Samui Wining & Dining
Dress for Success

Not sure how to dress for dinner on Samui? Here’s a quick guide.


Page-20You’re sitting in a beautiful restaurant overlooking the bay, enjoying a delicious meal on a balmy tropical evening. In saunters a couple straight from the beach, with the same idea in mind. He’s wearing shorts and no shirt, and she has on the skimpiest of swimsuits and nothing else. Had this been at your local fine-dining establishment back home, chances are they’d be asked to leave immediately. Here, the embarrassed-looking waiter greets them and shows them to a table. Granted, Thais don’t do confrontation well, but is this dress suitable at the dinner table – even one overlooking the beach? In each country, you’ll find a different set of unwritten rules on what’s acceptable and unacceptable dinner attire. Even within a country you’ll find differences between cities, and generally, city dwellers dress up more than those living by the sea.

      Samui has not only a local Thai population, but also an expat community from an array of nations, and add to that tourists from around the world, who come and go in waves. It’s understandable then that there’d be some confusion about what one would wear to dinner – do you go by what the locals wear or do you go by what’s acceptable back home? And one person’s idea of smart is another’s idea of sloppy. Those from warmer climates also tend to dress at a far more casual level than those from cooler climates. Your average laid-back South African or Australian guy would only wear a necktie to a wedding, funeral or interview, yet most male Londoners wouldn’t be seen out in the evening without a tie, black polished shoes and a suit.

      For the ladies, the hotter the territory the less make up seems to be the norm too. Heavy makeup that runs in the heat isn’t flattering, and pantyhose aren’t practical in a tropical climate either. Here, you’re more likely to don a summer dress and sandals, and just dab on some lipstick for an evening meal, whereas in a big European city, an evening dress, pantyhose, heels and full makeup and hairdo would be in order.

      We asked a few locals their thoughts on this, and it seems as though they’ve become more relaxed over the years as they’ve settled into island life. A few interesting points came to light during our research, and the first question we often got asked is, ‘What is dinner?’ Is dinner just an evening meal, or is it an occasion. To the British, dinner can also be referred to as ‘tea’, so it all gets rather confusing and contradictory, depending on whom you’re talking to!

     The general consensus when speaking to resort managers from the more upmarket establishments, is that they’d prefer their diners to dress for dinner. Although they’re not expecting them to wear jacket and tie, a button shirt and nice pair of trousers is appreciated for the men, and a smarter than ‘beach look’ dress for the ladies. In saying this, very few hotels actually have a written dress code as such. As one local hotel manager says, “It depends very much on the restaurant, but swimwear in any restaurant is a no-no. Ties and jacket are not necessary, but a long trousers and a shirt are appreciated in the nicer restaurants.”

       Another point that came up frequently was that it depends on the location of the restaurant, and how formal the establishment itself is, with beachside dining tending to be more laid back.

         Most Samuians agreed that if you’re ordering a snack and staying at the pool lounger, it’s quite alright to eat in your swimwear. But the moment you leave the pool and head to the tables, even ones on the sand, then the polite thing to do would be to throw on a shirt or a wrap for the sake of fellow diners. The same applies when walking down the street. Walking on the beach in your swimwear is fine, but the minute you leave the beach, cover up. It’s amazing how many tourists will walk into shops and even temples, wearing only a bikini or speedos. As one cabaret owner stated, “We are not a restaurant or hotel, but we really dislike and discourage people coming in half naked to watch the show. We have stopped people or asked people to leave, especially guys without t-shirts. That attire should be kept to the beach!”

         Another Samui local argued that it’s hard to enforce a ‘cover up’ policy when some Western restaurant owners themselves, walk around their establishments shirtless. Yet others argued that during the day it’s fine to wear swimwear at the table in a beachfront restaurant, but not at night. The more people we asked the more conflicting replies we received. But even the five-star establishments agreed that they’d be fine with a male diner in tailored shorts and a casual linen shirt, and that smart-casual is acceptable.

         It’s good to remember that Thailand is actually quite a conservative nation, and topless on the beach is actually a big no-no. Of course, Thais being non-confrontational people, your average tourist will be completely oblivious to this fact, as no one will tell them it’s just not done here. The same applies to clothing in public places, and certain outfits are best left to the nightclubs, rather than a family restaurant. Again it became clear that different nationalities have their own opinions on what is acceptable with regards to sheerness of fabric, level of cleavage and shortness of skirt at the dinner table. But, Thailand puts a strong focus on dressing smart (just think of the ladies in banks and chemists), and they manage to look smart and well-groomed even in the heat. Of course, they understand that tourists can be more laid back, and don’t expect the same from visitors.

         In summary: If you’re sitting on the beach or at your resort’s pool, and ordering a snack from a beach vendor or the restaurant, but plan on eating it at your lounger, doing so in your swimwear is fine.

         If you leave your sun lounger and head to the restaurant – even if it’s a casual one, do the decent thing and throw on a sarong or a shirt.

         If you’re heading somewhere nice for dinner, even if it’s beachside dining, make a little effort. Ladies wear a nice lightweight dress and sandals, and guys, lose the t-shirt, don a collared shirt and long pants or at least a pair of tailored shorts.

         Not too hard now, is it? No one’s asking you to wear jacket and tie, just to respect your fellow diners. Common sense, one would think. Apparently not!


Rosanne Turner


Copyright 2017 Samui Wining & Dining. All rights reserved Siam Map Company Ltd.