Hospitality uniforms

Tuesday the 28th of August is Bow Tie Day! If I have to wear a tie, I like to wear a bow tie. As a food reviewer, I find bow ties more practical – they don’t fall into the soup! We all wear something that defines us. Maybe a cravat, a flamboyant jacket, a cap, a Nike shirt or jungle greens.

By Jeremy Ryland


We have been wearing uniforms for many thousands of years. Soldiers, monks, nurses, judges, doctors, university professors, sportspeople, police, business people etc. all wear distinctive clothing. Uniforms are practical and provide recognition and differentiation. 

The uniforms used in restaurant kitchens evolved from the military, which is why we have kitchen brigades. Developed by Escoffier in the late 1800’s, the brigade de cuisine is a hierarchal system to designate different tasks in the kitchen. Titles we still use today such as Sous Chef, Commis, Saucier, Pâtissier and Boucher (butcher) – and with them their distinctive uniforms. A butcher’s leather apron provides protection from cuts. The chef’s coat or vest blanc is made of thick cotton and double-breasted to avoid burns and injuries from the hot stoves. The checkered pants hide spills. And the chef’s toque or hat was originally developed for sanitary reasons, to keep hair out of the food, has no brim to catch dust & dirt, and has a wide band to catch the sweat – whilst the height confers status!


Generally today in Australia we are quite relaxed. Restaurants today are less likely to have starched white tablecloths and kilos of cutlery. But I find it very annoying when I cannot distinguish the staff from the customers. At an expensive city diner the other day, the head waiter was wearing a (stained) white polo shirt and jeans!


Uniforms are very useful and still have a place in today’s restaurants. A uniform provides professionalism and brand identity. As such it must also commiserate with the style of outlet – a polo-shirt is fine in a pub but a fine diner requires something more stylish.


A uniform provides the staff with identity, recognition and team membership. It provides staff with authority and to be recognised as part of the organisation. It can also indicate status, seniority and award recognition – with medals, pins and badges. 


A uniform provides safety and security – protection for the wearer from heat and spills, and protection for the products from hair, sweat and contamination.


A uniform – by definition – provides uniformity and ensures that brand and safety standards are maintained. It ensures that staff dress appropriately and differentiates different roles.


Today, I think many restaurants do themselves an injustice by not having a uniform. It need not be complex or expensive. Modern uniforms can be casual such as jeans and a designer short sleeve shirt, or simply a classic apron. But they need to be appropriate. Uniforms confer place and status, pride and professionalism, security and safety. But above all, they provide differentiation and ensure guests know who to approach and seek advice from. Uniforms are not simply pieces of clothing that keep your regular clothes stain-free, whilst you are cooking or serving. They are much more than that. They influence how much professional impact your staff make, how your staff see you, and, most importantly, how your diners see you.