15 Ways to Get Employees to Follow Your Dress Code

July 08, 2017 | 911 Views

15 Ways to Get Employees to Follow Your Dress Code

Gabe Hosler, FMP

Vice President Training and Ops Services | Rubio's Restaurants, Inc.

Like almost every other hospitality organization, Rubio’s has a dress code for its employees; ours consists of clean and wrinkle-free shirts, blue jeans, nametags, non-slip shoes, and an assortment of related grooming and conduct standards. And like almost every other hotel or restaurant company, our employees occasionally struggle to follow these guidelines. Sometimes they forget their shirts at home, sometimes they spill salsa on their pants while working in the kitchen, and yes, sometimes they show up looking like they slept in their work clothes (sigh). 

But whatever the excuse, it’s important that we try to minimize the number of these incidents as much as possible. Our uniforms are meant to be worn with pride, and they are supposed to reflect our brand standards, clearly distinguish Rubio’s staff members from the guests, and add to the professionalism of our organization. 

So what can hospitality companies do to get their employees to follow the dress code more carefully? Here is a list of 15 suggestions based on my experiences at Rubio’s:

Creating your dress code

1. Write on! – The first step to getting employees to follow your dress code is to create a written version; it shouldn’t be just an oral tradition handed down from manager to manager, because then it’s too easy to forget the details. Your comprehensive policies should be written down in an employee handbook, or Operations Manual, or wall posting, or available online (or all four!), with specifics listed for every position in your organization to lessen any ambiguity once it has been delivered to the staff members.

2. Review it – If you already have a policy written down, it might be time to dust it off and ask yourself, “Has it evolved with the times?” Just like you wouldn’t decorate a new hotel or restaurant using colors, fabrics, styles, and norms from the 1980s, you shouldn’t have a dress code from that era as well because it’s going to be tough for employees to want to wear a uniform if they are embarrassed to be seen in it. Alternatively, are there rules in the dress code that are not really enforced by the management teams anymore? If so, consider why they were implemented in the first place and determine if those elements are still essential. Finally, because laws also change from time to time, your guidelines should be regularly reviewed for legality and to ensure they meet all of the food code standards in your state.

3. Get buy-in – If a revision is needed, form a committee to update your standards and include all levels of employees on that committee. Get their input on what they would like to wear and what the standards should be (within acceptable limits, of course), ask them to vote on possible options, or have a contest where employees could design new elements such as nametags. The more involved they are, the stronger their buy-in will be and the more likely they will commit to the overall dress code.

4. Test ‘em – Don’t invest in new uniforms until you’ve tried them out first. Get samples to determine that they are appropriate for the positions in which they will be worn (Too hot? Not warm enough? Unsafe?), allow for proper movement by employees, and don’t shrink or fall apart after a few times through the washer and dryer. Also, check with your manufacturer to make sure they will have a large enough stock for your order and aren’t planning to discontinue the items in the near future.

5. Worth 1,000 words – Once revised and written down, add photos of proper dress code examples to remove any remaining ambiguity and allow employees to see exactly what they should look like when working.

During interview/orientation/training

6. Start at the very beginning – Your hiring managers should be showing the dress code to candidates during job interviews and asking them if they can meet your company standards. All potential employees should know your expectations and that adhering to these standards is mandatory in your organization.

7. Be generous – You can’t expect employees to show up in clean uniforms all the time if they work 5-6 days a week but they’ve only got 2 logoed shirts (do you have enough free time to do laundry every other night?). Upon hiring, all new employees should receive a reasonable amount of uniforms for the average number of days they will be working each week. Side note: I don’t believe new employees should get hand-me-down uniforms from previous staff; if managers are churning through employees and exceeding their uniform budgets, the answer is to teach those managers to hire better, not to punish their new staff members with used clothing.

8. Be prepared – It’s not enough to want to give employees a sufficient number of uniforms for their weekly shifts; hotels and restaurants also need to have enough of those uniforms on hand for their new hires. Unit managers will need to monitor their supply, compare it to the number of employees expected to be hired in the next period, and allow enough time for delivery of additional quantities. For lesser-used sizes, the District Managers or corporate office should some of have those in stock for the times they are needed.

9. Answer “What in it for me?” – When employees start working in your operation, managers should not only explain why it’s important for the business that they meet dress code guidelines, but why it’s also important for the staff. Some elements of the dress code could have been implemented for their personal safety, some could be to ensure proper food safety so they don’t make guests sick, and some could be to foster their sense of belonging and teamwork. Whatever the reasons, the employees need to know what’s in it for them.

10. Learning about cooperation – The General Manager shouldn’t be the only one in the hotel or restaurant letting employees know if they have fallen outside the bounds of the dress code during their shift; everyone on the team should be cooperating in this endeavor. So during training, new hires should be encouraged to say something to their workmates if they see anything wrong with their uniforms. It’s not about catching people with dirty aprons or the wrong cap, but rather about building a supportive culture where employees help one another.

Prior to starting a shift

11. Role model – Managers (including district or area managers) need to set expectations for employees in their hotels or restaurants by following the dress code themselves. If employees come into work and see their bosses wearing stained shirts or missing a nametag, it signals to them the unimportance of the guidelines.

12. Mirror, mirror – If your locations don’t already have one, install a full-length mirror in the break room or near the staff bulletin board so employees can check their entire appearance before starting (as well as throughout the shift).  Don’t rely on a little mirror above the sink in the restroom to accomplish this goal.

13. Steam power! – Along with a mirror, each unit should have an iron and ironing board that employees can use to smooth out any wrinkled clothing before they go out into the public areas. Side note: if wrinkles aren’t the problem but stains are, managers should consider purchasing some Tide To Go pens to help clean up any spots that didn’t get removed during the wash.

14. Pre-shift check – Before leaving your alley rallies, managers should run through a quick inspection to ensure all staff members have clean and complete uniforms. If they don’t but it’s an easy fix, such as missing a nametag, employees might be able to get a spare from their manager’s office and head to their workstation. If they don’t and it’s a bigger issue, like forgetting non-slip shoes, those employees will need to clock out and return home to correct the situation. Side note: it shouldn’t always be the unit managers conducting these uniform checks; they can periodically delegate the responsibility to other key staff members to 1) encourage what I mentioned earlier about building a supportive culture where employees help one another, and 2) serve as a developmental opportunity for those employees.

15. Having the talk – On occasion, managers will need to sit down with employees to have conversations about sensitive dress code topics, such as bad body odor, not meeting grooming standards, wearing clothing that is too tight, etc. Rarely will these issues take care of themselves, so managers cannot rely on a strategy of “I hope things will get better tomorrow.” They need to take the employees to a private area, discuss the situations, and commit to solutions that will work for both parties.

Getting employees to follow your dress code will be a daily challenge for many managers, but it’s critical that they accept this challenge so that their employees provide a positive visual impression to guests and comply with the safety and sanitation rules of the business.  

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