Most months this column focuses on equipment, back-of-the-house items never seen by the guests. This month we will discuss how employee dress can affect the image you want your establishment to portray. According to the National Restaurant Association, there are about 945,000 foodservice establishments in the U.S. What better way to set your restaurant apart than with a distinctive uniform? The uniform doesn't need to be especially formal or ornate but can be an easy way to carry on brand recognition. Simple use of a distinctive color, logo or pattern can reinforce your brand. Every point at which guests come into contact with your restaurant is an opportunity for imaging and branding. Your restaurant's uniforms are no exception.
To select a particular style of uniform, you must first have a clear vision of your restaurant. A restaurant's uniforms should blend seamlessly with its atmosphere. If you want to have a fun, casual atmosphere, you shouldn't have your employees dressed in tuxedos. If you're going after a family market, make sure employee outfits are conducive to this focus. Uniforms meet the expectations of the guest. Don't confuse them. There are too many restaurants where the menu, service style, pricing, general ambiance and uniforms are not a match for one another.
Employee morale is an important factor in uniform selection. Stylish uniforms can help your staff play the part. Outlandish or less than stylish uniforms can get some looks and recognition but may leave your employees feeling silly. They will resent their clothing instead of showing it off as you may have hoped.
Uniforms need to be functional as well. Think about comfort and movement while wearing the uniform. Is the fabric breathable in warm weather? Light fabrics, such as cotton, will make it easy for staffers to move around and stay cool. Can a server comfortably move their arms easily to pick up trays? Short sleeves or loose-fitting attire may be preferred. Consider other things as well. Do your employees need pockets in the uniform? Will you require them to wear other matching accessories like shoes or belts?
The care of uniforms should be an important aspect of management's purchasing decision. If you are like many restaurants now, your employees are responsible for laundering and maintaining their own uniform. If so, you will want to choose an easy-to-care-for fabric, probably a cotton/polyester blend that will not need pressing. Also, choose a wrinkle- free and stain-resistant fabric. It's better to pay a little more for uniforms because it will pay off in longevity and good looks. Also, you will probably need to replace uniforms — in some cases annually — to ensure a crisp, fresh look. There is no need to have a guest's first impression be a stained or tattered uniforms.
If you do provide laundering or dry cleaning for your employees' uniforms, remember, that doing so comes with a substantial cost. If you aren't the town's most exclusive fine dining house, you probably don't need dry-cleaned uniforms.
The right uniforms can be a great asset. Choosing uniforms that are cohesive with your theme and unique to your restaurant will help you enhance the overall guest experience at your establishment.
Dan Bendall is a principal of FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm specializing in planning foodservice facilities. He is also a member of Foodservice Consultants Society International. He can be reached at 241-314-0660.