When starting a restaurant, you need to consider whether a uniform or dress code is necessary. In most cases, the answer will be ‘yes’ – while your waiters and waitresses may be able to get away with more freedom as to what they can wear, your chefs need to dress appropriately as a matter of safety. Allow chefs to wear anything they want and you could encourage injuries and contamination of food.

But just what kind of features are important when coming up with a chef uniform? The guide below outlines just a few of the features that are necessary from a safety standpoint, as well as some of the features that will keep your kitchen staff comfortable and productive.

Choosing a uniform

Introducing a uniform can be more efficient than introducing a dress code. While it’s possible to bend the rules of a dress code, a uniform tells people exactly what they should wear. A few benefits of this include:

  •         Compliance with safety: A uniform ensures that everyone’s clothing meets a certain standard of safety.
  •         Employee equality: When everyone is wearing the same clothing it can create a sense of equality that can help improve camaraderie.
  •         An opportunity for branding: You can also help build upon your brand identity by incorporating company colors and logos into your kitchen staff’s uniform (if your kitchen staff largely stay behind the scenes, this might not matter so much – but it could be worth considering if you have an open kitchen).

There are companies out there that specialize in designing custom work uniforms, including custom kitchen uniforms. It could be worth checking out these companies to get ideas as to what your uniform could look like.

Below are just a few key features that could be worth considering when designing a uniform.

What color?

Traditionally, chef uniforms are all white. This trend started in France in the 1800s and has stayed popular into the 21st century. The reason why white became popular is because it promotes cleanliness. While other colors are able to hide stains, white does not – this encourages employees to thoroughly clean their clothing after every shift.

You don’t have to choose white as a uniform color. In fact, there are many successful restaurants chains that adopt other colors such as blue, red, black and green. Ideally, if you don’t choose white, you want to choose a color that reflects your brand.

Keep it loose

Loose clothing is likely to be more comfortable. It helps to allow more ventilation, which can be important in a hot kitchen. It also doesn’t restrict movement, which can help to boost the productivity of your staff.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that clothing should be overly baggy. If the pant legs are too long, they could serve as a trip hazard. Similarly, you should avoid baggy sleeves that could dip into food or into a flame, potentially posing as a safety hazard. While some uniforms cut off the sleeves at half way up the forearm, others simply opt for tight sleeves all the way up to the wrist (this goes against the benefits of having loose clothing, but ensures that the whole arm is protected against hazards such as splashes of hot liquid).

Apron or no apron?

Some kitchen uniforms involve the addition of an apron. This can serve as an extra layer that prevents burns from smoke or splashes of hot liquid. An apron could also contain extra pockets for storing towels or thermometers. This could be convenient when working in a large kitchen by allowing employees to carry around items with them.

You may be able to substitute the need for an apron by simply giving staff a jacket with extra pockets and a protective added layer on the front. However, some employers prefer the classic look of an apron. When choosing an apron, consider hardy fabrics like denim or heavy cotton.

Hats and hairnets

A hat or hair net could also be worth including into the uniform. The purpose of hats and headwear is clear – they prevent hair from falling into food, while also helping to keep hair contained and out of the way while working.

Hats should be made from a light and breathable fabric. There are many different styles of hat to choose from – you should choose a style that fits the tone of your restaurants. Traditional toques and beanies for instance are likely to be suitable in fine dining environments, while baseball caps and flat caps might be more suited in casual and trendy restaurants. You can learn more about different chef hats here at whatsgoinoninthekitchen.com

Ordering uniforms

Once you’ve designed a uniform, you should decide whether or not to buy a load of uniforms to stock in your restaurant or to order single uniforms based on individual employee needs.

Buying uniforms in bulk can often be a lot cheaper than buying uniforms individually, but there’s no guarantee that all those uniforms will get worn. By buying uniforms on an individual basis, you can get the right size and ensure that no uniform is wasted. Most restaurants do not charge employees for uniforms unless they have a tendency to commonly misplace or damage parts of their uniform.

Other dress code features to consider

On top of the uniform, you may want to consider other dress code features. Certain accessories could pose a problem when worn in a kitchen – rules may need to be enforced to prevent employees wearing such as accessories. Below are just a few extra features to consider.

The right shoes

While you can buy shoes for your employees as part of the uniform, many companies find it easier to simply establish a dress code surrounding footwear, allowing employees to choose their own style of shoes as long as they meet certain criteria.

Many kitchens ask employees to wear non-slip trainers or boots with reinforced toecaps. The non-slip part is important as there can often be spillages in a kitchen and a fall could cause a serious injury. Reinforced toecaps can meanwhile protect against hot liquids or heavy items being dropped.

Some kitchens also advise against shoes with laces. Without laces, there’s no risk of anyone tripping over an untied lace.

Removing jewelry and accessories

You may also want to put a ban on loose jewelry and accessories while in the kitchen. Watches, bangles and necklaces can all attract dirt and harmful bacteria that can fall into food. Such accessories could also get in the way while preparing food – particularly necklaces and loose bangles.

You may decide that stud piercing jewelry is acceptable, however many kitchens don’t permit this either as it can still be a source of germs. If employees do not want to remove piercings, you may be able to give them the option of covering them up with a plaster. Some kitchens also make exceptions for wedding bands.

Items of religious importance can be a controversial area. This could include a Sikh Kara bracelet or a Catholic cross necklace. Not permitting these items of jewelry could be seen as discrimination, however allowing these items of jewelry could be seen as a health and safety violation. You may want to assess this on an individual basis – if an employee with a religious item of jewelry is not willing to remove the item, you should not make them do so, however if they are willing then they should.

Wearing glasses

Glasses can present some of the same health risks as jewelry, however they are a necessary form of corrective vision that cannot be banned. Contact lenses can be more practical, however not everyone is going to want to wear contact lenses.

Some chefs will invest in sports glasses as found at sites like eyeglasses.com. These glasses won’t slip off your face, which could be necessary if you’re being very active. You can also invest in anti-fog lenses for your glasses that won’t fog up when exposed to steam.

Masks and gloves

In some kitchens, chefs will wear masks and gloves as an added form of protection. Masks can prevent bacteria landing on food from coughing or heavy breathing. Gloves meanwhile can prevent bacteria from one’s hands ending up on food.

There are drawbacks to wearing a mask or gloves in a kitchen setting, which can be worth weighing up. Masks can make communication more difficult in a noisy kitchen. Gloves meanwhile can sometimes encourage cross-contamination – particularly if you’re handling meats and vegetables using the same gloves.

With the pandemic currently raging on, masks have become much more common in kitchens. Whether you decided to continue adopting them afterwards is up to you. Gloves tend to be less common – regularly washing hands can often be a more effective way of stopping the spread of bacteria. An exception might be if you’ve got a cut or a wart on your hand, in which case it could be worth wearing gloves.

You should decide whether to promote disposable or washable masks/gloves in your workplace. Some people find disposable PPE to be much safer, however it’s less environmentally friendly. If you do opt for washable PPE, make sure that it is definitely getting washed. 

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