of choice’ either, in many cases. Of course there is the one large exception with Wal-Mart, however, the argument could easily be made to the contrary. When I worked at retail growing up, many had a pierced ear or longer hair. Where we worked, they didn’t wear the ring and they did get a haircut. A few chose not to, but that was one or two. Those who made the choice on what they called ‘principle’ regretted it because they really wanted the job. Working… Read more »
Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

Our society is diverse. Employers who want the widest appeal to as many people as possible will hire from the widest diversity possible. People with tattoos are shoppers, not just possible employees. My guess is that they don’t mind being served by other people with tattoos. And given the crippling high turnover rates of many retailers, rejecting otherwise qualified applicants would seem to be unconstructive.

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