Although an employee dress code is often an afterthought for restaurant developers, it’s important to consider what servers, kitchen staff, and hosts should wear in order to create the right kind of atmosphere in the restaurant. A dress code policy does not necessarily mean that all servers will wear a uniform, although this makes sense for many restaurants. A dress code policy is closely tied to the restaurant’s brand and says a lot about the sort of clientele that the restaurant hopes to attract.
Imagine three men who all work as servers. One man is wearing jeans and cowboy boots, another is wearing a jacket and tie, and the third is wearing shorts and a t-shirt. All three of these individuals could be wearing appropriate serving attire based on the branding of the restaurants where they work. The cowboy boots fit well into a Southwest-themed barbecue joint, while the shorts and t-shirt work for a casual café in the heart of a college town where the diners are primarily young students. The jacket and tie would look completely out of place at any of these restaurants, but it would fit well into a five-star French restaurant in Manhattan.
Restaurant developers need to think about the message they want to send to customers with their employees’ clothing. In addition, restaurateurs need to walk a line between allowing employees to feel comfortable at work, and ensuring that their choices represent the values and brand of the restaurant. Once restaurant owners have an idea of how they want their employees to dress, they need to create, implement, and enforce the policy.
Creating, Implementing, and Enforcing a Dress Code Policy
When creating a dress code policy, it’s critical that restaurant developers check local regulatory requirements, as well as the food code issued by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Complying with these requirements helps you avoid serious fines and keeps both customers and employees safe. With these requirements considered, it’s time to think about how employees should appear to customers and how much freedom of expression you want to allow them.
Importantly, the rules may be slightly different among employees, depending on their position. For example, a host or hostess often dresses more formally than servers. Furthermore, kitchen employees need to wear proper cooking attire, which is naturally different from the clothing worn by those interacting with guests in the dining room.
Dress code policies should address more than what employees may wear according to their positions. When developing a policy, restaurateurs also need to think about jewelry, hair, fingernails, and hygiene. Written codes should have clear guidelines for each of these concerns. Typically, people who work directly with food may not wear artificial nails or nail polish to avoid contamination. Hair should be kept short or controlled with hair restraints. Jewelry is typically limited, especially among kitchen staff. Usually, servers may wear limited amounts of tasteful jewelry. In terms of hygiene, the code should outline personal cleanliness standards for both employees and their clothes.
Before implementing a dress code policy, restaurant developers need to ensure that they give employees the tools they need to follow it. For example, it’s common to encourage employees to change into work clothes at a restaurant to ensure maximum cleanliness, but this policy requires having lockers where individuals can store their street clothes. Laundry bags should be made available for dirty aprons, chef coats, and other pieces of clothing to keep them separate from clean laundry.
Implementation involves writing down the dress code policy, distributing it among all employees, and discussing it to ensure that everyone understands the rules that apply to their positions. Employees in both the front and back of the house should understand the importance of the dress code, and the consequences of breaking it.
Dress codes need to be enforced uniformly among all employees. While it may seem more important for a kitchen worker to follow the code than a server, only enforcing the code among certain employees sets a bad precedent and breeds resentment, which can create an unhealthy work environment.
When an employee breaks the code for the first time, it’s common to give him or her the option to go home, change, and return to work. Talking with the employee can point to some important considerations that may not have been addressed when the dress code was formalized.
The Importance of a Formalized Dress Code
Employees may ignore a dress code unless they understand why it is important. In some circumstances, restaurant developers can point to local and federal requirements about food safety, but there are other good reasons to implement a dress code. One of the most important reasons was already discussed: creating a good first impression. Restaurateurs should take the time to explain to employees the first impression they want to create for guests. When employees understand this, they’re usually better able to understand what is and isn’t appropriate to wear.
A dress code can also increase team morale. Employees should have a sense of pride in their job and a dress code that makes them distinguishable can make them feel like they’re part of a team. Furthermore, a dress code helps customers identify employees. In the end, a dress code increases the sense of professionalism and cohesion in the restaurant.