Skip to main content
Skip to footer
What Are the Options for Restaurant Kitchen Uniforms? | Staples®

What Are the Options for Restaurant Kitchen Uniforms?

The classical kitchen uniforms with tall hats and double-faced front jackets bring together history and functionality. They began with Marie-Antoine Carême, the chef credited with developing the traditional tall white chef’s hat in the early 19th century. At one time, the hat was an indicator of status — the taller the hat, the more important the cook. Today, the crisp white toque is mostly relegated to chef parodies, though you do still find it in use in European-style kitchens and culinary schools. And while the styles have changed, the point of the hat — and other parts of the uniform — remains the same. Chefs wear hats to keep hair and sweat out of food.

Learn more about the different elements of kitchen uniforms and how each part is important to your restaurant.

Traditional Aprons & Chef’s Jackets

“The apron is probably the most consistent feature of contemporary restaurant kitchens,” says Mark Hosack, executive chef of Gracie’s at Hotel deLuxe in Portland, OR. “We’re old school in that our crew still wears jackets and aprons on the line.”

Traditional chef’s jackets have two important features: double-faced fronts and long sleeves. The double face allows chefs the option of rebuttoning, so a fresh front can be presented when visiting the dining room. Long sleeves protect arms from boiling water, hot ovens and oil splatters. The apron is an additional layer of protection for the mid-section that bellies up closest to heat sources on the line and messy bits at the prep table.

“We provide the uniforms, which is a significant cost commitment,” says Hosack. “In an operation doing $2.5 million in sales annually, you’d spend about $10,000 on jackets, aprons and towels. In my experience, any independent operation that’s chef owned will do without a jacket and go with just the apron. It’s one way they can control costs.”

Kitchen Uniforms Today

Contemporary kitchen attire has come a long way from the traditional white jacket and black pants. Open kitchens incorporate cooks into the restaurant’s overall look, expanding clothing options to include color, pattern and thematic elements. “The open-concept kitchen makes the crew’s uniforms even more important,” says Maureen “Mo” Shaw of Mo Shaw Hospitality Consulting in Seattle, WA. “They need to support the brand vision.”

While some restaurateurs still insist on uniform tops, many let kitchen staff show their personal style with their pants. “My cooks provide their own pants, so they’re welcome to express themselves with patterns if they wish,” Hosack says.

Kitchen headwear has expanded into skull caps and berets and other fashionable options. “The biggest impact I’ve seen is with what cooks wear on their heads,” says Shaw. For example, “there are lots of trendy pieces, particularly baseball caps and do-rags.” Baseball caps can even be emblazoned with your logo for extra branding oomph.

Out of Sight Shouldn’t Mean Out of Mind

If a restaurant has a traditional “closed” kitchen, does a uniform matter? “Kitchen staff may not be seen often, but when they are, they must be equal to front of house,” says Dominique Isbecque, co-founder of the Association of Image Consultants International and executive director of Image Resource Center of New York. “Otherwise, it can appear that a restaurant’s carefully maintained image is just a façade. Uniforms support and project the brand image of the company.”

Branding isn’t the only reason for a uniform. It’s also a mark of professional pride and unity. Hosack thinks kitchen uniforms are a good indicator of work ethic as well. “I can tell if you make your bed or not by the way you treat your jacket,” he says.

While the role of restaurant kitchen uniforms as both identity and a source of professional pride continues, choosing uniform pieces that express your restaurant’s brand is the key to updating the concept for the 21st century.

Anne Nisbet has spent her career working with chefs in restaurants, catering and culinary event production, absorbing their tips, tricks and tales along the way. She is the culinary director for the International Pinot Noir Celebration in McMinnville, OR, where she lives and dreams of some day raising chickens and honeybees. You can find her on Google+.

Related Articles

Related Products & Services

blog comments powered by Disqus