How to Create a Restaurant Employee Dress Code
No matter what industry you work in, dress policies come with the job. The specifics of these dress codes vary. Some are for branding and style, others for safety and protection, and before you say anything “no dress code” is still a dress code. Think about the different dress standards across the job market for surgeons, flight attendants, school teachers, electricians, or mechanics (to name just a few). What clothes do we typically associate with each of these professions?
Zoom in to a specific job sector a bit, like the restaurant industry, and you’ll see just as much variation concentrated within. As restaurants come in numerous sizes, concepts, and price points, they cater to different audiences with different expectations. From one restaurant to the next, you can find different dress codes and uniforms that foster a different atmosphere and “vibe” for both staff and guests. If you’re a restaurant operator, deciding what kind of employee dress code to institute might be a bit overwhelming. Use our guide to learn more about the ins and outs of restaurant employee dress codes, and how you can establish an effective one!
What is a Restaurant Employee Dress Code?
An employee dress code is a set of rules or guidelines, usually formally documented, that dictates what an employee should wear while at work. For restaurants, this code dictates the preferred attire for both the kitchen, or back-of-house (BoH) staff, as well as your host stand, servers, and front-of-house (FoH) staff.
Dress codes will cover everything from the clothing an employee is expected to wear to essential grooming and hygiene standards for them while on the clock. The specifics of your restaurant employee dress code are up to you, as is the enforcement and consequences for noncompliance. Before creating a dress code though, you should understand the specific purposes that they serve, and how they’ll apply to your restaurant.
Why Create a Restaurant Employee Dress Code?
As mentioned earlier, dress codes aren’t rules for the sake of rules. They serve specific purposes in your establishment, for staff and guests alike. We’ll outline them here.
Restaurant employee dress codes help your guests in providing quick visual confirmation between staff members and other diners. The idea here is that a guest could walk into your restaurant, and quickly identify a staff member without much effort. Dress codes, depending on their type (more on that later), help enforce the principles of hospitality and service a guest feels in your restaurant. They know there is dedicated staff there to serve and can find them easily if needs be.
For Staff and Team-Building
On the opposite side of the hospitality coin, a dress code can help foster a sense of camaraderie and equality between staff members, uniting them in a cause or occupational effort. These uniforms serve as visual reminders that everyone has a backup on their team to buoy them up on those difficult nights when guests and traffic get unruly. Also, wearing a uniform can bring out a sense of company pride or loyalty.
Many jobs come with safety hazards, and the restaurant industry is no exception. Hot stoves, slick surfaces, and quick hand-offs can make a kitchen quite volatile. Dress standards help minimize safety issues and accidents by creating preventative rules. You might enact a policy that all kitchen staff wear slip-resistant shoes, or keep sleeves buttoned while working at a stove.
The clothing your staff wears is part of your restaurant brand identity and an intangible factor in the guest’s dining experience overall. Your FoH staff is categorically customer-facing, and a coherent dress-code allows them to represent your restaurant well. Whether through a neat and clean appearance or by literally representing the brand via logos and graphics, customers will likely judge an unkempt dress code the same way they might a neglected bathroom. Remember that a restaurant brand is far more than just a logo and catchphrase. Your staff’s dress and appearance is very much a part of that brand.
Food Safety and Hygiene
Dress codes and standards will help in reducing foodborne illnesses and germs. Requiring all kitchen staff to wear hair nets or hats is common in virtually all restaurant segments, but your FoH staff must exude cleanliness as well. Customers can’t always see into the kitchen, but they do see servers and waitstaff. A sloppy or unkempt server can make them uneasy about what’s going on in the back. Ensure you’ve got a hand washing policy in place (and visible!) and ensure that staff comes to work with clean nails. It might seem like a no-brainer, but any measure to keep appearances neat will go far with customers.
Choosing a Restaurant Employee Dress Code for your Staff
A restaurant is a complex operation wherein every staff member contributes in different ways. As such, what’s appropriate for those working in the kitchen wouldn’t necessarily fly on the floor. We’ll try to break it down simply..
For Kitchen and Back-of-House Staff
Kitchen dress codes tend to be more “function over fashion” where safety and hygiene take the most preference. However, some restaurants do have strict dress codes for kitchen staff which includes traditional chef garb, jackets, and hats. This distinction remains up to you, but some factors can help you choose like whether guests can see into the kitchen or which stations you have back there.
For Front-of-House Staff
When it comes to staff working in the front, you’ve got a lot of possibilities as to what’s acceptable, mostly dictated by your particular restaurant segment. Before we get to the specific tenets of FoH dress codes, let’s break down some restaurant segments to give a general idea of your options. This list isn’t comprehensive, and some sectors will cross over into others, but it should get you thinking.
Large National or Regional Chains
Larger restaurant chains tend to have a “strict” dress code for staff, which often includes company-provided clothing like slacks, shirts, hats, and sometimes even shoes. These codes are often decided by a “higher-up” in the chain, and an operator won’t have much room to deviate here. Odds are, if you’re reading this article and you operate a large chain, you’ve already had a dress code laid out.
Still, it’s essential to understand what goes into creating a uniform and why it’s important to enforce. These particular dress codes carry serious weight in establishing the restaurant brand, as they’re often standard across multiple restaurant sites. They might not be anyone’s preferred wardrobe for casual wear, but they’re what guests tend to expect from these types of restaurants.
This uniform might change periodically to incorporate new branding or to promote a seasonal item. Ultimately, this kind of restaurant dress policy communicates a message of consistency to customers. It says, “no matter which one of our restaurants you visit, you’re going to get the same level of service and care.”
Be they smaller chains or single sites, independent restaurant operators and owners tend to have more freedom in establishing a restaurant employee dress code. It’s here where you’ll see the most variation in attire; some independents adhere to strict uniform policies and others much more “casual.”
A keen understanding of your restaurant brand can help you in deciding the most appropriate dress code. You can also ask some questions to help guide your efforts. What would your audience expect, based on your brand? In some cases ripped jeans and a shirt is more than acceptable. Some operators may prefer a more tapered look. Others might present a hybrid where the staff wears one unifying item (like a shirt) but can use their discretion otherwise.
If a restaurant has a younger demographic, an operator might opt that staff wear casual clothing to match the guests. However, an older demographic might find such clothing immodest. Only you can answer these questions. What’s vital here is that, while guests go to quick-serve chains for service and convenience, they come to independents with the promise of a distinct dining experience. Ensure your staff’s attire is consistent with your brand to facilitate that experience.
Operators should also know that casual dress codes can help with employee retention. In an industry fraught with high turnover, you might consider it as a job perk that you can offer prospective hires.
Fine Dining Restaurants
What’s interesting about fine dining restaurants is that the dress codes for employees and guests are both a bit stricter. Customers get dressed up to come to these restaurants to be dazzled and waited on. As such, the traditional “fancy waiter,” clad in bow ties and cummerbunds, has become a pop-cultural trope.
A fine-dining employee dress code errs on the side of formality, with collared shirts, pleated slacks, and vests coming into play. To some, these dress codes may seem stodgy. In some cases, they are! They’re an anticipated part of the fine-dining experience though, one which contributes to the ever-elusive “vibe” you’re trying to create. In this segment, a staff member’s style should exude competence, and suggest to all who dine: “I’m here to take care of you. Relax.”
What to Include in your Restaurant Employee Dress Code
Now that we’ve established what a dress code is, to whom it applies and how it contributes to the brand, we can discuss what goes into it!
Here, you should clearly outline your expectations around what employees where. If you’re providing a uniform, are they to wear it every day? What are the consequences if they don’t? If you don’t offer a uniform, what criteria should staff follow when they dress for work?
- Colors – some operators might decide that all staff wear dark colors, or stay within the spectrum of blue (for example).
- Graphics – What’s your policy on shirt logos and graphics? In some restaurants, wearing a heavy metal t-shirt might be appropriate. In others, a logo might be distracting.
- Collars – By mandating shirts with collars, you cut tT-shirts, and more casual wear, out of the equation. This policy often works as a simple “line in the sand” operators can draw to establish upfront and let staff members direct themselves.
- Sleeves and cuts – Are you ok with tank tops? Will it make a senior lunch crowd blush? If you’re in a location on beachfront property, this might not be a big deal. To others, sleeveless shirts might still be too casual. Know your audience.
Skirts or Trousers:
- Lengths and Cuts – Will you let staff members elect to choose? Or would you prefer everyone to wear long pants? There’s no right answer, but it’s essential to establish from the jump. If you do allow for shorts or skirts, create your policy on modesty and length. We needn’t say too much here. Some restaurant brands will allow for more revealing clothing, while other operators and diners might not be so receptive.
- Jeans – Denim, and its place in the formal/casual clothing hierarchy, is an eternal style debate. It’s important to remember that denim comes in many colors and washes, so there’s a gradient between jeans that are more casual and formal. Use your gut on whether jeans are acceptable or not.
- Slacks – A staple of the “business casua” wardrobe, slacks provide a step up from jeans to give a cleaner overall look. You can decide if you’d prefer them with pleats or not, and what colors you’d prefer. Generally, dark-colored slacks with pleats will read more as “formal” so decide if that’s best.
- Open or closed-toe – Open-toed shoes might not be a good look for someone working in the front-of-house, but this isn’t hard science. Beyond any customer perception, flip-flops and sandals can be safety hazards.
- Sneakers – For some dress codes, sneakers might be a bit too casual. In other restaurants, they might be entirely on brand. Decide what works for your restaurant here.
- Hair – Hair found in food is a significant cause of customer complaints in a restaurant. Creating a policy around keeping long hair tied back, even in the front-of-house, helps eliminate this possibility. Some operators may seek to develop rules around specific hair colors (dyed) and styles, and this is to their discretion.
- Tattoos – These things have come a long way in the last few decades. Where once associated with “outlaw” activities, they’re now quite common to see in public settings. A policy that forbids visible tattoos might seem archaic to some, but to others might not be a concern at all.
- General Hygiene – Instituting a general policy around hygiene helps your staff understand your expectations for them while they’re on the clock. These needn’t be too stringent, but a broad system around keeping hair and nails clean helps keep all other aspects in check.
How to Implement your Restaurant Employee Dress Code
With your dress code established, the last step is to go about implementing your dress code. The first step is to document it formally. You can put it into your restaurant employee handbook and even post it in employee break areas. Review the dress code regularly and identify any problems. Are you noticing a particular part of the policy that employees struggle to follow? Are you seeing customers complaining about something in specific? Employee policies live and evolve, and yours should be too.
Given the restaurant industry’s breadth, employee dress codes will run the entire gamut. While the specifics of a restaurant employee dress code might change, focus on creating the optimal experience for your staff and guests, and upholding your overall mission statement.
See something about restaurant employee dress codes we missed? Let us know in the comments!
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About the Author
Dylan Chadwick is the Content Marketing Manager at QSR Automations. He graduated from Brigham Young University with an English degree and journalism focus and loves to write, draw and paint. When left to his own devices, he enjoys loud music, adorable dogs and documentaries about the aforementioned.