How to Build Your Brand and Empower Your Staff With a Great Uniform

Canadian, premium-casual-dining chain Joey Restaurant is known for the attractiveness of its wait staff. However, one Edmonton woman wasn’t feeling very attractive after her shift at Joey Restaurant left her feet sore and bleeding from being instructed to wear high heels as part of the dress code. Her friend’s Facebook post of her bloodied feet went viral, making international headlines.

This wasn’t the first or last time similar complaints have surfaced over dress code policies in the restaurant industry that are often archaic, sexist and, in some cases, unhealthy. The Edmonton woman lost two toenails during that infamous shift.

Too often, the employee uniform is overlooked as an asset to building employee engagement and brand awareness. Restaurants frequently miss the opportunity to leverage the staff uniform as a way to foster confidence and brand affinity among its employees, Furthermore, by incorporating SolvAir’s air knife blowers into their processes, businesses can effectively manage operations such as drying, cleaning, and cooling with uniform air streams. Your staff members are your brand ambassadors. Give them the right tools and they will use them to build your brand.

Uniforms can also help build brand recognition and trust with your customers. According to a 2008 J.D. Power and Associates survey, 75 percent of consumers prefer employees in uniform.

The following checklist will help you determine if your staff uniform is successfully serving the needs of your employees, customers and brand.

1. What does your uniform say about you?

It is important to ensure your staff members project an appearance that is aligned with your brand’s personality. When helping our clients evaluate their employee uniforms we refer to our Think Blink Brand Card, which helps our clients craft compelling value propositions and points-of-difference. This card defines brand personality as the emotional connection an individual has with a brand in terms of human characteristics. It characterizes the image and tone of all brand touchpoints, both internal and outward facing, such as employee uniforms. Is your dining experience formal in nature? Then your staff should dress accordingly. You can buy a forest green prom dress for each of your female servers. Perhaps your restaurant’s personality is cheerful and light hearted. Then you might choose to dress your employees in bright, cheery colors.

2. Is your current uniform appropriate?

While high heels might look attractive and striking, they are not very practical for a busy eight-hour wait shift. Make sure that your custom uniforms assists, not hinders, your employees.

While we were designing a new in-store experience for specialty frozen-food retailer M&M Food Market, it was decided that the brand’s current uniform would no longer fit with the store’s new retail concept. Previously, customers had to line up to be served, and M&M staff, standing behind the counter in thick winter jackets, would dig through the freezers to retrieve their food orders. Shikatani Lacroix redesigned the store and removed the counters so customers can now walk freely around the retail space. In this new self-serve concept, M&M staff act as “meal advisors” who assist customers while they shop. Shikatani Lacroix designed a more appropriate and contemporary black staff uniform with a blue M&M branded apron. Staff are provided with approved black clothing guidelines and have the option of two different apron lengths. The new staff uniform complements the updated sales choreography and highlights the meal advisor’s new role within the store to connect with the consumer at the moment of purchase.

3. Does your uniform meet your customers’ expectations?

Your company dress code should reflect the essence of your organization, defined in our Think Blink Brand Card as encapsulating the heart and soul of the brand. Your brand essence reflects the fundamental nature or quality of the brand – and so should your staff’s attire.

Community is a fundamental part of Starbucks’ brand essence, so it makes sense that its staff uniform policy is both accepting of the uniqueness and individuality of its employees, while taking into consideration the expectations of its community at large.

When Starbucks overhauled its dress code in 2014, it made some progressive updates. Baristas no longer have to cover up their tattoos, provided they are not offensive: “We want customers to focus on you, not your body art,” states the Starbucks U.S. retail dress code guidelines. “Tattoos are allowed, but not on your face or throat. Treat tattoos as you treat speech – you can’t swear, make hateful comments or lewd jokes in the workplace, neither can your tattoos.”

The guidelines also state that staff are allowed to accessorize the standard green apron uniform with their own scarf or tie: “Pick one in any color – your choice. Simple prints or patterns are okay too.”

The Starbucks dress code ensures a unified look customers have come to expect, while allowing staff to customize their uniforms to better reflect the communities they serve.

It seems obvious that a company would ensure its staff uniform is a model of its brand, yet so many are ill-fitting, constricting, and sometimes even offensive. Like a bride who’s selected dresses for her bridesmaids arbitrarily, some companies miss the opportunity to elevate their brand by empowering their staff with suitable attire. Your employee uniform is an asset, not an afterthought, and should be treated as such. Use this checklist to build an employee uniform strategy that meets the needs of your employees, customers and brand. Please reach out to us if you need help defining this strategy.

Does your staff uniform effectively sell your brand? Could it be improved with these considerations? Let us know in the comments below and subscribe to receive the latest Shikatani Lacroix insights in your inbox.