To work in the service industry (particularly front of house) is to be seen, identified and constantly observed.
Our service style, demeanor and overall presentation are endlessly scrutinized by guests when they visit our bar or restaurant. In many ways, as hospitality professionals, we are the product being consumed just as much as the products we’re serving.
The ability to create a professional yet comfortable rapport-driven interaction with a guest, no matter their price point, is invaluable. The relationships businesses create with their patrons continues to be the driving factor in long-term guest retention. And whether we consciously realize it or not, staff uniforms—and things like a restaurant’s website or the style of your drink menu—play into this equation in an incredibly significant way.
Just as consistency in service is important, so is consistency in the appearance of service. In the same way that staff are encouraged to refrain from unflattering actions, such as running on the floor, smoking outside of the front door or shooting tequila with guests, unflattering staff uniforms can deliver a similarly incriminating message.
Beyond creating an attractive standard for staff presence, uniforms create a sense of unity within a space.
Matching uniforms to a business’ concept takes more than simply coordinating colors and textures, and smaller, more subtle minutiae of uniform design should be taken into account when considering a dress code.
It seems obvious, but the staff uniform or dress code that a bar or restaurant chooses instantly sets the tone of the space. A fine dining establishment may require all black outfits with white button-ups for servers and crisp lines all around; many establishments go so far as to ban perfume and cologne, distracting hair or makeup and jewelry across the board; and a more casual wine bar may encourage a standard of professionalism and cleanliness but lack specific “rules.”
Let’s take a look at some real-world examples of staff uniforms in hospitality.
Shift Drinks in Portland, Oregon, does not require staff to wear any unifying item of clothing besides a small one-inch diameter white pin that reads “SD.” While not initially obvious, Shift Drinks’ minimalist uniform clearly reflects the smart, stylish refinement of the bar as a whole.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Portland’s classic tiki hot spot Hale Pele encourages their staff to embrace the “Tommy Bahama” realness of their setting. Audacious floral prints, gaudy jewelry and floral hairpieces are constants. This touch not only creates a pleasing visual consistency within the space but also encourages a sense of adventurousness in clientele. Maybe I will have the flaming Coconaut cocktail today!
Chicago’s iconic Three Dots and a Dash embraces a similarly tiki-tastic uniform policy.
Cocktail bar Herbs & Rye, in Las Vegas, hits somewhere in between the laid-back chic of Shift Drinks and the over-the-top tropical feel of both Hale Pele and Three Dots and a Dash. Herbs & Rye serves classics from both pre- and post-Prohibition, and their staff uniforms play into that vibe. Black and red button-ups with matching fitted vests, ties and the occasional bowler hat vibe with the speakeasy feel of the establishment. The interplay of color, texture and style create an environment entirely appropriate for sipping the perfectly foamed Ramos Gin Fizz.
It is clear that in each of these examples the following key questions were asked (and should be asked at your own establishment when considering staff uniforms):
- Is the uniform consistent with my space and the message of my space? Both visually and conceptually?
- Is this uniform something that can easily flatter a variety of genders, body shapes and sizes?
- Does this uniform provide good range of movement for my staff and the pace of service we practice?
- Will the staff enjoy wearing this uniform or at least tolerate it?
- Is this uniform easily cleaned, or are there multiples of it?
While the idea of staff uniforms at your bar may be easily considered an afterthought, the physical presence of continuity within a space provides a sense of consistency that is invaluable. The utilitarian nature of many staff uniforms can only be upped by asking the above questions.
Careful consideration of each brand aspect of your bar or restaurant will serve to strengthen not only your brand but also its longevity.