hether it’s boutique hotels or independent guest houses, nationwide chain restaurants or one-off bistros, the hospitality industry is nothing if not diverse. The choices when it comes to providing front and back of house uniforms are equally numerous: rent or buy, stock or bespoke, laundry or self clean – not to mention the decisions over branding, colour schemes, fabrics and design.
Unless you’re a luxury five-star hotel or an exclusive bar, ‘off the peg’ is the most common avenue to take. And with growing choice in stock items, fuelled by increased customer demands and a desire for shorter delivery times, it’s becoming increasingly possible to achieve an original uniform that’s fit for purpose - without the bespoke price tag. In other words, as hospitality specialists expand their stock ranges and increase the flexibility of their service, buyers can now have their cake and eat it as never before.
With the economic downturn likely to affect the hospitality industry, budget cuts for uniforms could already be looming for procurement managers. But choosing the cheapest option could mean paying out more in the long-term in replacement garments. On the other hand, paying a high price doesn’t always guarantee quality or the right style for your business.
Denny’s Uniforms is a specialist manufacturer and supplier of chefswear and kitchenwear, which in the last five years has expanded beyond the kitchen to supply all hospitality needs from reception and concierge to housekeeping and security.
Managing director Nick Jubert firmly believes that ‘off the peg’ needn’t be the poor relation of bespoke: “The hospitality sector can get everything they want from a stock range. The way you personalise it is by adding accessories such as ties and embroidering logos – all those things bespoke a uniform,” he says. “Unless you are an international bank or a national building society where you can command the quantities needed to manufacture, you’ll be much better served by off-the-peg.”
Tibard Ltd supplies, rents and launders back and front of house garments to the hospitality industry. “Off the peg is great because these days people are so impatient about supply and delivery is very quick – you’re not having to bring in garments from offshore, where there is a delay to the supply chain,” says commercial director Rick Shonfeld.
“The luxury side of the hotel sector like to distinguish themselves from the norm and go for something more bespoke. But I think, as occupancy rates are down in hotels, a lot of the major hotel players will be looking at off the peg soon.” And now there are more choices than ever before.
Tibard can customise any of its current stock ranges by mixing and matching the fabrics and styles. “Our catalogue is an open book,” says Rick. “If a customer came to me and said, ‘I like this jacket but I want it in a poly/cotton with a mesh back’ or ‘I need a hundred in lime green with purple piping’, I can probably turn that order around in about two or three days from our manufacturing facility in Manchester. But if the timing’s right then I can take it offshore to get a better pricing structure for our customers.”
The key for Denny’s Uniforms, which has been selling to end users through its two shops in London and through a network of distributors for 158 years, is to provide as much choice in their stock range as possible. Out of their 2,000 stock lines, around 800 of these are chefswear alone, catering for a variety of tastes and prices. Through its leading brands – ‘Denny’s’ and ‘Le Chef’ – it provides 50 styles of chef jackets and trousers in a range of colours and prints from traditional black and white to lilac, green, tartan and Union Jack print. Nick says: “Le Chef is all modern and sexy and Denny’s is cheaper and more traditional.”
The contemporary style and cut of Le Chef allows Denny’s Uniforms to deliver the latest trends in chefswear. “The Le Chef trousers have gone through 10 different minute changes during their life,” says Nick. “People don’t want to wear baggy trousers now, so it has had to become slimmer and tighter to suit the market. Short sleeves have also become much more important as they allow greater circulation and are generally more comfortable.”
Rick from Tibard has also noticed a shift in chefwear style: “Ten years ago, classic chefswear was 100% cotton jackets with rubber buttons in a blue and white check gingham trouser, with a butcher’s apron. Then there was a big shift towards all these crazy pattern fabrics and loud colours, but now it seems to have gone full circle again – a more traditional, clean and crisp look but using the latest technologies.”
Tibard has tried to encapsulate these dual demands of style and performance in its Urban range. “The garments are more tailored to reflect the high street – if you look at shirts over the last couple of years, tailored shirts were not as commonplace but now there is a shift and customers specify slim-fit shirts We’ve also mimicked some of the sporting apparel in terms of the wicking technologies.”
The heat and pressure of working in a kitchen environment means that Coolmax – a lightweight and breathable fabric that wicks moisture away from the body to keep the wearer cool, dry and comfortable – is being used more frequently in areas on garments most prone to sweating.
Denny’s Uniforms’ Staycool Le Chef range has for the last eight years offered a Coolmax back panel in a range of chef jackets, T-shirts and, more recently, short sleeved tunics in black and white. Nick says: “The range was initially developed for Dubai but we’ve found that it is as relevant for the UK, where only a few will invest in air conditioning and you’ve got these tiny little kitchens off pubs where people have to work in very hot, small areas.”
Tibard offers two chef jackets with a Coolmax back mesh panel as well as a skull cap with a Coolmax mesh crown. Permagard is another fabric that is gaining ground in chefswear. The antimicrobial treatment from Carrington’s controls the growth of microorganisms and is now available from Denny’s and Tibard in a poly/cotton white chef jacket.
But whatever the style and the technology involved, Nick believes that a workwear garment stands and falls on its fabric – especially in chefswear, where very specific requirements must be considered. Nick says: “The laundry wants the heavyweight fabric in order to withstand the industrial washes, but the customer wants a lightweight fabric, so we design and manufacture all our own fabrics to produce lightweight fabrics that are hardwearing, breathable and bleach resistant. We use a lot of polyester in the garments as that is the only way to make a lightweight garment that lasts a long time and doesn’t shrink.”
As in most industries today, suppliers of hospitalitywear are striving to come up with fabrics and processes that are ‘greener’ than ever before. Denny’s Uniforms, for example, has launched two new jackets: the Organic Chef Jacket, made from 100% organic cotton which is gentler on the skin, and a 50/50 poly/cotton Ecological Chefs Jacket which saves up to 40 litres of water per jacket made compared to traditional methods. The buttons used are made from corozo – or tagua – nuts, which are a natural product and a more sustainable source than plastic or ivory.
Bamboo is another sustainable source making headway in working garments due to its lightweight, sweat resistant and antibacterial properties. Tibard has just bought out five chef jackets made from fibre derived from bamboo.
In the hospitality industry, the decision making process doesn’t end with identifying the style and fabric of the garments that you’re looking for. The options to rent, buy, launder or self-clean must be carefully weighed up.
Tibard offers a workwear rental service where, at the end of each shift, soiled garments are placed in a container for cleaning and the next shift takes clean garments from another container. A contract is typically two years during which staff are also entitled to free exchanges of sizes and free repairs.
Rick says that garment rental can help prevent stock-holding problems if there is no proper system in place for keeping it onsite: “In the hospitality industry, there is a high fluidity of staff and staff do tend to walk away with garments if there is no agreement with the employer that they have to sign garments in and out.”
Move out of the kitchen to the front of house and what you find is a new environment and new demands placed on a uniform. But when it comes to food and beverage attire, the apron and the waistcoat are having their heyday.
Denny’s Uniforms stocks 600 different styles of waist and bib aprons made from its own woven fabrics and immediately available in 12 colours, or 48 colours for a delivery time of 6 weeks. Nick says: “Aprons are what every single part of the hospitality industry uses. It doesn’t matter whether you are a hotel, kitchen, pub, sandwich shop or coffee house – everybody wears aprons.
It gives you the biggest opportunity to put your logo on it and advertise your premises. It immediately makes someone into a member of staff rather than a member of the public without the need to wear anything else specific. It is the most flexible and the simplest to stock – one garment might do all your staff.”
But, being experts, Denny’s Uniforms does provide bib aprons with adjustable neck halters, so that one apron will fit 6ft 6in tall person as well as someone who is 5ft 3in.
Tibard is also pushing the look of front of house aprons: “In our new styles, we’ve added details such as pockets, industrial zips, splits, loops for waiter’s cloths and key fobs and brought together contrast fabrics such as corduroy and a polycotton.”
Meanwhile, the humble waistcoat is also proving that class can be achieved simply and for less: “Waistcoats are a very unique product for the hospitality industry – if you ask someone who is turning up to be a waiter for the evening to wear a white shirt and black trousers, all you have to do is provide them with a waistcoat and they immediately have a uniform,” Nick says. Denny’s Uniforms’ waistcoats are washable, unisex and come in a variety of prices, colours and styles to satisfy all suppliers and end users.
With regards to front of house uniforms in hotels, people are moving away from wearing suits and opting to go for a smart but more casual look by mixing and matching shirts and blouses with skirts and trousers. With the huge influx of Eastern European workers over the last 10 years, suppliers have had to adapt their sizes, which Rick says can also have an impact on the style of the garment.
“We now have to cater for smaller women from a size 6 and, when you look at a smaller demographic of uniforms, you can go for a more fitted look where trousers become more like hipsters mimicking high street fashions.”
This is also true for back of house where Denny’s Uniforms has been working hard to create styles that fit as though they were made for the customer. “Our garments are all designed to be unisex but, in the smaller sizes, which are available from a size 6, the hips are bigger than the bust, which is suitable for a woman. These fits become more male-orientated the larger the size, with a broader back, squarer shoulders and slimmer hips.”
For an industry where staff turnover can be enormous – it seems that flexibility is key. And where some businesses will find this flexibility through renting garments, others will find it through purchasing ready to wear or personally designed uniforms. But whichever path is right for you, one thing is clear – whether you are going to go for bespoke or off the peg, the garment has got to be right. “A good fitting garment looks a hundred times better than a bad fitting garment – and if you go to a specialist it’s more likely to be right,” Nick says.