Dress for success?

Dress for success?

I’ve attended a few holiday events in Manhattan recently, both at “lifestyle” hotels and “non-lifestyle” hotels (What are we supposed to call these — “traditional”?). Besides varying interior design and architectural concepts, one of the things that stood out to me was the tremendous difference in how employees were attired, and subsequently, how they interacted with guests. It’s a topic we seldom get excited about — some would even say it’s boring — but it’s one that has multiple implications: the topic of uniforms. 

At some lifestyle hotels, employees are dressed so casually it’s hard to distinguish them from leisure guests, especially if they’re not wearing a nametag. I recognize uniforms are somewhat of a backdrop for the lifestyle concept and the interaction between an associate and guest, but I’m wondering if we’ve gone a bit too far with the concept of casual. It seems to me that a guest with a question shouldn’t have to wander around a lobby asking people, “Do you work here?” And would guests have a sense of confidence that a manager dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt will really be able to solve a problem? I’m not voting for stuffy, but how about a bit more professional?   

In the opposite extreme, many traditional hotels attire employees in drab, unflattering uniforms without regard to style and fit. I often wonder how I would feel having to dress in something like that on a daily basis. Would this influence my attitude toward my employer and a guest? I think so. As to the concept of dressing every employee in a department exactly the same, how about giving some choices, allowing individual personalities to shine through?  

Many hoteliers do not spend adequate time or attention on uniforms. We typically dictate very specific grooming standards, but seem to forget that attire influences behavior of employees, which, in turn, impacts their interaction with guests. It’s also a reflection of how hotel management views and respects its employees and the commitment management makes to its employees. We train and expect our associates to behave within service standards and need to provide the tools for them to do so. In my opinion, an appealing uniform program is one of those tools. When we speak about a sense of arrival, an integral part of this is a guest’s first impression of a hotel’s employees. It is the door person who greets us followed often by a front service or guest service attendant who assists us, all of whom are in uniforms that should reflect the hotel’s image and standards to the guest.    

I have a few suggestions to make to those making the decision on uniform selection:

  • Is the attire comfortable, functional and free from any impediments to job performance?
  • Can the color palette be attractively worn by the majority of the employee population within a department?  
  • Can the style be fitted properly to the majority of the employees?
  • Have you solicited feedback from your employees on what they like or don’t like with their current uniform program? What are the preferences for the new program?  
  • Have you had a few employees within each department try on and wear sample uniforms for a week?  
  • How can individual choice on color and style be recognized within a department?
  • Has equal time and attention been spent on uniforms for both front and back of house?  (Typically, this is not the case.)
  • Think fashion-forward, not catalogue. Be creative. his can be done even on a limited budget and with a catalogue.  
  • Have you included tailoring costs within the uniform budget?  
  • The last question and, possibly, the most telling: Would the person selecting the uniform program as well as the hotel’s management team wear what has been selected?
What do you think? What hotels or hotel companies are doing an exemplary job in this area?