This weekend while traveling, my husband and I visited an agreeable caf which we know serves good food.
The restaurant was busy with kids and families journeying around the Martin Luther King holiday, taking advantage of a crisp sunny day. We settled into a comfortable booth in full view of the TV monitor showing a football game. The food coming out of the kitchen looked delicious. Being hungry, I had difficulty deciding. I settled on a turkey Reuben and steak fries with a mug of the local brewery's draft. My companion ordered the spicy vegetable chili and corn bread with his favorite cranberry juice.
As expected, both selections were tasty, service was timely and the atmosphere was comfortable. The experience was about an 8 out of a 10 until the cook walked out into the dining room. My husband and I exchanged looks of disbelief and amusement. Along with the eyes of our fellow diners, we followed as the person in charge of the kitchen strolled past us to the bar.
He had on a short, white chef's coat (I use the term loosely), unbuttoned and exposing a Grateful Dead tee shirt. There was a full kitchen apron loosely tied and hanging down to, but not covering, a pair of mesh gym shorts. His fleshy exposed legs drew attention to his grey socks and high-top sneakers. The apron was well-marbled with the remnants of today's, or this week's, food preparation. All this was topped by a ponytail and a dicey inverted baseball cap. Oh busboy.
As he returned, beer in hand, to the kitchen, I could guess what everyone was thinking, "That cook made my meal!"
Please remember that everything and everyone is part of the customer's experience. The appearance of every employee sends a message to the customer. It conveys the values of the restaurant to the customer. It shows the restaurant's concern with hygiene, food safety, consistency, appearances, personal pride and overall management. Employee appearance can create or break the atmosphere.
In a fine-dining restaurant, it is customary for a chef to visit the dining room. This creates a feeling of well-being. The kitchen and your food are in good, talented and clean hands.
Clearly, this cook was not part of some restaurant's plan. I am sure management didn't care what he looked like in the kitchen because they thought he would not be seen by the customer. Big mistake. This restaurant needs a dress code or, should I say, an enforced dress code.
I must also mention this cook's dress is a safety issue. The primary purpose of a kitchen uniforms is to protect the food from the person who is preparing it. All effort should be take to keep skin, sweaty bodies, dirty clothes, greasy aprons and personal bacteria away from the food.
A strictly enforced dress code is good for business. Well-dressed employees "sell" the restaurant. A strictly enforced dress code adds to the organized, planned restaurant and the safety of customers and employees. Bare legs are dangerously exposed to burns and bruises.
Here is a sample kitchen dress code for commercial food service establishments. It may be modified to include the plan of the organization, but it must include the codes of the local health department.
Hair: Must be clean and well maintained. Hair length must be maintained above the top of the collar by means of cut, hair net or restraint. Employees must be clean shaven at all times.
Makeup: The appropriate use of makeup is to create a fresh appearance and must be kept at a minimum. Doris Day not Madonna.
Cologne/Perfume: The use of anti-perspirant is recommended. The use of strong scents and fragrances is unacceptable as it can affect the taste of the food.
Fingernails: Clean and trimmed to the end of the finger. No nail polish permitted.
Jewelry: One pair of stud earrings may be worn in the earlobe. Dangle or hoop earrings are not allowed. They can drop in the food or be caught on equipment. One plain wedding band is allowed.
Pants: Full length dark or black, checkered pattern fabric for chefs. No baggy styles.
Chef/cook jacket: white, double-breasted jackets, completely buttoned at all times. Only clean, white tee shirts are permitted under the jacket. White turtleneck shirts may be worn under jacket.
Chef/cook Hat: White, cloth chef's toque or hair net or clean cap as approved
Shoes: Must be sturdy, closed toe leather. The sole is to be non-slip and heel no higher than 1 1/2 inches.
Socks: Worn at all times. Must be white or black.
Undergarments: Worn at all times.
Apron: White apron to be worn at knee length. Apron must be washed daily or more as needed
OK. These are just my simple suggestions.
Restaurant Watch: Pay attention to the cook's garb the next time you eat out.