Eye On Apparel: Dressed To Serve

 

For employees in front-facing roles in people-centric markets, like the restaurant industry and service industries such as HVAC and lawn and landscape companies, plumbers, exterminators, cable installers and the like, the value of a high-quality, up-to-date, brand-appropriate uniform cannot be understated. Now more than ever, companies are taking the extra steps to ensure that branded uniforms bring satisfaction to the wearer—the employee—in addition to the clients they service and the impression the attire conveys. And after what was that hardest year yet for the nation’s restaurants, businesses can also use strategically selected and customized uniforms as a way to refresh their image and attract new customers, along with prospective employees.  

Aly Salz, CAS, CEO of Righteous, a Portland, Oregon-based distributor that provides restaurant chains with branded uniforms and fulfillment support services, says that today’s uniform should be something that employees are proud to put on, rather than something they see as simply a requirement of the job. “[Restaurants] want their staff to look good and feel good in what they are putting on every day,” Salz says. “When a garment is worn a lot, it should be something that people want to wear. We like to offer choice in uniform programs so that employees can alter their look depending on how they feel. A lot of our customs are adapting to provide choice to their frontline folks.” 

In any eatery, uniforms serve three core purposes: to immediately distinguish employees from patrons, so patrons know who to approach with questions and concerns; to provide employees with suitable attire to perform their assigned responsibilities while meeting health and safety requirements; and to use as an additional way to carry forward the restaurant’s brand message and culture. Depending on the type of establishment, the items selected may look a little different. In fine dining and catering halls, uniforms may consist of a button-up shirt, slacks and a tie, while in casual restaurants, diners and pubs, it may consist of dark jeans, a branded tee and an apron. 

For experiential eateries designed to entertain targeted clientele, uniforms can vary from the Middle-Ages style peasant garb worn by waitstaff, known as “wenches” and “serfs,” at Irving, Texas-based franchise Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament, to the slew of chain sports bars and grills with an all-female, scantily clad waitstaff, like Hooters, Twin Peaks and Tilted Kilt, where short skirts or shorts and low-cut, cropped tops is the assigned wear. In establishments such as the latter, the uniforms serve as costumes and contribute both to patrons’ experience and the reason why many of them come back.  

Salz says that aside from adding personality to brands, uniforms can play a part in drawing and keeping employees as well. “Uniforms are not just a benefit to hourlies but can be part of the talent attraction and retention strategy,” she says. “If what the employer is providing looks uncomfortable, old-fashioned or is too logo-forward, there are some potential employees who say, ‘no thanks.’ We also tell our restaurant customers that when someone comes into your establishment, they already know where they are, so tell them something different about the brand. Don’t just slap logos on everything.”

An example of uniforms done right, and which garnered national media attention for doing so, are the new white, black and royal blue uniforms for the employees of Columbus, Ohio-based franchise White Castle. Covered in last month’s issue of PPB, White Castle recently partnered with fashion designer Telfar Clemens, known for his work on inclusivity, to provide on-trend wear that’s also functional, and added durags to its available accessories. A highly-requested item by employees, it’s the first time a fast-food chain has ever offered durags as part of the employee uniform. Read about it here. (And to balance it out, there are also many uniforms that weren’t done right, such as Atlanta, Georgia-based franchise Hot Dog On A Stick, whose employees’ less than flattering blue-, yellow-, white- and red-striped shirt and bowl-like hats are described in a Reddit thread as one of the “worst work uniforms.” 

Also important in the restaurant space, Salz says that when designing uniforms, it’s important to keep in mind that underneath the attire are people, and “no one wants to be a walking billboard.” “People should be treated like human beings and given gear that even the marketing team would want to wear if they were in that role. No one wants to promote that latest burger or buy-one-get-one deal on their shirts.”

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When choosing a uniform, eateries must consider the day-to-day tasks of their workers. Waitstaff, in particular, need a uniform that will hold up against daily food and drink spills, will last through many wears and washes, and one that’s also comfortable and functional as they move throughout the establishment serving guests. Here’s a few details to consider:

Fabrication matters. One-hundred-percent polyester or polyester blends, such as 65-percent polyester and 35-percent cotton, offer a lightweight option that’s breathable, known to last and offer moisture-wicking qualities; something that’s especially important in busy environments. 

Uniform accessories must be functional and durable. One of the mainstays of the waitstaff uniform is an apron. Aprons help to protect the wearer’s uniform while also providing them a place to stash pens, notepads, money and other items needed to seamlessly perform their job. When choosing accessories, be mindful that utility is just as important as aesthetics.

Uniforms must meet health and safety standards. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration’s (OSHA) safety requirements call for the use of protective clothing and equipment, and employers are required to provide it to employees if it’s needed. For instance, chefs’ coats are required to be flame-resistant to prevent injury, and all kitchen staff must wear non-slip shoes with non-skid soles.

Uniforms should be redesigned periodically. Updated uniforms help to keep the branding fresh and on-trend, keep employees satisfied, meet their changing needs and show patrons their ability to evolve. 

Consider offering options. Giving employees the option of three to five apparel items—such as slightly differently sized and styled shirts—for them to choose from, makes them feel as if they have more of a choice in their dress, also shows the brand’s efforts to experiment with something new.

Sources: GoRestaurants.net, OSHA

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With ponchos becoming a growing part of mandatory uniforms for grocery stores, delivery drivers, warehouse workers and other employees who may assist with transporting products, the midweight “Billboard” Poncho is windproof and 100-percent waterproof. The poncho, made of 14 millimeter PVC, features welded seams, a roomy hood and four side-snap closures. Imprinting is available on the front-left chest and full back. Available in one-size-fits-most in 14 colors, shown in red. 

 

Storm Duds Raingear  /  PPAI 223406, S4  / www.stormduds.com

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For workers in environments such as health care, housekeeping, spa and medical, the Melange Ultra-Light Service Shirt and Tunic, available in men’s and women’s styles, conveys a clean and professional, yet soft feel. Made in a sleek design from 100-percent polyester, the 4.4-ounce shirt offers a traditional fit with moisture-wicking fabric and a 3M Scotchgard™ finish with soil-release properties. Details include a spread collar, zip front, chest pocket with mesh pocket bag side vents, and a back yoke and back pleats. The men’s style features a full-zip packet and left-chest pocket. Available in men’s S-4XL and women’s XXS-4XL in black heather and burgundy heather (shown).

Edwards Garment Company  /  PPAI 198530, S11 / www.edwardsgarment.com

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The Snag-Proof Tactical Polo, available in a complementary men’s and women’s style, is designed to be long-lasting and a smart choice for many types of service company workers. Holding its color for 50-plus washes, this heavyweight, 6.7-ounce 100-percent polyester shirt is both snag-proof and moisture-wicking with no need to iron, provides UV protection, and features mic clips on the shoulder and placket, a pen pocket on the left sleeve, a three-button placket, arm gussets and dyed-to-match buttons. Available in men’s S-6XL and women’s XXS-4XL in six colors, shown in steel grey. 

Edwards Garment Company  /  PPAI 198530, S11 / www.edwardsgarment.com

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A good, quality apron is something that every restaurant worker needs, from the front of the house to the back. The 7.5-ounce Q-Tees Waist Apron With Pockets is made from a blend of 55-percent cotton and 45-percent cotton and features waist side ties to adjust to all sizes. The apron features a front pouch with three pockets to hold a pen, notepad and other essentials. Available in black, forest, natural, navy, red, royal, white and maroon (shown).

Kati Sportcap & Bag  /  PPAI 113758, S5  / www.katisportcap.com

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To keep employees cooler while working outdoors or provide the man option to keep hair tucked away, the Champion Visor is a stylish, name-brand choice. Made from 100-percent cotton twill, this pre-curved visor features a 2.25-inch crown, a tri-glide buckle closure and the “C” logo on the back-left panel. Available in black, scarlet, white, navy and red (shown).

Kati Sportcap & Bag  /  PPAI 113758, S5 / www.katisportcap.com

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For upscale establishments that require employees to wear ties, such as hotels and transportation services, Buffalo Bay offers a tie, clip-on tie and ladies’ floppy tulip bow tie. All are made from 100-percent polyester woven twill weed with the look of silk but the durability and price of polyester. The clip-on tie is a safety feature that mitigates the risk of strangulation, falling under OSHA’s requirements.

Buffalo Bay /  PPAI 111547, S4  /  www.buffalobay.com

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Elevate waitstaffs’ uniforms with the Kitch Style Belted Waist Apron. Made from 100-percent cotton, the 10.4-ounce apron is the largest-size apron manufactured by supplier Aprons, Etc. and features three reinforced, functional pockets with belt loops for extra-long, 43-inch contrasting ties. Additional details include pinstripe denim material with natural webbing, offering an added flair.

Aprons, Etc.  /  PPAI 110686, S6  /  www.apronsetc.com

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A great way for businesses to showcase a “taste” of their creativity, history or specialty items, this 100-percent polyester dye-sublimated apron is designed to stand out and to last. Available in a full-length style, the apron features a front pouch divided into two large pockets. Available for three-week express production.

 

EVERSOLE RUN  /  PPAI  199242, S5  /  www.eversolerun.com

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There’s one apparel item that’ll never go out of fashion with restaurant workers: a pair of classic slacks. An essential part of many restaurant uniforms, the Red Kap® Elastic Insert Pant is made from a blend of 65-percent polyester and 35-percent cotton twill. Tested to hold up through 50 industrial laundry washes, the 7.5-ounce slacks feature a waist with elastic inserts, two front and back pockets, and it’s made with Touchtex PRO™ technology to ensure color retention and stain release. Available for waist sizes 27/28 to 59/60 in charcoal, navy and black (shown).

SanMar /  PPAI 110788, S16  /  www.sanmar.com

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It’s typical to see workers in smaller restaurants, delis, sandwich shops, diners, pubs, food trucks and coffee houses wearing branded t-shirts as part of their everyday uniform. With tie-dye remaining a trend in retail fashion, businesses with a hip, family-friendly or funky feel may opt for a colorful look with the Port & Company® Crystal Tie-Dye Tee. Made from 100-percent cotton, this 5.4-ounce tee features a rib-knit collar and back neck taping. Available in S-4XL in eight colors, shown in black teal.

SanMar /  PPAI 110788, S16  /  www.sanmar.com

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A flattering choice for waitstaff, the 3.7-ounce Microcheck Gingham Short Sleeve Cotton Shirt offers superior comfort. Made with 100-percent cotton, and available in complementary men’s and women’s styles, the gingham pattern coupled with its soft collar and hand make this a great choice for casual dining environments. Available in black/white, light blue/white, navy/white and red/white (shown) in men’s and women’s XS-3XL. OEKO-TEX-certified. 

 

Artisan Collection by Reprime  /  PPAI 765350, S1  /  www.artisanbyreprime.com 

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Patches offer eateries an option to provide their employees with uniforms without necessarily having to order new ones. A simple patch can provide information such as the employee’s name and position, along with the name of the establishment. It’s also another way for patrons to easily identify and address employees, and for each employee to be represented. Patches also offer options, as a patch with an employee’s name can be sewn onto various locations on their uniform, such as the left chest, and onto a cap. Here’s a few types of patches to consider.

“We foresee embroidered patches to be a top choice for 2021,” said Danny Spier, co-owner of Houston, Texas-based supplier Kati Sportcap & Bag, in a news release. “They are the perfect combination of affordability and durability with limitless design potential.”

Made in the U.S., these full-color sublimation patches are available in four sizes. Choose from a base patch using the same logo and design on all pieces, or opt for personalized patches, with the logo in the same position on all pieces. A printed border gives the feel of a stitched finish. Opt for a simpler look, as shown, with a logo and name, or add intricate detail and more color as you wish.

Suntex Industries  /  PPAI 113094, S5  / www.suntexindustries.com

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Now available from Kati Sportcap & Bag are embroidered, woven, sublimated and real leather patches. Choose from limitless shapes and sizes, with the ability to laser-cut the patches to create a finished edge. Sublimated patches offer the widest range of colors, while leather patches are fashion-forward, and embroidered and woven patches share many similarities, but with more detail available for the latter.  

 

Kati Sportcap & Bag  /  PPAI 113758, S5  /   www.katisportcap.com

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If you’re looking to use a variety of colors, or feature an image on a patch, consider these sublimated patches. Made from washable twill, the patch can be designed with heat seal (iron-on) or adhesive (temporary self-stick) backing, with the option to add a hook and loop. A merrow border is included with the option to add on laser-cut or stitched borders. 

AEF Emblem Supply  /  PPAI 167575, S5  / www.aefemblem.com

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Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.

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