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By: Eric Hahn

Restaurant Uniforms: What are Yours Saying?

Ever had an employee show up for work in a dirty, wrinkled or smelly uniform? Sure, haven't we all? Any veteran of the restaurant business has seen or been through this before. We've all heard the same excuses, "I didn't have time to wash my uniform," or "It was the only shirt or apron I could find." If image means everything, your servers and kitchen staff are the front lines of your overall image.

We posed this question to a group of frequent restaurant customers: "What does a dirty, wrinkled or smelly uniform on a server or kitchen person mean to you when you go out to eat." Almost universally, they all said it means that the establishment itself is likely to also be dirty, or that it shows a lack of care and attention to detail. Further, most indicated that it would be an additional factor as to whether they wanted to visit the restaurant again.

A good three-dimensional uniform policy will help safeguard your image:

The Stinky or Smelly Uniform
Showing up for work with a clean, ironed uniform should be part of your employee policy. A uniform service is often the best solution to this issue, but for those who don't use a uniform service, this rule should be required among your staff. And by all means, perfume should always be off limits! Perfume masks the senses and prevents your customers from enjoying the value of their meal.

The Wrinkled Uniform
A wrinkled uniform represents untidiness among your staff. The respondents in the survey we conducted indicated that a wrinkled uniform reminded them of someone who had just crawled out of bed. Consider a uniform that is a polyester woven fabric that is easier to keep tidy.

The Dirty / Soiled Uniform
Sure, we all know this unpreventable by the end of a shift. But at the beginning of a shift is preventable. If your kitchen staff spends any time in the dining room, make sure they change their aprons before they go in front of your customers. Additionally, if they are cutting meat at a buffet table, remind them that a bloody apron is unacceptable!

A solid uniform policy should be embedded with your hiring and training policies. A uniform that looks neglected speaks silently to your customers in the dining room about the person wearing it. Unfortunately, the customers see a dirty, smelly, wrinkled uniform as a larger part of your overall operation, and usually incorporate that image into their overall experience at your establishment. To the contrary, a clean uniform says the exact opposite: neat and clean atmosphere, with tidy and respectful service.

Having a uniform policy is a disciplinary issue that speaks volumes about the nature of your staff and your establishment. It's a policy that is relatively simple to enforce and maintain. Clean uniforms mean a clean restaurant in the eyes of your customers which is a wonderful reason for them to keep coming back.

About the author:  Eric Hahn is the Founder and Research Developer for Hahn is a 25-year industry veteran with a diverse background in the restaurant business and a skilled research developer. produces a free monthly newsletter that provides insight to changes in the restaurant industry.

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