Why uniforms don’t have to be boring
Staff dressed to the nines or those who have turned up to work in last night’s shirt can make all the difference between attracting and deterring customers. A well-dressed team is an important consideration when it comes to running a venue, and operators should be thinking about uniforms with as much emphasis as food, service and design.
Lindsay Jang from Yardbird in Hong Kong, Maurice Terzini from The Dolphin, Icebergs and Da Orazio in Sydney and Huw Bennett, founder of Worktones, tell us why custom is worth every penny.
ONE TEAM, ONE DREAM
In 2018, diners are hypercritical and play close attention to minute details when dining out. A stained, tatty apron can result in a customer turning up their nose, and can unfortunately taint the rest of their experience at a venue.
At izakaya-style restaurant Yardbird, introducing a custom uniform was never a question. “Creating and developing our staff uniform was very important to us from the beginning,” says co-owner Lindsay Jang.
“We wanted each element to be simple, modern, functional — and most importantly — comfortable and unrestrictive.”
Yardbird’s front-of-house uniform includes a black T-shirt with the venue’s signature chicken logo on the back, dark denim of their choice, an apron and sneakers from Vans who have provided staff with work shoes from day dot.
“In 2015, we even created two exclusive Vans x Yardbird shoe options for our staff, friends and family,” says Jang.
Along with the title of restaurateur, Maurice Terzini also runs his own label called Ten Pieces, and views custom uniforms as an opportunity to exhibit a venue’s unique stamp.
“We always say we sell a lifestyle, not just food and beverage,” he says. “Uniforms need to tie in with the product and everything needs to tell a story. I look at each individual bar or restaurant and know how I want the staff to appear.”
The uniforms differ considerably between Terzini’s venues, with Da Orazio’s approachable aesthetic and Icebergs’ fine-dining ethos extending to their workwear.
Da Orazio has a unisex uniform that has to suit males and females and all body types. “The white shorts and T-shirts are a reflection of Bondi and the style of service, which is fast casual and a bit sporty,” says Terzini. “At Icebergs, we put the girls in Ten Pieces dresses which change in summer and winter. We’ve found a good cut that suits everyone and the girls wear runners with their dresses.”
There are numerous benefits when it comes to custom uniforms, with branding and
functionality topping the list. Huw Bennett runs Worktones and boasts a client portfolio including Merivale and Andrew McConnell’s restaurant group, but most importantly, the founder stresses the importance of collaboration and benefits operators might not immediately think of.
“Custom allows more flexibility at both ends,” says Bennett. “They allow clients to have more options than what they get off the shelf. Whether it’s changing the thread colour, embroidery or the base colour of a garment — or completely starting from scratch and coming up with a new design — they get something they wouldn’t be able to access off the shelf.”
At Yardbird, Jang views uniforms as a useful tool to divide guests from staff members. “It’s important to us because it provides a physical separation between our guests and staff, which is especially useful during a busy night of service,” she says.
“It also creates cohesiveness amongst our team and eliminates any judgment with regards to style and appearance.”
In frantic and physically hot environments such as kitchens, wearing garments made from durable and breathable fabrics is a no-brainer. Selecting materials that are hard-wearing and easy to take care of should also be considered during the design process.
Yardbird’s T-shirts all are 100 per cent cotton, as is one of Worktones’ signature aprons. Terzini also opts to use cotton as a core material along with jerseys and wools. “Our label will be 100 per cent sustainable by next year,” he says.
Bennett chooses to use Mercerised cotton, which is created using a treatment that strengthens the fabric. The process causes the fibres to improve in appearance and alters the structure, making it softer yet hardier.
“When you wash it, it gives a much greater life to the fabric, so you’re not going to have any bleed or fade and the garments aren’t going to shrink,” he says. “Generally speaking, they will look like what they did when you bought them. It might be a bit dearer than others, but the product will last the test of time.”
Custom pieces naturally come at a higher cost than off-the-shelf items. But it’s important for venues to look at quality uniforms as an investment. If you pick long-lasting materials and implement uniforms that staff are happy to wear, they’re more likely to take pride in their appearance and the venue as a whole.
Terzini has deliberately kept Icebergs’ uniform prices affordable for staff. “It’s got to be cost-effective, so it’s not costing them a fortune,” he says. “The girls pay $65 for the dresses.” Terzini also says a workplace uniform puts the power in the employee’s hands, and staff are expected to meet certain criteria.
“Staff need to take responsibility for their appearance, and by purchasing their own uniforms, they become responsible for them,” he says. “Personal appearance is personal appearance, and if you’re professional and working at this level, you clean your own uniforms.”
Bennett admits most clients initially focus on the dollar value, but stresses the other elements that justify a higher price tag such as the materials and care that goes into crafting such pieces. “It goes beyond the fact we use quality fabrics,” he says. “It’s the process in which we make the garments, the people who make the garments and there’s a lot of thoughtfulness that goes into it.”
Producing a range of T-shirts is a relatively low-cost marketing exercise that can help promote your brand on a global level. Staff wearing branded T-shirts or other items as part of their uniform are a walking advertisement that almost all customers will engage with on some level. And if they enjoyed the food and service at your venue, why not buy a T-shirt and continue the relationship?
Selling merchandise under $50 provides an accessible price point that can also make you a few bucks in the process. Yardbird has worked on a number of collaborations that are limited runs with artists and musicians including Prodip Leung, Cody Hudson and brands such as Stüssy.
“We are lucky to have created a brand that transcends the restaurant’s walls and our T-shirts are a big part of that,” says Jang. “We have some of the best customers who will wear their Yardbird T-shirts all over the world, and this has definitely allowed us to create a global community.”
So if your team is struggling to find the right workwear or off-the-shelf just isn’t cutting it for your venue, now might be the time to consider rolling out a custom uniform and enjoying the benefits that come with it. Just ask Terzini, Jang or Bennett.
This article originally appeared in Hospitality‘s July issue. Subscribe here.