These days you'll be lucky to spot anyone in uniform at a trendy pop-up or street food market, so should we be asking if no uniform is the "new black" - or is there more to staff uniforms than mere clothes?

For Simon Delaney, licensee of The Firbank, Manchester, it is most definitely about more than a shirt and tie.

"We have a uniform here (shirts, ties, aprons and name badges) because I believe It looks organised and professional. We are selling premium products and we need to match that with our appearance."

It is also a signifier to staff that they are part of a professional operation, he explains, and helps them feel part the team.

"Also, I always think when you put that uniform on it's like putting on a costume for a performance. You stop being John on the street to being John the bartender or waiter. It gets you in that mind set of being a server."

 

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Management tool
Creating an identity through uniforms can be particularly useful for multiple operators, such as Fuller's.

Staff at its managed Ale & Pie arm are about to get a new uniform. The black and gold polo shirts of old are being replaced with a new "more gentle" blue coloured livery, which includes several different styles as well as male and female cuts.

"A uniform helps create a brand identity and brings consistency," explains operations manager, Simon Gifford.

"The new uniforms will help us to differentiate between styles of venues while maintaining that brand consistency. So managers can choose the option of a formal shirt for staff in, say, our city pubs; a polo shirt for our more tourist pubs, and a t-shirt for more relaxed venues."

In addition managers can choose to rotate uniforms through the day, the smarter shirt for the day perhaps and a more casual option for evening service. At Fuller's largest venue, London's Pride at Heathrow Airport, which has a team of 500, uniforms are also used as a management tool.

"London's Pride is the only venue where we have different uniforms for each different front-of-house role," Simon explains.

"Bar staff, waiting staff and the meet and greet team all wear something different. With 60 to 90 staff on at any one time this helps managers keep an eye on service levels and spot areas that might need more help at any time because you can see who is doing what.

"It also means customers can easily differentiate between other customers and staff, and staff that are performing different roles."

Customer feedback on uniforms has been very positive, Simon reports (as indeed do all those interviewed for this feature).

"When we undertook research we found nearly all customers preferred to see pub staff in a uniform of some description," he says.

 

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Unique uniforms
Perhaps surprisingly, even for publicans wanting to convey a more informal and "individual" image a uniform can still be worth considering.

For example, Keris De Villers who runs two pubs - The Pig & Whistle and The Old Sergeant, in the London borough of Wandsworth - with her husband Lee, has not only managed to toe the line between uniform and unique but has also managed to create a new revenue stream from it.

"We want our staff to have a bit of quirkiness and for them to be able to retain their own style, if that means tattoos and jewellery on show then so be it. The feedback from customers is that they like that the team are all different.

"We do however provide a branded t-shirt. Currently we have two types, one says, 'Same shirt, different day,' and the other says 'If you don't eat we both starve.' We got the idea from a place Lee and I used to work in back in South Africa."

They have proved popular not just with staff but customers as well, so much so the business now sells them for £12 a pop behind the bar.

"They don't represent a big cost to the business in any case but the sales of them mean they more than pay for themselves," Keris says.

 

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Staff rewards
She isn't the only licensee to see that uniforms can be more to the business than just clothes, either. Scott Foster manager at The Chequers, Marlow, uses uniforms as part of staff incentives.

"Part of the uniform here is an apron and when staff hit their targets they 're rewarded by having a badge of their award sewn onto it. So it might say 'employee of the month' or 'highest sales' or something like that.

"It makes them feel appreciated and customers notice it as well, so it provides a talking point and a sense for customers that they are being looked after by someone who is really good at their job."

You don't even have to the effort of special badges, Scott says. "Sometimes we've just had people's names embroidered onto the apron as a reward and that has also gone down well.

"It doesn't have to be a large gesture but showing you appreciate someone's hard work can make all the difference."

Want to know what the pub fashion pack is wearing? Check out this blog.