Theme Park employee appearance is getting worse

August 10, 2019, 10:05 PM

Back in the 70’s many of the seasonal parks around the country were built with the intention that a more localized version of a Disneyland type park could be a good business. The companies running these parks were very aware of the “amusement park” image took pride in making sure they didn’t come across as carnies, and one of the major components of that were the appearance rules for the employees. Pretty much all operators had the same rules, and IMO even though it was subtle thing, it really helped make the industry more reputable in the public image. All of these parks were made to give the vibe of being clean and family friendly.

These rules largely stayed in place up until very recently when suddenly some major operators changed them at the same time. Just a few years ago at most SF and CF parks beards were not permitted, shoes had to be solid black or white, socks had to be solid with no logos, no tattoos visible, had to wear company issued belt, etc.

Nowadays it seems like many parks, including our two largest seasonal park operators, have pulled a 180 and gotten rid of their appearance guidelines. In the past few years I had the opportunity to travel around the world and revisit many of the parks I hadn’t been to in years, and at many of the seasonal parks here in the USA the employees look like straight up trash. Tattoos, earrings, fugly shoes and socks, scruff, sweatshirts, and baseball caps. None of this stuff was allowed even just a few years ago.

So a few things have happened that led to this:
-The labor market is really good and amusement parks being seasonal and relatively low pay aren’t attractive jobs.
-The parks were built in rural areas where there was lots of cheap land so there weren’t many jobs available for kids that lived in the area. But now the areas are much more developed with more job options.
-Society has become generally more accepting of people with beards, tattoos, and piercings. Even Disney allows people with beards now (this one I think is a cop out, there are still lots of jobs all over the place that still restrict tattoos/piercings).

Personally, I hate it. The huge lax of rules makes the industry look exactly like what it was trying to prevent when the parks were built, they are so hesitant to cut into their margins by offering more competitive pay and better benefits that they have gone to the lowering of standards to try and attract more people and it shows. Beards I think can be OK because Disney has strict rules on how it has to be trimmed…but at some of the other parks I’ve been to recently I can’t say the same. Sadly, once the standards are lowered it becomes very unlikely to raise them back up because it would cause a lot of headaches with the people that already work there.

What are your thoughts on this? What can the industry do to attract better talent without lowering the standards?

Replies (27)

August 11, 2019, 4:56 AM

I think I'm with the french on this. I don't think employers should be able to make demands on how an employee looks, provided it is within reason.

The idea that someone who doesn't have tattoos or has a neat beard is "better talent" than someone who does have tattoos or has a beard, is ridiculous IMO... so I have to reject the premise of the question.

August 11, 2019, 8:09 AM

Chad, you're probably from a younger generation that sees nothing wrong with tattoos, piercings, and heavy beards. For older generations like the Baby Boomers, those attributes were associated with a less savory part of society and people didn't necessarily want to expose their families to people who looked like they belonged to that part of society.

So, it's really a matter of perception. If people see someone who looks like they came from the cast of Up With People, then they automatically give them more credibility for being nice and competent whether that's the truth or not. And theme and amusement parks are selling an experience that is largely based on the perception of the customers, so appearance is a determinant in whether or not someone is "better talent."

And just to show that you're susceptible to to the same kind of illogical assessment of "better talent", try to honestly answer this question. Would you date a woman with hairy armpits? Does her attractiveness change because she doesn't do something that the majority of women in this country do? What are your thought processes as you perceive her?

Perceptions do matter.

August 11, 2019, 8:35 AM

I think piercings beards and tattoos are generally fine, but dress codes are not strict enough anymore. The way people dress has generally gotten more casual, but the way people working at an amusement park or any workplace open to the public are dressed should distinguish them from the people visiting.

Edited: August 11, 2019, 9:36 AM

>>Chad, you're probably from a younger generation that sees nothing wrong with tattoos, piercings, and heavy beards. For older generations like the Baby Boomers, those attributes were associated with a less savory part of society and people didn't necessarily want to expose their families to people who looked like they belonged to that part of society.

I'm kinda getting a feeling of a condesending tone here.

>>Would you date a woman with hairy armpits?
Yes. Honestly, I've never noticed a woman's armpits, ever.

If you're going to judge someone's "talent" or ability to operate a ride or serve fast food on armpits, or tattoos, or anything else, then I think you've given me enough information to objectively judge your talents.

August 11, 2019, 10:00 AM

The idea of not allowing tattoos, piercings, etc in a business is that the workplace, especially one where you deal with customers, is not the place for you to express yourself. When you are representing the company you should have the respect to not put the attention on your own personal expression and it should be focused on presenting the image that the business wants to convey. I don't think that all businesses need to be this way (someone detailing a car, for example, I don't care if they have exposed tats) but in a professional setting people should look professional.

I don't think people with tats are unsavory, I think the tats themselves ugly. Like most other people I know lots of people I really like that have tattoos, but if they were working in my park i'd make them cover them up just like anyone else.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion on the matter...though personally I wouldn't date a woman who doesn't shave her pits =P

Edited: August 11, 2019, 10:33 AM

Anyway here are a few solutions I think could make an impact

-Free haircut to every employee once every 3 weeks. If the park doesn't want to employee haircut people they can buy coupons from Great Clips or something.

-Company provided uniforms. Most all parks used to have a wardrobe department where employees could rent out their uniforms and they were turned in and cleaned by the park. Uniforms that were worn out were thrown out. To save money many parks have turned their wardrobe into basically sales centers and make their employees buy their uniforms. In a competitive job market that's something that shouldn't happen if your trying to get good people, and also it would make the employees wear cleaner/better pressed uniforms.

-One free pair of shoes every season. This one is pretty straight forward...shoes are expensive and theme park employees generally don't make much money. Universal does this and it seems to work pretty well.

-Better accommodation. So its no secret the seasonal parks need seasonal labor, and many of the bigger seasonal parks have dorms that their employees live in. Some of these dorms are total dumps...now I know Cedar Fair has been building new ones and renovating over the past few years. Disney, which already has nice accommodations, is building a entirely new massive campus which in a couple years is going to replace the current stock they have because they realize the value of it. Six Flags puts their employees in really crummy, dingy hotels. Once again, just like the costuming thing, they used to be able to do things like this but now with the labor market the way it is they need to up their game.

Edited: August 11, 2019, 11:12 AM

Sorry, if you thought I was being condescending, Chad. I was only challenging your offhand dismissal of the question - which could have been taken as condescension on your part.

I'm not trying to knock anybody. I'm only trying to say that people - including you - do judge each other on their appearances.

August 11, 2019, 12:59 PM

Yes, we do.

But if you're juding their "talent" based on their armpit hair or tattoos then you aren't judging their talent.

August 11, 2019, 1:00 PM

>>>Most all parks used to have a wardrobe department where employees could rent out their uniforms and they were turned in and cleaned by the park. Uniforms that were worn out were thrown out. To save money many parks have turned their wardrobe into basically sales centers and make their employees buy their uniforms.

Thats legal in the US?? The Tax office had a fit about that sort of thing at Fashion chains over here.

August 11, 2019, 8:06 PM

While I don't mind loosening standards a bit from what they used to be, I do feel there needs to be some degree of professionalism to which employees are held. My thinking is that employees should not wear or display something that would immediately make them stand out in a group of employees. Reasonable hairstyles and facial hair, provided they are kept neat and tidy, are perfectly fine. Tattoos and facial jewelry are not, and should be kept covered or removed if the employee is in a position where they directly interact with guests. If a uniform is provided, it should be required to be worn and kept clean. Non-provided clothing shouldn't clash with the uniform or be distracting.

I know that all major parks have standards, and in my experience a vast majority enforce them. Occasionally, employees who are not up to code do slip through, and particularly when there is a general employee shortage across the industry or it could cause a PR issue it wouldn't surprise me if parks tend to be a bit more lenient. If the park feels its okay to be a bit lax, that's their decision, and if it is problematic enough that guests stop coming you can be sure things will change real quick.

August 12, 2019, 1:30 PM

I think it comes down to the overall decline in societal standards. It's not just the way people dress, groom, and choose to present themselves, it's how people talk and act in public as well. There's also an overall push in society to be accepting of everyone regardless of how they look. You can't disqualify someone from employment even if they have offensive images tattooed on their face for goodness sake. That means employers are having a much harder time enforcing dress codes, because they know if they go just a half step too far, they could find themselves on the wrong side of litigation, even if their rules are iron clad and the employee has signed an acknowledgment (1st Amendment ladies and gentlemen).

I think any complaints regarding employee appearance are swept aside in the "old fuddy duddy" file as HR departments cannot find cause to reprimand or terminate an employee simply because they have unsightly piercings, tattoos, or a scraggly beard. I wish there could be higher appearance standards for front facing employees, but getting them to wear a solid colored polo shirt and khaki pants might be the best we'll ever get based on today's societal norms.

August 12, 2019, 3:33 PM

Having actually worked at both a regional Cedar Fair park and Disney in my youth I am all for the relaxing of these rules. They were honestly down right draconian. I took a week off to grow a beard and when I came back to work was told it wasn’t up to regulation and my managers forced me to dry shave with a single blade bic razor and no soap. I saw people in 100 degree heat forced to wear long sleeve shirts under their uniform to cover up some stupid tattoo on their forearm. It was all about clinging to some fantasy 1950s norm of how people should look. I’m glad Disney and the regional theme parks have adapted to the fact it is now the 21st century and seeing a tattoo or some facial hair isn’t going to kill anybody.

Edited: August 13, 2019, 8:57 AM

@ColinHolmes - It's all about presentation to the target audience. I think the sight of a person with tattoos, piercings, and other body modifications is fine if you're serving an adult audience. However, when you're serving families with small children, I think there need to be some standards set to ensure as a company, you are putting your best foot forward. While some parents and families may not object to an unkempt, heavily tattooed and pierced person helping their child onto a ride, a majority of parents would instantly walk out of a park where there are no clear uniform or presentation standards, particularly one that espouses to cater to a family demographic like Disney.

If you decided to grow a beard while away from work, that was your decision. However, if your employer has a clear dress/appearance policy and it is determined that your look is in violation, then you either conform to that policy or find somewhere else to work. It is not "draconian" to ask employees that interact directly with customers (the people paying your salary) to come to work clean, and in compliance with whatever image the company wants to portray to its guests.

Long sleeve shirts/pants are not the only solution to tattoos, and I've seen even Disney employees using compression/arm sleeves to cover areas of exposed skin not covered by the standard uniform that may violate the dress code. These sleeves are breathable, and are actually better than bare skin on a hot day because they also provide UV protection without the need for sunscreen.

People seem to forget what the term "uniform" means, and that simply throwing on the company's shirt and other pieces of clothing is not enough for front facing employees to present a uniform image to the customer.

August 14, 2019, 2:07 AM

Tattoos and piercings are a long way out from being an extreme look. Long gone are the days when they symbolised rebellion. I think it’s only appropriate that workplaces adapt. When I mention the point specifically about the beard I grew, I should point out that company policy allowed for a beard, but apparently the one I had grown was a shade too light (nevermind the fact that other guys working at my attraction had even less grown in beards but were not forced to shave). I think people just need to get over themselves in regards to employee hairstyles, tattoos etc. I don’t even have tattoos or piercings myself, I consider them just kind of lame personally, but these cookie cutter clean image stuff is just so over the top. The kids working these attractions are not getting paid enough to adhere to draconian dress policies. Just get with the times people.

August 14, 2019, 7:28 AM

Societal norms for how people present themselves has changed over the years. People used to dress up in their Sunday best just to go to the mall. This is not the standard anymore, and no one expects people to be dressed to the nines for every occasion.

What I think is far more important is an employee's professionalism. A cast member can be clean shaven and tattoo-free, but if they are not welcoming, helpful, and enthusiastic, then I am not experiencing the world-class service I expect from a theme park. I agree that an employee should meet certain standards of presentation and dress, but beauty standards change over time and things like tattoos and facial hair are just not as intimidating as they were in the past.

Edited: August 14, 2019, 8:37 AM

"The customer is ALWAYS right". That's another what some may call "draconian" philosophy, but many many companies still adhere to its tenants. When parks field complaints from guests about the appearance of employees from guests who are turned off by ride ops with tattoos, piercings, and an unkempt look, they cannot simply bend to the wills of societal norms and look the other way. They must protect the preferences of their customers, and ensure the people that are counted on to pay the bills will want to come back and spend money at their establishment.

There has been a significant relaxation of appearance standards over the past 5-10 years, but I still think there's a baseline that many guests expect from most theme park employees. It really doesn't matter how much these employees are paid - FWIW, if "kids working these attractions are not getting paid enough to adhere to draconian dress policies", then where are they getting the money to pay for tattoos and piercings? If the parks are clear up front with the appearance standards for employees, it's then each individual's choice whether they want to conform or find another employer. If the employer then has difficulty staffing their locations, it's up to them to decide whether to further reduce the appearance standards or increase wages, which is what Disney and Universal appear to be doing (perhaps more a response to increased COL than a concession for not maintaining strict appearance standards).

"Kids" today are getting paid handsomely for the work that they do in theme parks even after factoring in inflation compared to just a generation ago. To say that they are not paid enough to keep a "clean" appearance in accordance with their employer's policies and wear the provided uniform is laughable. The Millennial attitude that everyone else should conform to "ME" is a view that will never gain traction in the "real world".

August 14, 2019, 9:42 AM

I think we are confusing topics and being judgmental. Things are evolving. Our image of a "good appearance" has become nuanced and more complex. The industry is also growing a wider and wider spectrum of quality.

Let's do better.

August 14, 2019, 12:37 PM

I actually think we're doing pretty good with this thread, RumbleMike. What's really happening here is a generational discussion on attitudes towards what constitutes an appropriate appearance for a theme park employee.

Since people don't walk around with a "better talent" score like a Health Department rating for a restaurant, our ability to judge them is based on a set of information with physical appearance being at the top of the list. That's the way we're wired.

So, let's not throw out the "being judgmental" stuff and try to shut the discourse down when, if we're honest, we're all judgmental to some degree.

What's wrong with a refreshing and honest dialog once in a while?

August 14, 2019, 6:24 PM

People can rage against change, but a person’s appearance has no impact on how they perform their job. If a person is able to be friendly, efficient and ensure that safe practices are being maintained, what does it matter what they look like? Also $7 an hour before taxes is far from a handsome wage and claiming as such shows an utter lack of compassion, but that is really a whole other bigger topic. Societal norms change. I think discriminating against people for cosmetic appearances is just really over the top as it has no bearing on person’s ability to do their job. The notion that only someone who has a clean-cut, clean shaven haircut can work at theme park is just silly. Then again, I have actually worked for various theme parks and I just can’t abide the corporate mandate/customer is always right defence. People want to have a good time, and that includes the service from the employees, and I will reiterate that appearance does not dictate service. If people are going to pearl clutch because they get good service from someone who doesn’t meet whatever standard they personally hold is their problem.

August 14, 2019, 9:47 PM

My wage when I started working in the industry was $5 an hour and maybe climate change has brought up the temps a little bit ... but the parks all start at twice that rate now and its not double as hot now.

The issue is not whether someone who has tattoos/crazy shoes and socks/long beards etc can do the job or not, obviously they can do the job just like anyone else. The issue is looking like a bum or a crazy person when you're at work in a customer-facing job. Bringing attention to yourself through your appearance (unless its part of the costume that fits the themed area) distracts from what the park has going for it.

Obviously we're never going to agree on this so i'm going to stop arguing about it, just felt like I had to respond because the "i've actually worked at these places" thing is getting tired...like none of us that are for stricter guidelines have ever worked in the industry.

August 15, 2019, 12:16 AM

I have no problem with how a person looks while they are working as long as they are able to do their job. The only issue I would have is when I am on vacation at a theme park is that the employees of the park stand out from the guests. If you need assistance with something, even as simple as the nearest washroom, you need to be able to know who to talk to. Whether the person has piercings or tats is secondary.

Edited: August 15, 2019, 8:50 AM

@ColinHolmes - Again, I think we are moving towards a more accepting society, but a company has the right to ask their front-facing employees to present a specific image to their customers. You can disagree with these policies, but if a company has research and testimonials from customers that indicate they will reduce visits and spend less money if front facing employees have a more "edgy" appearance, then that company would be foolish to relax their appearance standards - cutting off their nose to spite their face as the saying goes.

I absolutely agree that a person's appearance should not be a gauge of their ability to perform a specific job. However, perception is a very powerful motivator, and even if a company similarly agrees with that notion, if their customers are still judging a book by its cover, then they must do what they can to ensure their guests are comfortable. I think there's been a significant shift in this over the past decade, and I expect to see it shift even further in the years to come, but I doubt we'll ever see theme parks take an "anything goes" approach when it comes to appearance standards for front-facing employees.

Think about it - if you arrived at a theme park with a parking lot littered with trash, faded lines, peeling paint on the gates, and lax security, you would form an impression of that park before you even walk through the gate. It might be the absolute best theme park on the planet with some of the most exciting attractions in the world, but your overall view of the park is going to be tainted by that first impression. The same goes for employees, and while those with tattoos, piercings, and a generally "unkempt" appearance may do their job better than clean-cut colleagues that look more like executives, it doesn't change that first impression they give to the customers before they even interact with them.

Appearance matters whether you want to believe it or not, and all companies are trying to do is to ensure that their customers don't generate pre-conceived notions about the quality of their business simply because of the look of their front-facing employees. Allowing these employees to display their tattoos, piercings, and other edgy appearance characteristics presents to the customer a seeming lack of standards, which could lead guests to believe that the company similarly lacks standards in other more critical areas like safety, security, and overall customer service.

August 15, 2019, 8:57 AM

There may be a generational difference in opinion in what may be considered "unkempt." If a theme park employee has tattoos that don't contain offensive images or language, and facial hair that is well-maintained, I don't consider that to look unpresentable. Now if someone had a full-face tattoo that might look a little intimidating, but that could be managed the same as policies regarding employee clothing.

Theme parks have an obligation to present employees that are acceptable to their customers for sure, but I think that a growing percentage of the population do not judge these components of appearance like they used to, and even find them attractive or pleasant.

Edited: August 15, 2019, 9:35 AM

@Nick - I don't disagree that there are going to be generational differences in what may be an "acceptable" appearance, but an employer has to consider that they are trying to appeal to multiple generations, especially "destination" theme parks like Disney and Universal. I also think it goes beyond offensive images and language as I see more and more people with tattoos of brands, artists, and logos on their body that may not align with a company's image and partners. A person that has a prominent Pepsi tattoo (think CM Punk) could not show that as a representative of a theme park with an exclusive contract with Coca-Cola. So it goes well beyond what might be considered offensive, and trying to evaluate body art on a case by case basis could result in situations where certain employees may feel they are being singled out, meaning it's just easier for a company to establish a "no visible tattoos" policy to avoid this slippery slope.

I'm not sure how a company is supposed to "manage" a front-facing employee's face tattoo. Are they supposed to require them to wear thick pancake makeup all over their face, a mask, or a burka? The more likely solution is to move this employee to a non-customer-facing role.

It ultimately comes down to the image that a company wants to present to its customers. I think the perception of people with lots of tattoos and piercings to be rebellious and less responsible is not going to go away, and parks do not want their front-facing employees to give off that vibe for fear that it may affect the overall perception of the business and the apparent lack of standards. There's also the aspect of uniformity that companies want to project to their customers, and if half of the staff is tatted up, while the other half is clean-cut, what does that say to guests? Which employees do you think guests will preferentially go to when they need help?

Finally, there's a cultural aspect to this, which is especially important to businesses that have a global audience. There are certain cultures that view any body modification as heresy, and will simply not do business with companies that allow employees to flaunt these traits. If a company values the business from these cultures, they have to draw a line.

Edited: August 20, 2019, 10:13 AM

I personally don't understand why anyone would want to pierce their beard...but to each unto their own...unless we just need a visit from the grammar police to indicate what a comma is and where it should be used.

The best ride ops and cast members were at Hard Rock Park where they encouraged the hiring of people with piercings and visible tattoos. If you want some rock and roll lifestyle go get it and embrace it.

I'm getting sick and tired of the 1950's era morals worming their way into my society's healthy depravity. At least go with the 1960's era morals...I could use a little bit of free love before my coaster ride.

Ride queues for extreme rides need to crank up the music and reduce the spiel to "On your ticket, you waived the park of any liability. Good Luck. We hope to see you back in the ride station in x seconds. Please try not to make a mess, the maintenance guys have been on a bender for 3 days and are not up to the task of cleaning freshly eviscerated body parts out of the coaster." (or "The maintenance staff has recently been fired to boost our corporate overlords' stock price...let's hope the clueless college interns have picked something up in the last couple of days.")

August 20, 2019, 3:00 PM

"my society's healthy depravity"

Thank you, Deadpool, that's an awesomely funny way to view life! Love it!

August 20, 2019, 8:33 PM

OK, before I start, let's establish something here: If you came here offended from the get-go, leave. If you think baby boomers are being condescending to discuss their rightful perspectives: leave. If you think millennials are ruining our society, and came here offended by beards on theme park employees: leave.

If you don't have an actual logical argument, I really don't see why you're here other than to make things about yourself.

Anyways, I think we should look at Disney for any standard of this matter, really. After all, they are the industry leader bar-none. Disney has a policy of cautiously and carefully adjusting for the time. When they made the decision to allow beards in 2012, it was out of an understanding of what they meant now versus beforehand. Like or not: A WELL KEMPT beard is seen as an equivalent to no beard at all nowadays, in terms of stylistic cleanliness. Make of that what you will. I still think there are common sense rules us young folk can abide by. Don't get tattoos on or past your biceps down your arm (Let's keep it real: nobody has a uniform that doesn't have sleeves). Don't wear piercings at work, even if you have them. Don't style your hair so that it becomes a distraction. I can definitely sympathize and agree that standards at less "premier" parks, are grotesquely lackluster, but at a certain point you should expect to get what you pay for. Six Flags is not going to hold their employees to the standard that Disney does. That's just how it is.

I think these conversations are interesting and fine to have, but too often people put their emotional distortions ahead of logical perspective, and it turns into a stupid collectivized debate between "Your generation!" "No, your generation!" "No, you!" pretty quickly. If you're expecting society to never change and always be how you like it, I pity your sheltered lifestyle. Conversely, if you don't think people are going to have (at least some) fair criticisms of inevitable societal shifts, I also pity your sheltered lifestyle.

I think theme parks should be held accountable for having, well, more accountability! Environments need to be one that fosters an emphasis on professionalism and decency, as well as their job itself. I know my home park (Six Flags Discovery Kingdom) certainly needs that!

--Alex "As usual my analysis is free of charge!" B

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