This column usually focuses on equipment, the back-of-house guts of a restaurant that allow for quantity food production. Most of the items discussed are never seen by customers, although for good and bad, their impact is reflected in the quality of the food the customers consume. This month we'll consider how employee dress can affect the image you want your establishment to portray.
While uniforms don't directly affect the quality of your food, they are an important part of your establishment's identity. According to the National Restaurant Association, there are about 945,000 foodservice establishments in the USA. What better way is there to make your operation stand out from this crowd than with a distinctive uniform?
A uniform doesn't need to be especially formal or ornate but can be an easy way to carry on brand recognition. Through a simple use of a distinctive color, logo, or pattern, your brand can be reinforced. Every point that guests come into contact with your restaurant is an opportunity for imaging and branding. The uniforms your staff wear are no exception.
The desired image and vision for your service venue is a major consideration in uniform selection. Consider the vision you have of your operation and remember that the uniforms should blend seamlessly with its ambiance.
If you want to have a fun, casual atmosphere, you shouldn't have employees dressed in tuxedos. If your servery has a sports theme or a 1950s retro theme, the uniforms should reflect this.
It's important to not confuse customers. 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 another important factor in uniform selection. Good-looking, stylish uniforms can help your staff play the part. Crazy uniforms can get some looks and recognition but may leave your employees feeling silly. They will resent their clothing instead of wearing it with pride as you may have hoped.
Uniforms need to be functional as well. Think about the comfort and movement of your employees while they are on the job. Is the fabric breathable in warm weather? Light fabrics, such as cotton, will make it easy for them to move around and stay cool. Can a server comfortably move his or her 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 order to carry thermometers, pens or other items? Will you require them to wear other matching accessories like shoes or belts?
The care of uniforms is also an important aspect which should influence management's purchasing decision. Many operations require employees to launder and maintain their own uniforms. If that is your policy, you will want to choose an easy-to-care-for fabric, like a a cotton/polyester blend that will not need pressing.
Also, choose a wrinkle free and stain resistant fabric. Often, a somewhat higher first cost will pay off in longevity and good looks. Also, you'll probably need to replace uniforms regularly to ensure a crisp fresh look, so make sure your supplier has a good track record. The same goes for any uniform service provider you hire if your organization is taking on responsibility for keeping the unforms clean and maintained.
The right uniforms can be a great asset. Choosing uniforms that are cohesive with your theme, unique to your restaurant, and ensuring that they are always clean and well-maintained will help you enhance the dining experience your customers have and the professionalism they perceive among your staff.
Dan Bendall is a principal of FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm that specializes in planning foodservice facilities. A member of Foodservice Consultants Society International (FCSI), Bendall can be reached at 240-314-0660.