Restaurant Industry Uniforms and the Statements They Make.

When you walk into a restaurant you’re supposed to be able to decipher who’s a patron just like you and who actually works there, and uniforms help you do that. It’s not all they do; they also help you understand what type of an establishment you’ve just walked into. Uniforms portray the vibe of the place like nothing else. The bartenders tend to be able to get away with something a little more comfortable than the servers. While that may or may not always be the case, the overall feel though will generally remain the same.

I’ve seen and worn all kinds of uniforms, and while they don’t all suck, more often than not they’re not great.

1. STANDARD & IN BULK
On one side the restaurant is doing you a favor by providing you with your uniform instead of making you go out and purchase it yourself. On the other side you’re stuck wearing something ugly and ill-fitting, just like everybody else that works there. They don’t take your measurements into consideration; it’s S, M, L, XL – order a bunch and do what you will with it. A lot of times employers will run out of ‘your’ size and you’re stuck wearing something too large or too small. Why order more when you still have a box of these “perfectly good” shirts, right? Granted, while every restaurant invests in plenty of things, a decent, properly-fitting uniform for your entire stuff of various shapes and sizes isn’t ever going to be one of those things. Personally I would much rather shell out a few bucks for a nice shirt that fits well instead of wearing a polo shirt with awkward sleeves, that’s also too short and constantly sticking out of my pants.

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2. HAWAIIAN THEME
If you’re working at a resort-type restaurant, more often than not you’ll be stuck wearing a disastrous, flowery, button-up, poncho-looking monstrosity of a shirt. I feel like that shirt belongs in only one category and that is ‘For men on vacation who are tired of wearing a suit and tie, and want to wear something on the completely opposite end of the spectrum’. Any other time or place, that shirt should be off limits; especially if you’re trying to set your staff aside from its patrons at a vacation spot. Before you know it, middle aged ladies are going to be asking other women’s husbands for cocktails because they’re all wearing the same thing.

Tom Selleck

3. ALL BLACK
Let’s face it, black is boring. I can’t tell you how many steakhouses I’ve walked into and saw the exact same uniform: all black with a red tie. I guess the same uniform across the board of ‘different’ steakhouses is fitting seeing as how most steakhouses are in fact very similar. It’s all the same options and prices; just slightly shifted in a menu layout, that too isn’t vastly different. The only thing ‘black uniform’ has going for it is its practicality. You can get away with not washing it for days because the stains aren’t noticeable. And even then, can that really be considered a plus?

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4. ALL WHITE
It’s completely impractical. Arm pit stains are inevitable; same goes for your collar and cufflinks; you end up literally wearing your blood sweat and tears on your sleeve. Not to mention, unlike the color black which is generally slimming, white makes you look fat. And let’s not forget the ‘no white after labor day’ fashion rule that The Cheesecake Factory violates every year. There are benefits to a white uniform however. It’s not for nothing that all great chefs and their crew wear white; it’s an indication that they keep a pristine kitchen. Constant cleaning is a huge part of a successfully run kitchen, and there’s no reason why the same standards shouldn’t apply to the bartenders and their domain. It’s the same reason doctors wear white. While complete and utter cleanliness can be achieved while wearing uniform of any color, white is the only that truly sends the message.

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5. FORMAL

You know when you walk into a place and both the waiters and the bartender are dressed nicer than you? There are some places that think white gloves are a reflection of excellent service. I mean sure, if what you do is serve caviar on a silver spoon to your guests all day long, then maybe. But when is that ever the case? There’s no room for a tuxedo and white gloves behind the bar or on the floor; you’re constantly doing something with your hands. Same goes for a blazer; it may look snazzy but it’s very constricting, so if you want those cocktails to come out to your guests in a timely fashion and if you want those dirty plates cleared off your patrons’ tables, you’d better dress your bartenders and servers up in something a little bit more comfortable.

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6. CASUAL

Casual is cool. However, there is such a thing as too casual. It’s one thing if a bartender’s sleeves are rolled up to their elbows while the servers don’t have that luxury; that’s fine. The atmosphere at the bar should be slightly more casual even if it does deliver the same fine dining experience as the rest of the restaurant. But if the overall uniform is a black shirt and jeans, that’s a bit too casual. How do you decipher a bartender from a patron? How do I know that the chick with the long hair in a tight fitting black tee works there unless I see her play with the taps or something? How do I know that the guy who just walked past me is a server or just a dude who decided to wear jeans and a black t-shirt that day? I’m just saying…The only message that casual of a uniform sends is the fact that you’ve walked into a beer and shots joint; don’t expect anything crafty, and don’t expect your waitress to anything other than to jot down your order. In places where a uniform is that casual, the morale is on the same level.

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7. EXPRESSIVE

A uniform is supposed to stand out from the rest. We’ve already established that while white uniforms and formal attire certainly do stand out they’re not very practical. Hawaiian theme uniforms, while bright, don’t exactly play a red rose in the field, and black as well as ‘casual’ uniforms do the opposite of standing out, hiding in the crowd instead. There are ways to retain a united form while expressing your individuality. Even minions all look different while looking the same. As long as the restaurant can decide on a main shade of color and one or two additional aspects, whether it be a tool belt, a custom apron, a bow tie, a regular tie, a vest, suspenders or even a fedora, there are a million and one combination for how one can look different than everybody else but still look the part of someone who’s clearly there to serve you. Although… there’s also a chance that you might get mistaken for a hipster, but then again; if you walk into a pretentious place, you should get the pretentious vibe.

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8. VERY EXPRESSIVE

“If you’ve got it, flaunt it” they say. That motto seems to have found a home in not only a modern age teenager’s Facebook page, but also in some of the newer pubs and restaurants. The same people aren’t generally fond of the “Less is more” saying seeing as how some uniforms these days leave very little to the imagination. Whether it’s the famous Hooters or the fairly new Tilted Kilt, the goal is to show off as much ‘goodies’ as absolutely possible; even if said goodies are way past their expiration date or aren’t that good in the first place. Clearly the goal is to reach a certain demographic, and while it may not always be pleasing to the general eye (let’s face it; girls that get hired for said positions are rarely professional models), it still gets the job done. Important thing to remember is what you came for. There’s no shame in wanting to watch semi-pretty ladies prancing around the bar half naked, pretending that they know what they’re doing; just don’t expect anymore more than that.

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A uniform’s job is not only to decipher an employee from the clientele, but also to send a message; give an accurate presentation of the establishment that you’ve walked into. It doesn’t have to be identical and boring; it just has to have the same idea.

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