Asharp look or dress code offers an essential first impression that can make customers feel at ease with the dining establishment. When considering whether to have a uniform policy, restaurateurs should think about how it might enhance the guest experience, how it will differ from the restaurant’s current attire policy, and the style and fabric most suitable for employees’ daily habits.
Uniform approaches can vary. The New York City–headquartered Altamarea Group has 11 concepts around the world, from Hong Kong to Turkey, and uses employee uniforms to varying degrees. At Nicoletta and Osteria Marini, for example, a casual uniform of a branded T-shirt or polo shirts and jeans prevails, while counterparts at Ai Fiori dress in formal suits.
Rocky Cirino, a managing director for the Altamarea Group, says the distinction between guests and staff should be as clear as possible.
“Initially when we opened certain locations, the hosts were allowed to wear their own attire,” Cirino says. “It becomes increasingly problematic from a managerial point of view, because you can have staff with a style that you may not agree with, and by creating or at least providing a uniform, it prevents you from having those uncomfortable conversations with people about their sense of style.”
Furthermore, Cirino adds, a uniform prevents servers from getting their personal clothes dirty. He says that providing uniforms is an added expense for the restaurant, “but it’s one that we feel is well worth it.”
Link Restaurant Group in New Orleans owns five concepts and also varies its attire accordingly, from the branded T-shirts with shorts, skirts, or pants at Butcher to the royal blue button-up shirts, black pants, and white bistro aprons at flagship restaurant Herbsaint. The more casual Pêche has a jeans and button-up shirts dress code, and interestingly enough, staff have collectively chosen plaid tops.
Heather Lolley, director of restaurant operations for Link Restaurant Group, suggests restaurants look at what works with the space they are in. “If it’s formal and it’s a bistro, you want to have a little more formal look to it,” she says. “Pêche and Butcher are definitely more casual. The interior of Pêche needs a nice collared shirt.”
When she dines out elsewhere, Lolley mentally notes how staff members dress. “I think when you walk into a space and it fits in or is cohesive, then you’re just naturally put at ease.” She says she notices when servers’ uniforms look unkept, dirty, or faded.
Beef ‘O’ Brady’s franchise owner Kersten Maxson thought about a consistent, clean look when coming up with a new branded uniform, a classic black shirt that the brand is nationally adopting this year. It is a fresh makeover well-timed for the company’s 30th anniversary in 2015 and represents the first time Beef ‘O’ Brady’s has ever made uniforms a company-wide policy.
Before the new uniform top, which employees wear with black or khaki pants, the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s employee image was scattershot. Maxson recalls the sports-themed chain went through various stages over the years such as khaki or denim pants combined with pastel T-shirts and V-neck jerseys in colors ranging from blue and pink to lime green. Made of cotton, these shirts faded and stained easily, and lost their shape. From 2010–2014, when Maxson was on the company’s franchise advisory council, the company sought new apparel vendors and ideas while experimenting with different looks.
Maxson envisioned a top that could endure kitchen heat and high-speed dining room activity, with all the bending, reaching, carrying, slicing, cutting, staining, and sweating that entails. “Because it’s a sports-themed restaurant, we decided to go towards a high-performance athletic-wear look,” Maxson says. “It’s easy to care for—simply wash and wear—and goes in and out of the dryer quickly. It’s also a comfortable fabric—something you would see a high-class athlete wearing.”
Various Beef ‘O’ Brady’s franchisees experimented with different uniform ideas in 2012, with Maxson trying out her uniforms in her two Florida locations (LaBelle and Clewiston) in fall 2012. By last summer, Maxson’s concept was chosen for the chain to test on a larger scale.
“We tested it at 23 locations and sent a survey to the employees at those locations so they could rate the shirts on comfort, fit, fading, if they shrink, and the overall look of the staff,” says Carol DeCanio, vice president of training for Beef ‘O’ Brady’s. “Once we had their buy-in, it was easier to roll out system-wide.” The nationwide transition began in mid-January.
The new black tops are “flattering for any body size” and made of a dri-fit material instead of cotton “because it keeps its shape and color more than the other blended materials,” Maxson says. “We have four different styles to choose from—a T-shirt, a V-neck, a long sleeve, or a collared shirt—and they’re all made of nice, sporty, dri-fit material that looks great all the time, even when you’re sweating.”
She chose black because it is easier to coordinate with promotional hats and pins, and can blend in with different types of customer attire, from casual to business to bridal shower, with a smaller logo residing on the left or right side of the shirt, which Maxson feels makes it classier and more industry-standard. Her employees like them and she has received many compliments on how sharp the staff looks.
“I think if people look sharp the perception to the customer is that they know their stuff, that they’re going to give them good service, and they are knowledgeable about the menu,” says DeCanio. “It’s the pride of the staff to look good.”
Uniforms are not just about appearances either. “Over the past two years Beef ‘O’ Brady’s has really modernized its restaurants and improved its menu selections,” Maxson says. “Designing a high-performance uniform top is another way of saying, ‘Let’s keep moving forward to innovate the brand.’”