A fleet of identical-looking staffers buzzing through the front of the house may be a sight of the past. To the joy of employees and the bottom line, more restaurant operators are relaxing dress codes and allowing individual style to shine.
“Branding is certainly important, but the value of a logo diminishes if the staff isn’t happy wearing the logo or the uniform,” says Suzanne Perry, owner of casual Tampa, Florida-based restaurants Datz and Dough. She says the servers are happier now that they no longer wear dated uniforms that made everyone feel out of touch with diners.
Allowing room for individual style and self-expression can help in building relationships in the workplace, build your brand and resonate with your target audience. But before heading down that road, be sure the look is on-brand.
Add an Accessory
Encouraging staffers to customize their uniform with an accessory is a small but effective way for them to show their individuality on the job. Servers at Datz and Dough used to wear a company logo tee shirt and jeans only; Perry now encourages staff to show their personality with accessories. A funny apron? Quirky socks? “We love the playfulness and so do our guests,” Perry says.
Servers are free to wear accessories to liven up the traditional black-on-black at Slightly Toasted, a bakery-bar concept in Chicago, as long as it doesn’t interfere with service or distract diners, says partner Tyler Mendoza. “If you have a ring that’s 2-inches (big) on, you can’t grip glasses,” he says. “If you can’t do your job as well or better with it on, then you shouldn’t have it on.”
Wearing something personal, however small, can make staffers feel more like themselves and less like another cog in the wheel. “I think we want our staff to be comfortable in their own skin,” Mendoza says. “Everyone who walks in the door, staff included, should be comfortable. Unique accessories also allow servers to stand out among a sea of similarly dressed employees, forming a strong impression on guests. “My customers like my stores because they have personality, and a lot of that comes from the front of the house staff themselves,” Perry says. “I want the staff to be memorable enough that guests ask for them by name on return visits.”
Check Out My Ink
Tattoos used to be something that restaurant operators required employees to cover up. At Crushed Red, a custom salad and pizza restaurant with locations in Missouri and Colorado, employees all wear black tee shirts with the company logo and are free to express their individuality and creativity in tattoos, piercings and makeup. “As long as it’s not offensive, we’re cool with it,” says Chris LaRocca, co-founder and CEO. “I think if it’s highly controversial, like a gang sign or political, if we think it’s going to damage the brand or cause controversy, we will draw the line,” he says.
Doing away with the “tattoo cover up” rule reinforces the image of your staff’s creativity and authenticity, ideas that resonate with millennials. It’s a boon for a brand such as Crushed Red that emphasizes artisan products and create-your-own combinations. “We want to give off the experience to our guest that our teams are all creative,” says Candace LaRocca, director of brand experience for Crushed Red.
Weird Hair, Bring It
If you have staffers who want to make a statement with offbeat and weird hair colors or styles, look for a way to embrace it and be on-brand at the same time. At Crushed Red, management has encouraged employees to dye their hair to match the red color that’s found on their logo, packaging and salad bowls. “We continue to encourage it and we’ve had a handful of employees take us up on it,” Chris LaRocca says. “There are brands out there … that they have team members that have tattooed their logo on their arms; we’re not that extreme, but we’re kind of proud that we’ve got our (redhaired) folks.”
“Out-there weird hair is a conversation starter between the staffer and the diner,” Candace LaRocca says. “In many cases, it allows staff to form a bond with customers and talk about something other than the food they’re ordering or serving.”
Play On, Cosplayer
Holidays and special occasions are an easy time to let employees get festive. Perry says her staff busts out pirate hats and corsets to celebrate Gasparilla, Tampa’s legendary pirate festival in January celebrating the legend mythical Spanish pirate Jose Gaspar, who supposedly operated in southwest Florida in the early 1800s. During the winter holidays, management encourages its cosplayer staff to wear anything festive from ugly Christmas sweaters to red and green tutus. “It is a really fun, staff-organized initiative,” she says.
The stand out and silly looks can spur social media buzz from snap-happy customers. “The cosplay definitely creates a fun atmosphere of camaraderie,” Perry says.