Bearded hotel staffers don’t cut it with guests, says Cornell Hospitality Quarterly study

Nov 04, 2013

The results of a study of guests' reactions to hotel employees' appearance were mostly what you might expect. The study, published in the November 2013 issue of the Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, found that hotel guests think that the most effective employees are men and women who smile and are attractive. When it comes to facial hair, however, the guests weren't so sure. They assigned greater assurance ability to clean-shaven men, but for reasons that are not clear this effect held true only for Caucasian men and not for African-American men.

The study, "The Frontline Provider's Appearance: A Driver of Guest Perceptions," is the featured article in the November 2013 Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, which is published by SAGE in association with the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. For a limited time, Sage will make this article free for access. The authors are Vincent P. Magnini, Melissa Baker, and Kiran Karande. Magnini and Baker are at the Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Tech, and Karande is on the faculty at Old Dominion University.

For this study, the researchers used the concept of how appearance translates to assurance. They asked a panel of 102 people drawn from a national consumer panel to judge employees' knowledge and courtesy and their ability to convey trust and confidence—all based on their photograph. From this comparison of carefully designed photographs of models, hotel guests ascribed greater assurance ability to clean-shaven men, and to all men and women who smile and are attractive. The beard effect did not influence the guests' assessment of the African-American models, but the bearded Caucasian men were judged less effective than their clean-shaven counterparts (smile or no smile).

The authors suggest that the practical implications of their findings are that: (1) hotel firms generally should not permit their employees to wear beards, except in special situations; (2) hotel firms should incorporate genuine smiling training in their customer service training (since guests can immediately determine when an employee is faking it); and (3) within appropriate legal and ethical boundaries, hotel firms should put in place, manage, and enforce grooming policies that could influence the facial attractiveness ratings of their employees.

About the Cornell Hospitality Quarterly
The Cornell Hospitality Quarterly (CQ) editorial content is broad, and the CQ publishes research in all business disciplines that contribute to management practice in the hospitality and tourism industries. The objective of the CQ is to help all those involved or interested in the hospitality industry to keep up-to-date on the latest research findings and theory development in order to improve business practices and stay informed of successful strategies.

About the Cornell School of Hotel Administration
The Cornell University School of Hotel Administration is shaping the global knowledge base for hospitality management through leadership in education, research and industry advancement. The school provides management instruction in the full range of hospitality disciplines, educating the next generation of leaders in the world's largest industry. Founded in 1922 as the nation's first collegiate course of study in hospitality management, the Cornell School of Hotel Administration is recognized as the world leader in its field. For more information, visit