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8 min read

Continuing our restaurant science series, we will take a look at uniform design. No, not consistent standard design that is uniform across the company, although that is very important as well. No, today we are going to look at actual uniforms, as in the clothing, as they are another one of the restaurant science factors that can oftentimes be overlooked.

You likely thought about your uniforms once when you started your restaurant and then forgot about them until you had to reorder them or an employee complained about their appearance. However, the uniforms your employees wear can tell a lot about your business and can affect customer experiences and perception.

First and foremost, your uniforms need to reflect your culture. This is probably the part you thought most about when you started your restaurant. Are you a higher-end restaurant? Then a more formal style with a button-up Oxford white shirt with a black tie and a bistro apron may be your style. A little less formal, but still want some class, a black button-up long-sleeved shirt with rolled up sleeves, no tie, and jeans may do the trick for your bartenders. T-shirts might help to bring a fun and lighter mood to a laid back restaurant atmosphere or an outdoor area. Whatever style you pick, make sure it fully conveys the feeling you want your guests to have when they dine at your restaurant. Make sure it matches the vibe of your restaurant. We’ll take a look at a couple of different parts that can play into this.

Color

Color actually plays a larger role than you think in uniform design. Different colors and even different shades of a color can adjust perceptions of your restaurant and it’s employees. Take for instance the color blue. Dark blue could convey professionalism, honesty, and knowledge. Light or baby blue can convey light, fun, and welcoming or signify that your restaurant is for kids. Standard blue would make well for a lakeside bar to bring elements of the water and the sky and help keep people think about ordering your fish. Still a Best Buy blue color could help your staff look more techy or service oriented in a bar with a more modern feel. I’d avoid the polo style in this instance unless you are really playing up the theme on purpose. Best Buy has branded their uniform so effectively that you think about them every time you see that color blue polo.

Visibility

Determine how visible you want your servers and bartenders to be. Giving them brighter colors help them stand out in more crowded restaurants and bars. This may be desirable or not depending on the situation. You likely don’t want neon soldiers marching around in your formal dining room. A brightly dressed server may be a welcome site in a busy sports bar however. Again though, be sure the colors you choose do correspond to your brand identity.

Type

Whether you go with a T-shirt, Polo, or button up will depend a lot on the culture of your restaurant. Obviously, you know which is the most and which is the least formal. Beyond that make sure that for whichever type you choose the material is breathable. It’s worth the little bit of extra money to get something that is comfortable and breathable. Your staff will thank you for it. They’ll be happier and cooler, they’ll smell better, and they’ll provide a better experience for your guests because of it.

Varied By Position

Something you may want to consider is having different uniforms for different positions. This is especially helpful when having servers or bartenders that only work in certain areas but may share a common space. For instance, if you have a server that serves tables but makes their own alcoholic drinks it can be helpful to have them in a different uniform than the bartender. In this way, when the server goes behind the bar, guests waiting recognize that she is not a bartender and thus don’t feel like they are getting ignored when that server doesn’t ask them for a drink order.

Different styles may also be useful if you have a formal dining room but a more relaxed bar area. By putting your bar staff in less formal clothes, you’ll help customers feel more relaxed and allow them to be louder in the bar area. They will recognize the visual cues and become quieter once entering the dining room.

Logo or No Logo

Something to consider is whether or not to add your logo to your uniform. As with all of the steps before, this decision will most likely relate to your culture. However, I recommend that you put the logo on your uniforms when using T-shirts especially. Having servers wear T-shirts without logos makes them look like everyone else which in turn makes them invisible. Guests will wonder if anyone is working, by putting the logo on the shirt it helps customers easily identify who is an employee and who isn’t.

For more formal uniforms, polos can typically look good with a small logo, but can look just as good without, so it’s more of a preference and culture fit than a requirement. I would also say, in most cases button up shirts look best without a logo especially when worn with a tie, but there are situations where this looks acceptable. For the most part if you keep your servers and bartenders in similar attire by position a logo should not be needed to determine who works there unless they are wearing T-shirts, but if you wish to add a logo make sure it complements and doesn’t detract. Remember, most people know what restaurant they are dining at and don’t need a logo on a uniform to remind them.

Kitchen Staff Uniforms

One last thing to consider is whether or not to put your kitchen staff in uniforms. I know of many restaurants where there is no requirement and kitchen staff can wear whatever they’d like. The thought is that no one really sees them, so why bother on the expense.

This is a fairly common practice likely occurring in over 50% of restaurants with it being especially more common in mom and pop style restaurants. While this may work perfectly well for your restaurant, I’ll give you a few things to consider.

Having the kitchen staff wear uniforms as well helps include them more fully into the restaurant dynamic. The kitchen staff is an integral part of the restaurant and by having them wear uniforms it helps to connect them with the rest of the staff and the business as a whole. Whether this is a chef’s jacket or just a T-shirt is up to you, but by offering something for them you will see a connected benefit.

Additionally, providing a uniform for back of house employees allows them to work without them wrecking their own personal clothes. This is a nice gesture to extend to them.

Finally, if a back-of-house employee needs to walk into the dining room or other public area, their attire helps them not feel out of place while also improving customer perception of your staff as a whole.

Uniforms may not have been on your mind since you started your restaurant but there is a lot of restaurant science associated with them. With some careful thought and small adjustments you can increase customer perception, employee comfort, speed of service through faster location of servers and bartenders, and help improve the organizational health of your restaurant.