This should be your week to look closely at your uniform.
Every month, you should pick a certain time to really give your uniform a good going-over. It’s easy to let things slide over time as we work day in and day out, but we really put our uniforms through the wringer. Lots of washing, bleaching, spot removals and working in sweaty conditions.
If you wear a polo shirt, does the collar roll up so badly that it won’t stay down anymore? Is it starting to fade a bit? Any holes you haven’t noticed? Sometimes this happens when a tiny spot of bleach gets splashed on them when you’re using it as a cleaner in the kitchen (bleaching creamers or sugar caddies, for instance) and it will cause a small hole when you wash it a few times. Any oil discoloration that just won’t come out?
For those of us wearing dress white shirts, we want to look for wear on the collars, especially if we’re guys with fairly heavy whiskers. They tend to get pilled around the top and edges where they rub against the neck and chin. We also want to make sure that all of the bleaching hasn’t caused them to yellow. If you wear a long-sleeved shirt, check the cuffs. Are they starting to fray? Are they stained? Does the shirt hold starch anymore? After many washings, oxford shirts start to wear thin and they just won’t get starched up anymore. Here’s a hint. Buy a piece of white chalk. It can temporarily cover a stain on the cuff, at least for a shift. Make sure that you have a bleach pen handy somewhere. If you are lucky enough to have a locker, always keep one in there. If not, you should carry one with you.
How’s your tie? Is it creased across the knot from moisture and constant re-tyings? Is it worn through on the edge where you knot it?
Do you wear a vest? Are the seams starting to fray a little? Any oil spots?
Do you work in a steakhouse and wear one of those white lab coats? How many stains do you have that just won’t come out. Those coats are especially prone to stains, especially if you wash them yourself. You can usually get by with a few minor ones for a while, but unless you are the most careful server in the world, you’ll usually have to replace them every 6 months or so. After a while, if you wash them at home, they get thin and won’t hold starch anymore. Their collars are especially prone to pilling in the same way that a dress shirt will. Also, you’ve got be be wary of yellowing if you hve to bleach them heavily. Another thing you have to worry about is black streaks on the back from when you brush against walls, counter-tops or any surface that can get dirty. Sleeves, especially the tips, are prone to red sauce, mustard, or oil stains from salad dressings.
Do you wear black jeans? Do they need to be re-dyed because they’re starting to get a little grey? Are they not taking the dye very well anymore? Are you having to dye them every two or three washings? Time to retire them to private duty. Same if the cuff seams are starting to fray, especially in the back. The bottom of pants take a beating in a restaurant, what with all of the wet floors and floor hosings that go on in a kitchen.
Do you wear black dress pants? Do they need to get a hit of dye? Are the bottom of the cuffs starting to fray? If this is the case, it’s about time to throw them out. Look for tiny orange spots on the bottom of the legs as well. They could be bleach splatters from someone using it as a cleaner on the floor in the kitchen. If this is the case, a touch-up with a sharpie can get you by for a while.
Do you wear khaki pants? Are they washed so much that you can almost see your legs? Do they simply refuse to hold a crease anymore? Do they also suffer from fraying at the seams? Oil stains?
How about those shoes? For leather shoes, are they starting to crack on the top? Crack on the sole? Worn down so much that they’re not very non-slip anymore – wait, you don’t have non-slip shoes? Are you nuts? If you wear tennis shoes, how do they look? Would they look better at a Ramones concert? If so, that’s what you should use them for. Oh wait, Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee are all dead – that’s not going to happen now. Tough luck for you. I can tell you from personal experience that they were awesome in concert.
Now’s a good time to make sure you have backups of crumbers and wine-tools as well. Check your pen supply.
If you don’t take a good look at your stuff once in a while, it’s easy to let a uniform decay into decrepitude while you’re not looking. Best to pick a certain time every month to do it. The last week of the month is as good a time as any. Make sure you evaluate everything at once. Compare them by like item. By looking at all of your shirts at once, you’re able to see any fading or yellowing a lot easier.
If you do this once a month, you’ll never have to worry about a manager calling you out for a defective uniform.
Don’t forget, the closest thing that your guest sees is the arm passing right in front of them when the plate hits the table. Or your midsection. Both are up-close and personal. You don’t want them to see shabbiness, right? It could affect your tip. Look at your uniform as a major part of marketing yourself.
Server’s uniform before (left) and after refurbishment (right)