It's like kudzu, a kind of facial hair mission creep. Big beards are booming.
And in the restaurant world, so, too, are beard snoods.
The use of beard hairnets has skyrocketed in the past year as "statement beards" have grown in number and sheer audacity. A hipster phenomenon that gained purchase in places like Brooklyn, big beards have made their way onto male models, George Clooney and T-shirts emblazoned with "Fear the Beard." They've made it to the deli case at Publix, the seafood counter at Whole Foods and the salad station at your local pizzeria — and beard snoods have followed.
How do we know this? As someone who dines out a couple hundred meals annually, I've seen beard snoods this year crop up in small independent restaurants and big corporate chains, their wearers like masked avengers taking a chinward break from disguises.
First, a vocabulary lesson. A hairnet is crisscross mesh that corrals some head hair. A hair snood is an opaque, elasticized cap that covers all of the hair, often used in food service. And a beard snood is a tinier version that straps beneath the chin and hooks over the ears, even covering the mouth if it's wrangling a moustache, too.
It's all just a matter of enforcing a hairnet policy that extends to facial hair, according to Briana Madrid, marketing coordinator for Whole Foods Market's Florida region.
"Our current policy specifically for beards and moustaches states that beards and moustaches longer than 1/2 inch must also be in a restraint and anything under 1/2 inch in length are not required to be covered."
Brian West, media and community relations manager for Publix, says the grocery chain has had a similar beard snood policy in place for years. Five o'clock shadow gets a free pass, but if you're intending to sport facial hair, it's under wraps.
Although the policy hasn't gotten stricter, more hirsute men are adhering to the rules. Restaurants, however, are largely new to considering the beard snood. Some have embraced them (Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa), some are poised to institute a beard snood policy (Datz, Dough, Roux, all in Tampa) and some resolutely decline ("Those things are ridiculous," said Ferrell Alvarez, chef/owner of Tampa's Rooster & the Till. "We don't wear anything like that and all have beards.")
Jason Schwartzwalder, who makes the mozzarella at Pietopia in St. Petersburg, grew his beard three years ago.
"I've been shaping and forming it so it's thick and full. I want to be able to tuck it in my belt buckle." An ambitious goal, surely, but he keeps his coif contained in disposable beard nets that he purchases himself. He has also worn them in the kitchens of St. Petersburg's Lucky Dill, Burrito Boarder and Crowley's.
The beard boom has meant waning razor sales, an uptick in beard grooming products and a run on snoods. It was reported recently that U.K. manufacturer Lion Haircare & Disposables has had to invest in more staff and equipment to keep up with demand.
In many professional kitchens, there are no rules about restraining head hair in a cap or hairnet. So is this face fur focus warranted? A recent study by microbiologist John Golobic of Quest Diagnostics for a New Mexico television station found some of the bacteria in beards "are the kind of things that you find in feces." This report was vociferously refuted by other microbiologists and organizations, such as the Austin Facial Hair Club in Texas, but there are some beard facts to chew on: Men are six times more likely to shed hairs from the beard than the head because beard hairs are twice as dense, and because at any given time 30 percent of beard hairs are in the telogen, or resting stage, and thus shedding.
A recent Simmons National Consumer Study estimated that 17 percent of all men and 35 percent of young men (age 18 to 24) have facial hair, up from 14 percent and 31 percent, respectively, in 2009. What was once a stunt (NHL playoff beards; the Red Sox 2013 World Series beards) is now mainstream. Need proof? The new LBar in Sarasota debuts June 5 with a Mustache & Beard Bash.
Ray Martinez launched Instigator Brand Beard Armor in October in Holiday in Pasco County. He makes beard oil in two scents as well as an unscented version and next month will launch a beard balm. He himself sports a long, lustrous beard.
"I used to get a lot of homeless guy or terrorist jokes," he said, speaking about what he perceives as a zeitgeist shift. "Before it was taboo, kind of like tattoos. Probably men wanted to wear beards before, but society looked at them as a negative."
George Cabrera, a barber at Roosters Men's Grooming in Tampa, says that since November he has seen a shift locally.
"Now that there are products out there to manage the beard — beard oils, pomades, moustache waxes and switchblade combs that you can hide in a pocket to clean your beard up — people have started growing larger and larger beards." But kempt facial hair — "Not crazy Duck Dynasty beards."
And the rise of beard snoods in food service?
"When you've got a great employee, you don't want to get rid of them because of facial hair," Martinez said. "You want to work with them."
Contact Laura Reiley at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.