By Larry Mogelonsky, MBA, P. Eng. (

Just over a year ago on Hotel-Online, I wrote about the need to put in definite terms what your hotel would tolerate for visible tattoos as well as how this policy might vary for back-of-house versus front-of-house. It’s an important topic because tattoos are on the rise amongst the younger demographics, and yet a guest from a more traditional upbringing may be turned off by such ink.

If you don’t have the proper documentation and signed agreements from everyone at the associate level, you risk irritating customers or running into problems surrounding discriminatory hiring practices.

The same can be said for piercings. While the bottom line is that you must reach a middle ground, and ensure that everyone understands this policy, I feel as though this is worth elaborating upon after returning from my recent trip to Japan.

Unlike North America, Japan has a culture heavily steeped in tradition and order. As well, tattoos are highly shunned as they are a marker for being connected to the Yakuza (organized crime) – their presence may even bar you entry from one of the many onsen, or public bathhouses, throughout the country. So, for starters, if your hotel receives a big dose of Japanese travelers, then having a strict policy on visible tattoos would be highly advantageous for repeat business.

As for piercings, while surely a single earring on each lobe is readily permissible, what about an applicant who has over 20 piercings on each ear? Would you consider putting in place a restriction on the number and placement of earrings? Moreover, what about large earplugs or tunnels? If allowed, would you consider putting a size restriction on these? Next, what about nose, lip or eyebrow piercings? Lastly, during summer when staffers want to ‘roll up the sleeves’, do you write in special restrictions for those who might reveal an unwanted tattoo or piercing.

Now is as good a time as any to start to consider these types of specific questions as they will become increasing complex as time goes on. Moreover, you must consider your customer base as what is acceptable to one person may not be for another. And if you are going to implement a policy change, what happens with those employees who might be in violation but already signed a contract for which there was no clause related to this?

While I don’t assume to have the answer for your hotel and your specific situation, I can offer my opinion. Even though tattoos and piercings seem to be almost a rite of passage these days, I would lean towards a traditional sensibility. Much like how hospitality has become one of the last holdouts for mandating a necktie or other piece of formal attire for staff uniforms, how we present ourselves to our guests matters.

A nicely pressed suit communicates that you are prepared and more than capable of handling any request. Not that a tattoo or piercing might completely counteract this perception, but it certainly isn’t congruent with the desired image based upon our current societal norms. If, however, your uniform policy is more lax because that’s the brand persona you want to convey, then your tattoo and piercing policy may likewise be more unfettered. Ultimately, the choice is yours, but choose wisely as it will influence guest satisfaction.

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Editor’s note: To discuss business challenges or speaking engagements please contact Larry directly.