Mark Twain wrote that “clothes make the man,” but it could also be argued that they make the restaurant and the dining experience.
Visit three restaurants and you’ll find they each have different policies about what their employees should and can wear.
Perhaps most importantly, restaurant operators want their employees’ attire to reflect their brand.
“Employee uniforms are a great representation of where the brand is headed,” says Paul Mangiamele, president and CEO of Bennigan’s. “They are creative, fun, and modern, which is what we want the atmosphere and décor of every Bennigan’s to be. I believe that having a cohesive theme throughout allows guests to get an accurate perception of our brand concept.”
In the past year this Dallas-based chain of 80 Irish-themed restaurants, has overhauled its entire operations including employee attire.
The new uniforms consist of T-shirts with ‘The Big Irish’ and ‘St. Paddy’s’ in big, bold letters.
Wearing the right clothes helps prepare employees for work, says Marilyn Schlossbach, principal partner of Kitschens Hospitality Group, Asbury Park, New Jersey.
“Being in uniform puts you in a frame of mind of being at work and getting into the role for your theater production,” she says. “You need to act the part to get it into your head and into your mannerisms of where you are. When employees aren’t dressed they can be lackadaisical about the job.”
Mangiamele agrees. “Taking pride in your appearance reflects in your attitude and job performance. Being put together and feeling good about your appearance brings an air of confidence and leadership.”
Kitschens Hospitality Group owns six restaurants along the New Jersey Coast, each of which has a different uniform.
At Labrador Lounge, a restaurant serving “vacation cuisine,” employees wear Cuban guayabera shirts, which Schlossbach describes as “a very simple, clean uniform.”
She has tried a number of uniforms at this eatery, including letting the staff dress as they want. “But once you give open door to the staff, some were sloppy, some were really good at dressing the part … so some people looked great and other people didn’t.”
Schlossbach also owns Dauphin Grill, a finer diningfarm-to-table restaurant where the uniform is what she describes as “Australian beach formal.” It’s an Oxford fitted shirt, khakis, and a white bistro apron. “It’s beachy, but in a refined way,” she explained.
A uniform is also helpful, Schlossbach says, “because it clearly shows who’s a customer and who’s an employee, particularly in a high volume restaurant.
“I’ve been in restaurants where I don’t know who to ask for a glass of water,” she says. “It’s confusing and I don’t want to put that much thought into my dining experience.”
Shaun Clancy, owner of Foley's NY Pub and Restaurant in New York City says what employees wear is highly important, especially the host and bartender because they’re the first people guests interact with. They set the tone and create a first impression with guests.
He describes his policy as “relaxed casual.” His staff wear the restaurant’s golf shirts or long sleeved shirts, black pants, and black shoes.
Clancy also goes beyond the clothes.
“Girls have to have their hair up and I don’t like flashy jewelry. I am not a fan of visible tattoos—if someone sees that it’s the first impression,” he says.
“The server is an important part of the experience but they’re not center stage. Great service in a restaurant is when you don’t notice the service. Gaudy jewelry is like a cry of ‘look at me.’”
Piercings are up for debate.
Mangiamele isn’t concerned about them, providing they uphold Bennigan's standards, believing they encourage employees “to express their individuality … We embrace their creativity and the fresh vibe it brings to our modern Bennigan’s concept.”
And Schlossbach for the most part is OK with piercings and tattoos “as long as they are not offensive.” She only takes exception at the finer dining Dauphin Grille, where, she says, “we are a bit more critical of staff body décor.”
Clancy says that if apiercing is subtle, he doesn’t mind it. Ear piercings are acceptable, of course, and nose piercings if they’re not too noticeable.
“It’s not going to stop me from hiring someone unless they’re not willing to tame it down or take it out. And, if they look presentable in every other way,” he says.
It’s important to have rules about employees’ appearance, he adds. “If you leave it up to them, some would come in their PJs.”
By Amanda Baltazar