Uniforms are a vital branding element
Slap your logo on a t-shirt. Branding is done, right? Not quite. Your staff’s uniform carries a great weight on how your customer perceives your pizzeria’s brand.
A uniform and attire is a major customer touch point, says Amy Dennis, CEO at Nice Branding Agency in Nashville, Tennessee. “The uniform is no less important than the food you are serving or what your logo looks like or whatever it may be that you consider part of your band,” she says.
A brand is not so easy to establish. It’s not a tangle thing. “A brand is created from the customer’s viewpoint,” Dennis says. “It’s an opinion formed by the customer about things that they’ve felt or feelings that they get interacting with the business.”
But, you can influence that perception and it starts long before uniforms are discussed. Business owners need to tap into three foundational elements of branding. “They have to know what their positioning statement is,” Dennis says. “They have to know what their brand attributes are and they have to know their visual direction. If they have those three pieces set, that’s the only way that they have a chance of making their uniform align with those items.
“Let’s say you are doing the casual uniform and you have sophistication as one of your brand attributes, that’s probably not going to align,” she says. “Your uniforms have to align with those brand attributes. They can’t contradict them.”
Pupatella, based in Arlington, Virginia, is a Neapolitan-style, fast-casual concept. “Pupatella’s uniform of fedora and logoed t-shirt is fun, funky, hip and most importantly, comfortable,” says owner Enzo Algarme. “Anastasyia and I have always been into fashion and love experimenting with clothes and accessories. We have always tried to create our own trends rather than follow others, and I think this shows in our restaurants, from the uniforms to the décor and the look of our pizzas.”
The fedora began as a way for Algarme to show off his hat collection and they struck a chord with customers. “I started wearing my hats to work, and the fedora was an instant hit…cool looking, comfortable and not bulky,” he says. “It was easy to wear all day, so we added them to the employee uniform, as well. Once customers started to recognize our cool, funky hats, we decided to roll with them for all locations.
“While our uniforms are very simple, we use quality, long-lasting materials for the t-shirts to keep our employees comfortable and happy,” he says. “That good feeling translates directly to the ‘back to the basics’ philosophy we have about our food and how we welcome our guests. Pupatella is focused on creating a fun, easygoing atmosphere where our guests can enjoy quality pizza prepared simply and with the best ingredients.”
While Pupatella’s uniform evolved out of customer response, Greenville Avenue Pizza Company in Dallas, Texas, sought to create a brand within its brand centered around its pizza makers, Pizza Slayers. The uniform is a key element. Pizza makers are part of GAPCo’s brand focus and a major customer touch point for the New York-style counter-service operation with an open kitchen.
Owner Sammy Mandell worked with a branding agency to create and unify GAPCo’s new brand and its uniforms. He went through several versions and variations before the Pizza Slayer uniform was solidified.
“It can’t just be a guy wearing a t-shirt with a logo,” he says. “It’s got to be more than that. Let’s work on a chef’s coat, but not just a chef’s coat, something new and up-to-date. I remember going to my branding company who I shoot a lot of ideas through and I was struggling. I have this idea and this brand now, I want to figure out the image, the look. I want the tools on them.
“We wanted to make sure that every part of this was fully thought out,” Mandell says, especially its holster and pizza tools. “This took a year to get to this point. We took a design patent out on it. We have to own this, just like trademarked Pizza Slayer.” The end result is a sleek chef’s coat, functional pizza tools in a holster and interchangeable items like headbands and hats.
“Outside of the Pizza Slayer uniform, our staff wears updated shirts that we make roughly every two to three months,” Mandell says. “We use those shirts to spread new branding and slogans. It doesn’t really cost us anything since the team always wants the new stuff.”
There are other factors to consider when incorporating uniforms into your brand. They are:
• Quality. “A lot of times they want to go with the cheapest and the cheapest isn’t always the best route,” Dennis says. “I think investing in the uniform is important because it is day-in-and-day-out. It would be the same as putting cheap chairs in there that get sat in every single day. There is so much opportunity in the world of attire for employees, especially at restaurants because you have all of the fabrics, you have all of the materials and you have all of the styles. There is a lot of opportunity to do something within a uniform that you can’t necessarily do through your food service or through your environment. You have a whole different palette of options to choose from when it comes to clothing.”
• Dress Code. “I think having a manual for your employees, with not only how they should act related to your brand and how they should communicate with customers, but what they should wear is importan,” Dennis says. “Give them options. It’s hard today because no one wants to, or an employee wants to be put into this mold of ‘Hey, you have to look like this.’ You have to see if there is a way for them to still be the human that they are, but put some regulations around it — but regulations that allow personality to come through.
• Rotation. Dennis sees validity in refreshing shirts often. “Let’s just say you have the same ad out for two years and it says the same thing for two years and they disregard it,” she says. “They’ve already seen it. They are not going to look at it again. So putting fresh things in front of the customer allows them to engage with it.”
Customer-facing employee uniforms can also be used for advertising. “The employee is like a walking billboard,” Dennis says. “You have two canvases. You have a front and a back of that t-shirt. Letting your brand voice speak through that t-shirt, what it’s saying specifically with the graphics and text — there is so much advertising you can do to your current customer base through employee t-shirts or attire.”
Denise Greer is executive editor at Pizza Today.