No matter what employees think, restaurant customers don’t really notice what staff uniforms look like. But they do notice—a lot—how clean those uniforms are. Not a problem if you’ve got the budget to have your staff’s uniforms professionally cleaned or laundered. But if you rely on employees to maintain their own uniforms, keeping your staff presentable is a dilemma that can drive you nuts.
The latest data on uniform preferences comes from a two-phase national telephone survey conducted by Decision Research for uniform supplier Clipper Corporation. The study focused on the QSR market, even though Clipper provides uniforms to many full-service restaurant chains including Denny’s and Olive Garden.
The first part was a survey of restaurant patrons. They were asked about which aspects of restaurant crew uniforms had made a favorable impression on them during dining occasions that occurred during the prior two-week period. Respondents were queried about factors such as fit, style, color and age appropriateness, with uniform cleanliness scoring the highest. Thirty-three percent of male respondents and 26 percent of female respondents cited cleanliness as the most important factor.
Which is to say, customers don’t pay much attention to what your staff is wearing, unless it’s dirty.
Researchers then did a phone survey of restaurant workers, asking them what elements were the most important about the uniforms they wear. The winning attribute: “easy care/looks clean,” which outscored factors such as fit and comfort. Forty-five percent of female restaurant workers and 42 percent of males picked easy care/looks clean as the most important feature of their uniforms.
This may seem like an amazing finding to many full-service owners and managers. The stylistic merits of server uniforms are a constant topic of complaint at many restaurants. The complainers primarily focus on a chosen uniform’s style, or lack thereof, although modesty issues have emerged of late, with everyone from Hooter’s waitresses to Muslim workers objecting on this score. Which is why it’s interesting to learn from this survey that, when push comes to shove, convenience trumps appearance.
How come it does? One theory is that pay scales in the restaurant industry are such that many uniform-wearing workers don’t have their own washer and drier in their residence. Instead, they have to use a shared facility in their apartment building or head to the local laundromat. Either option is a time-consuming hassle, so a uniform that’s easy to clean has great value in this circumstance.
The lesson here for managers and owners is that they should keep laundry requirements in mind when choosing staff uniforms. There’s much to recommend about such standard full-service outfits as the ubiquitous polo-shirt-and-khaki-pants combination, or even t-shirts and neatly pressed jeans. But if you require your staffers to buy and maintain their own work clothes, the lesson of this survey is that you want to spec easy care and stain resistant clothing, not just certain styles. Your staff will thank you for doing so, and so will your customers.