How to Choose Server Uniforms

In the endless array of details to take care of before opening a restaurant, deciding what the servers should wear often gets lost in the shuffle. But server uniforms are among the first details a guest will see upon entering your building. They are also an easy and cost-effective way to convey the model and atmosphere you want your restaurant to project.

Choosing the right uniform should be among the top priorities of a new restaurant operator. Think about it:

  • They’re seen everywhere throughout the restaurant
  • They’re an easy tool for establishing the brand
  • Your servers will need a practical, authoritative look

The reason they get lost in the shuffle in most new restaurants is that most operators are not fashion designers. They’re usually chefs or businesspeople or experts in some other field, and they tend to tackle the aspects of the enterprise they’re passionate about first. If restaurant owners tackled issues based on how they impact the guest experience, selecting server uniforms would never get lost in the shuffle.

So how should you pick the right clothing for your server staff? A few guidelines are all you need.

Fit in with the Model

Uniforms have to blend in with what the business is projecting to customers. If the business is casual, the uniforms should be clearly identifiable, comfortable, and clean. They should ensure that servers stand out and are easy for guests to spot. They should be appropriate for the weather and breathable. They should look sharp while being practical for busy service.

Server uniforms go through trends over time. The ‘90s saw the emergence of tacky flair and buttons to build buzz in the dining room – especially on the west coast – and the turn of the century saw the re-emergence of pressed shirts, ties and aprons, even in casual restaurants. Many corporate platforms have scaled back uniforms to the traditional polo with the company logo on the lapel. While all of these ideas work, they should fit in with the business model and present a clean image above all else.

Keep it Upscale

Formal attire is always appropriate for fine dining. This means pressed shirts, dark ties, dark pants, and aprons. Optional attire may include vests, tuxedo shirts, suspenders, and cuff links. Upscale server attire gives the restaurant another chance to project polish and style. It is appropriate when it fits in with high-quality décor and well-appointed tables.

The upscale uniform also has different accoutrement than the casual uniform. Examples include:

  • Wine opener
  • Table crumber
  • A pen light or flashlight for checking the temperature of steaks
  • Pens
  • Cash bank

Uniforms should always be clean and pressed, but this is especially important for fine dining. Cuffs and hems are always a giveaway as to whether or not a shirt has been pressed. The apron is usually at eye level with guests when the server is tableside, and so must always be clean.

The cleanliness of the uniform is typically as important as its selection, since this is a sign to the guest of the quality and appearance of the kitchen. Server lineups before service are a good idea for this reason, ensuring that every server represents the business appropriately.

Ideas for all Uniforms

Good ideas can come from anywhere and this is certainly the case with uniforms. There is nothing wrong with getting uniform ideas from competing restaurants, restaurant catalogs and vendors.

There is also nothing wrong with having servers pay for parts of their uniforms. It should be noted that the Department of Labor has recently cracked down on restaurants for taking funds out of payroll checks to pay for uniforms. However, asking servers to buy their own shirts, pants and shoes off premises is acceptable.

In the end, any business is trying to perpetuate a brand and project a specific image. In the restaurant industry, atmosphere and expertise are especially important. The uniforms servers wear are an opportunity to build these aspects of your business. It’s important to make this a high priority and pick the right uniform for your staff.