A Hair Raising Analogy

Imagine you’re going out to your favorite Italian restaurant where you got engaged, had your wedding reception, and now eat every Sunday with friends and family for a lovely Prix-fix meal. There’s the roving accordion player, the bottles of imported Chianti on every table, and the pasta with home-made meat sauce that you just can find anywhere else.

One Sunday you sense something is different with the Chianti. It’s no longer imported from a small vineyard outside of Tuscany. Instead it’s from California. When you ask the manager about it, he shrugs and says that it was either cheaper wine or higher prices. When you ask him why the price increased last week, he smiles and says, business is better than ever, so we raised prices.

A few weeks later you arrive for your Sunday meal and notice that the meat sauce isn’t as flavorful any more. You ask the manager and he says that they’re now using canned tomatoes instead of fresh. Most diners don’t notice, he claims. It’s either that or raise prices. When you point out again that he raised prices last week, he says that business is better than ever, so we can justify raising prices.

The very next week you decide to skip a meal, but you get a text message from your friend that the Italian restaurant let the accordion player go and replaced him with new CD of accordion music. Add to that, prices went up again.

So the next Sunday you decide to head to Olive Garden instead. The price is less, the meat sauce comes from a plastic bag made at a factory, and you can’t hear the music because the acoustics are horrible and every table is talking loudly just so they can be heard. Sure it’s an Italian restaurant, but it’s nothing special.

This week you decide to return to the original Italian restaurant. It needs a new coat of paint, your favorite waiter has left, and the price went up again. The food, if anything, is a little better, but the accordion player is still gone, and you suspect the Chianti has been watered down. Still it’s better than Olive Garden even if it’s not the same as before, so given the options, you’ll choose the original.

Many times that’s what it feels like to be a Disney fan.

Take today’s news that men will allowed to wear bears and goatees on stage. Disney parks are more than just an amusement park, they’re a carefully constructed show where every details is important. One of those details is the way you feel when you interact with a cast member. You’re supposed to feel welcomed and scruffy looking nerf herders are known to not be welcoming. So what’s up?

Feels like another example of declining show. But Disney knows that there’s a business need to relax cast member grooming standards. They need more cast members and short of raising salaries significantly (which you know they’d never do), they need to bring in more employees from overseas and from cultures where growing a beard is not seen as scruffy, but rather as comforting. Not having these employees on staff would mean longer lines, slower food, and a dirtier theme park. That’s also bad show. So for Disney management, it’s a trade off.

Thus, we endure a little less show with the understanding that there really isn’t an alternative. Plus, we have so much emotionally invested in the parks, that we can endure more and continue to come back. Those new guests, they don’t notice the lower standards, they only know it’s better and bigger than that theme park or family entertainment center at home and cleaner than the movie-plex.

In the scheme of things, a little more facial hair isn’t going to affect your visit to a Disney theme park that much one way or another. Maybe they’ll add a walk-around ‘Al Borland’ from Home Improvement.

The question that remains to be answered is, how long can can standards be lowered before a competitor steps in who is able to match, if not exceed, Disney’s standards. We’re definitely getting closer to that day and what will Disney do then?

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30 Responses to A Hair Raising Analogy

  1. ***Dave says:

    As someone who wears a beard himself, at times, I really don’t see allowing “bear[d]s and goatees on stage” as “declining show” or “lower standards.” Such things can (and should) be well-groomed and neat, and not a problem.

  2. Mark says:

    Funny, but I have the opposite reaction. I’ve wondered how they’ve been able to get away with the no facial hair policy for so long. I really could care less one way or the other about it.

    But if too many people react negatively, they’ll bring it back. After all, they used to not open Fantasyland when Disneyland opened, and that hasn’t been the case in years, so it’s not like this is set in stone.

  3. Natalie says:

    I was taken aback when I originally heard the news. But I don’t think beards make people look unfriendly. Quite the opposite. I live in a Brooklyn neighborhood where every man sports a beard! When we are in Manhattan, tourists tend to ask my husband for directions, bypassing other people. He always says “it’s the beard!” He looks nice and approachable, laid-back and not in too much of a hurry to point someone towards Rockefeller Center or the subway. I can see this working for the Disney Look.

    I guess I’ll never be Disney Look again, on the other hand. I have a piercing in my ear cartilage that hurt WAY too much going in to ever come out, and I don’t think that the piercing ban will be lifted any time soon.

  4. Darren says:

    I don’t really see this as a declining standard either. A change sure, but not necessarily for the worse. I’m sure that there will be some grooming standards, and this will barely be noticed.

    • John Frost says:

      For 60 years clean cut has been thought to be more friendly and welcoming. The point though, was that it’s all about trade offs for both fans and for the company. Hair length may be a minor trade off, but its one nonetheless.

      • leo says:

        Disneyland Alumni Club and Historical Society ‎confirmed: @Leo, yes, we believe you are right about original CMs who were hired with facial hair. Standards quickly changed but those hired “with” were allowed to keep if well groomed. Anyone remember Joe Spindler from Custodial?

        It’s not bad show … and well-groomed can include facial hair. I’ve had a full beard since age 20 … only shaved it off twice, once to portray Oliver Hardy at a “famous person’s party in college” and once for a friend’s wedding as the bridesmaid asked me as a groomsman to shave. My grandmother liked me with a beard … I may shave it off again someday, but not for some low-paying job.

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  8. Diane says:

    I’ve been to Disney six times, not many by comparison to some, but I can honestly say I never noticed the lack of facial hair. I doubt next time I go it’ll strike me that standards are low because someone I interact with has facial hair – if I even notice. I *think* that your concern is changing standards implies a lower threshold for acceptable behavior but I don’t think that’s fair in the case of well groomed facial hair. But I guess it becomes a slippery slope huh? Also, as far as friendliness and approachability goes, doesn’t Santa have facial hair?

  9. jeffk says:

    Sorry, John, as yet another Bearded-American, I’m going to have to take (pretend) offense. If beards aren’t known to be welcoming, somebody should probably tell Santa and Jesus.

    This is one of those quaint old traditions that was bound to end at some point–you can only enforce midcentury grooming standards for so long. Plus, Frontierland plus beards equals good show, and you’re a darned liar if you say otherwise.

  10. Beeker says:

    Well said. And… what may seem like a sad decline in standards certainly must be viewed from the business perspective. They – the business folks – do need to balance show with changing standards, more competitive hiring environment, etc. However, there is the other side, making sure what YOU’RE selling is different. There is a point where the old Italian restaurant in your example no longer differentiates enough from Olive Garden to justify – to the customer – the higher prices. When will we hit that point?

  11. Blaine says:

    Well now I’m just hungry for some fancy Italian food! I don’t see this as a lowering of standards, we still have limitations to it. Also it’s about our welcoming actions that fully set the mood, and that will not change. But as for the beards, of Disney sees this as a problem, they will nix the idea just as quickly. Last year we were allowed to use our cellphones on stage to check the time for a good month. Disney saw what it was really doing and pulled the plug on that.

  12. John (TheSneakyMouse) says:

    From what I have been told, the policy at Disney is that you have to come to work with the full beard or goatee, no scruffy look while you are growing it. So for most of us, that would mean something to work on over vacation, although there are a few that probably can do this overnight. I really don’t think that it will be a big change, and will hardly be noticed by most of the guests.

  13. Red says:

    I have to agree with the popular opinion in these responses.

    As I was reading the story I thought “Yeah, I see where you’re going.” Then I got to “beards” and I said “Yeah, beards…wait…what?” I have seen many posts online about people being disappointed by this change but for me it’s very much a non-issue. I’m actually extremely surprised that I’ve seen as much opposition as I have.

    To me it seems like it’s not about the beards, it’s about change. And every one is afraid of change.

    • Chris says:

      “Yeah, beards…wait…what?” pretty much describes my response as well. With so many less subtle show changers out there, this just isn’t on my radar. (Also, if my current job would let me, I would have a goatee so perhaps I’m a bit biased)

  14. NT3 says:

    Yeah, there’s plenty of things to be upset with Disney’s declining standards over but the beard thing isn’t one of them.

    Walt came up with the policy because in 1955, the stereotype of an amusement park carnie had the scruffy shady beard and he wanted to show that his park was something totally different. It’s 2012. Everyone knows what a Disney park is all about now. It’s the TRAINING of the cast members that I care about. How they interact with guests, how they play their part in the overall experience of the park. Should this cast member be well groomed? Of course. If someone just doesn’t shave for a week and claims they have “a beard” I’m sure it’s going to be a no go. But someone having a mustache or goatee? Who cares?

  15. John Frost says:

    I’m going to say it one more time. The people who read this analogy and think I’m outraged at the new grooming standards are wrong. I made the point in the post that all things considered this is a minor change. I didn’t want this post to become a list of things that are wrong, because I don’t like reading or making those posts. But perhaps a list of things that really do affect the show is what you want to see.

    For instance, a whole scene in Splash Mountain not working (see this week’s update), one chicken with her head nearly broken off, and them not stopping the ride to fix it (or really not funding maintenance appropriately to maintaining it first so it doesn’t break during operating hours). Another example would be the reduction in training hours that I feel has resulted some (a few, but it’s hard to quantify since experience is anecdotal) cast members being on stage who just don’t get the Disney spirit. A third would be outsourcing of certain roles at the hotels (valet for instance) that sometimes are the first ‘Disney’ face that greets a guest. How about the monorails that keep breaking down or the reduction in food choices at sit down restaurants after the Disney Dining Plan was offered for free. All reductions in show while raising admission prices at the same time

    The point of the post is that Disney makes those choices for often valid business reasons {at least they look good on a spreadsheet), but they still impact the show. As a guest we experience the reductions first hand and then make our own choices as to whether another option exists for our entertainment dollars. It’s a fragile equation that could be undone if a competitor steps up to the plate and out-Disney’s Disney. Doesn’t make Disney’s business decision any more or less right, it’s just the reality of the situation.

    • jeffk says:

      Well now I feel even less sure that I understand what the original post was about.

    • Mark says:

      All of those examples I would agree with. But whether a man can have well groomed fascial hair or not is not even close. We’re talking apples and ice cream here.

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  20. John Doe says:

    I think it is awesome that they are allowing a beard for man. It shows that they know their cast members are humans too. All these look guidelines detours future cast members from applying to work at Disney. Disney is not declining their service by adding a beard. They just don’t make up things. They actually think about these type of decisions. And I doubt you so called Disney fans go and look for clean shaven man. It doesn’t even cross your mind while having fun at Disney to see if a man is clean cut. A cast member with a beard will give every guest the same service as a clean faced man. A beard does not change service.

  21. Brian says:

    I don’t think you made your point well. I read the article twice after reading the comments and I still don’t get the lowering of show tie-in. In fact, I’m trying to square the “overseas” component. I think Epcot has a lot to offer with respect to overseas casts. DCL also has a lot to offer with their international cast members, so what’s the concern (and why bring that up)?

    The beard issue is not reflective of a lowering of the bar with respect to show. Nor was the dress code change to allow managers to wear (conservative) Tommy Bahama shirts instead of dress shirts and ties a hit to show either.

    Finally, having to repeatedly defend your post shows that the analogy was a bit of a Fail as most of us don’t seem to buy in to your premise.

    That said, it’s a fantastic blog and I love reading it.

  22. Allen says:

    The food quality, service, cut backs all around at the parks keep us away and we live in Orlando. We’d pay double just to have what was even 10 years ago. It’s not the money, it’s just slipping quickly. I’m embarrassed to take friends and family there now who have fond memories of a first class operation in the past. Corners cut and every excuse is given why it has slipped. Seats are roped off in areas so you cram together to eat so they can save someone cleaning of extra tables. Less turnstiles open, akin to Walmart on a busy weekday afternoon. A poor value in every way. We believe it won’t be long it is simply stores selling overpriced junk, and meet and greets with characters. It’s not far off now.

  23. Candi says:

    Say what you want about quality declining, but don’t bring the beards into it. There’s nothing wrong with beards, some of us love them. If every cast member had a beard, it would be a more magical place for me.

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