November 22, 2022

Uniform Guidelines: Why the Details Matter

In this article we are going to break down outlining uniform guidelines in detail, and why it matters.

It’s not just outlining the information that matters, but also communicating them to your staff in a way that works. There are a lot of benefits to having your staff look good. Some of those are lost when we fail to make the details clear and readily available.

A few easy steps can support your staff and keep them looking sharp. It will also improve your employees' experience at work, and make life a little better for everyone at your restaurant.

Be clear and consistent.

Your uniform guidelines depend on the vibe and culture of your venue and can vary widely. Mcdonalds has a very specific uniform, while a mom and pop diner may have no guidelines at all.

How you want your staff to look is unique to your venue and something that likely has evolved a bit over time. Whatever that look is, be invested in it. Own it. Make it a part of your restaurant. Once you know the look, be consistent with it and be clear with your staff that it is a stable part of the work environment. Sure, you make some changes or you may have seasonal variations, but there is a value to your staff in being clear and consistent about the uniform. 

Avoid making lots of changes and allowing for frequent lapses from your staff. Restaurant workers have enough on their plates these days. An easy, clear and consistent uniform guideline makes their lives a little bit easier. 

It’s all in the details.

We take a lot of what we wear from day to day for granted and don’t think much about the details because they are second nature. It’s easy to miss the details when laying out a uniform guideline. It pays to stop and look hard and close at everything that your staff wears when they are at work. 

Some places “don’t care” what employees wear, as long as they are wearing the provided t-shirt and look “presentable” (which could mean different things, right?). I would argue that a venue suffers from this kind of approach, because it leaves too much room for interpretation. As a waitress, I would rather know exactly what I am supposed to wear so that I can be confident during my shift that no manager is going to say “hey actually you're not in dress code.” Yes, that happens too often.

Instead of saying “pants that are full length,” explain exactly what that means. Black pants? Do they have to be solid black or is washed denim ok? Do you mean jeans? If so, what color? Can they be distressed? What kind of fit is appropriate? Can I wear red pants or yellow pants? Can I wear leather pants like Britney Spears? Of course we can expand on this into every aspect of the uniform...shirt, undershirt? What about aprons, belts, shoes, socks?

Sure there is a bit more work involved in a detailed uniform guideline, but I believe it is more than worth the effort. It is another small way that you are not only leading your team, but also making work life a little easier for them. 

Sharing the details.

Once you’ve dug deep and figured out all the details of the uniform, right down to the socks, it's time to make sure the team has them and understands them. Make it easy for them to find, easy to read and easy to understand. It should certainly be a part of the training and orientation process, but it also needs to be easy for existing staff to find and understand. 

I think using some technology or an app is a good way to communicate the details to your team. Remember that the vast majority of today’s restaurant workers grew up getting their information via technology in some form or another, so it’s easy and natural for them. It is also a good idea to have a photo or two of the uniform for your staff to see. A picture along with the details will go a long way. This is another way a good app or piece of technology can be ideal. 

If you're at a venue that does in fact require a full uniform, giving your team members all of the details is super helpful. I think some managers often want to give people flexibility and not be a “hard-ass,” but that can backfire and actually make it a less positive place to work. 

I know a lot of people like working where they can basically do whatever they want, even if it means chaos and looking unprofessional. The best approach is to change the messaging from “we’re telling you what to do” to “we’re helping make your job easier”. It is also the truest approach. People actually thrive when they have consistent and efficient guidelines. Sure there might be a few grumbles, but eventually that will transform into content and confident employees.

If you want to take a deeper look at this kind of communication, check out Effective Leadership in Restaurants: How Changing Your Message Changes The Game.

Make sure the details are there for your staff to learn, make them complete but also easy to read and clear. Encourage your managers to address uniform issues in a positive and consistent way. Your restaurant staff will actually appreciate having one less thing to figure out in their busy lives.  

There’s more to uniform guidelines than just a uniform.

Remember that there is more to a uniform guideline than just the attire. There are aprons, details about hair and makeup, jewelry, etc. Covering all the details in the written guidelines will save everyone time and energy on the floor. 

Whats in your apron?

In restaurants that require team members to wear an apron, it is important to outline what you expect to be kept in the apron. At some of the places I have worked, during pre-shift we would have to lay out the following items: 

  • black profile pens (at least 4-5 of them, had to be the click-type)
  • a wine key
  • our server book with a menu matrix inside
  • table crumber
  • Lighter
  • $100 cash bank

If we didn’t have these things we were considered to be “out of uniform.” While that sounds harsh, management was highlighting the fact that having those items would allow us to do our jobs well, so I always appreciated it. Think about what you want your staff to have on with them while they are working and make sure it is part of the uniform guidelines.

Grooming is important too.

Hair and makeup, jewelry, and other grooming policies can make a difference in how your staff presents to your guests. You know what the look and feel of your venue is and how you want your staff to convey that. Make sure they know! Make those details part of the guidelines and your staff, although they may not like having to follow them at times, will actually be relieved of one or more decisions they no longer need to make. 

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Wrap it all up and make it look good, just like your staff!

Take the time to take a look at your uniform guidelines if they are not newly revised. Once you know what you want your staff to look like, create a detailed picture of that in the form of a uniform guideline.

Make it easy to find, easy to read, and easy to understand. But also make it detailed and cover everything about how you want your staff to look.

A clear and well communicated uniform guideline is one more thing you can do to make life easier for your staff and have a more satisfied team. 

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