By Sara Perez Webber
To stand out from the crowd,
catering companies can outfit staff members in an increasingly
diverse array of styles and colors
Oscar de la Renta once said, “The great thing about fashion is that it always looks forward.” That’s even true when it comes to catering uniforms. Companies that outfit both the front and back of the house report that styles are evolving, even as tried-and-true classics remain popular.
“The evolution of uniforms is based on two principles: quality and design,” says Susan Masimore, president and CEO of ChefUniforms.com. “The design of the uniform is always being updated to reflect current trends in ready-to-wear garments yet still maintain the comfort, durability and practicality that a customer expects from their uniforms. Also, higher-end fabrics and functional trims have elevated the look of uniforms in recent years as well.”
For example, ChefUniforms.com offers styles in high-end Egyptian cotton, as well as many other options, including basic poly/cotton blends. The company carries a wide variety of coats, shirts, pants, shoes and more for men and women. When it comes to coats, says Masimore, “short sleeves are popular to keep kitchen staff cool, while the serving staff like the appeal of traditional designs with modern touches that help them fit in with an upscale environment.”
One of those modern touches is an interesting print. “These prints can uplift a very traditional look into something a bit more unique,” says Masimore. A polka-dot print from ChefUniforms.com, for example, adds flair to a woman’s chef coat, which could also feature such details as piping, fabric-covered buttons and contrast trim. Oftentimes, the company incorporates prints that have been recommended by clients.
“Customers always have great tips on new prints they would love to see in our products,” adds Masimore.
When it comes to color, black and white still reign supreme in the catering industry, reports Masimore, “but we find that many companies are interested in a pop of color lately. We carry a rainbow of colors for men and women that can help a company’s brand stand out and also blend with the theme of any event.”
At DWA Uniforms, classic blacks, grays and whites sell best, according to Michael Shea, sales manager, although colors such as plum, cobalt and sun yellow are gaining momentum.
Overall, catering uniforms have become much more diverse, says Shea. “It used to be nothing but tuxedos,” he says. “Now we are seeing everything from open-collar shirts to neckties, and a lot of interesting sportswear—even Hawaiian shirts.”
Top-selling styles for DWA Uniforms include golf shirts for set-up crews, T-shirts, and colorful, decorative chef’s apparel for fun outdoor events.
Customers are also interested in what the uniforms are made of, often choosing moisture-wicking and UV-protection materials to shield staff members from the elements and keep them cool. “Synthetics are definitely the direction [for catering uniforms],” says Shea. “They’re much cooler and hold up better with less care.” He points out that the new, comfortable, modern-looking synthetics are a far cry from the dreaded polyester of old.
Trends Influence Designs
Societal trends are also having an impact on catering uniforms. One of DWA Uniforms’ newest products—tattoo cover-ups—has generated a lot of interest, says Shea. Made of flesh-tone Spandex, the product is available in four hues, and in three styles—full-sleeve, half (to cover the upper arm or lower leg), and ankle (to cover wrist and forearm, or ankle and foot instep).
Because of the growing informality of everyday wear, DWA can now convert all neckties to pre-tied versions with adjustable bands. “Ties are coming back, and not only is [knotting a tie] a lost art, but we have a lot of females who may or may not know how to do it,” says Shea. What’s more, he adds, the pre-tied version lends consistency to staff members’ uniforms.
The ubiquitous use of smart phones and tablets is another trend influencing uniform design. Last year, Happy Chef Uniforms introduced a line called #SMART apparel, clothing that can store and protect mobile devices
“We saw a great response to the line’s introduction, so we’ve expanded our collection further in 2015,” says David Barr, vice president of sales. “Mobile security features can now be found on more coats, pants and aprons.” The line’s pants have a thigh pocket with a secure Velcro closure and water-resistant lining to keep phones safe and protected from spills. #SMART aprons have pockets big enough to carry tablets, while #SMART coats feature a secure chest pocket and ports for earbud wires, so listening to music is easier.
Cool and Blue
Happy Chef has had success with its performance fabric, called CookCool, which features mesh vents that keep the wearer cool. It’s available in coats, pants and headwear. Barr reports that white is the best-selling color for Happy Chef, followed by black and charcoal. However, blue is coming on strong, so the company has added more shades for 2015. “Midnight-blue pinstripe and heather-blue fabrics are two additions to our collection that pair well with crisp white coats for a trendier look,” he says.
Conveying a Message
Barr has found that smaller catering firms are looking to convey a marketing message through their style. “For example, a company that specializes in farm-to-table cuisine might choose our green tea or denim products to help authenticate the brand,” he says.
In fact, all three companies report that catering companies are taking advantage of the wide variety of uniform options available to differentiate their look and, at times, tailor it to the event.
“Having a large selection of products allows our customers to choose what features are most important to them,” says Masimore of ChefUniforms.com.
“There are some catering firms that will order uniforms for special occasions,” says DWA’s Shea, recalling one in Texas that ordered short-sleeve chef coats for the entire staff specifically for one event. He adds that staff members at DWA Apparel will go out and look at retail fashion, incorporating current trends into their designs.
Keeping product offerings fresh appeals to customers, says Happy Chef’s Barr. “Like the restaurant segment, our catering customers are open to new uniform styles,” he says. “The catering staff is a part of an event’s ambience, so a uniform’s look and feel are especially important.”
Best Foot Forward
The look and feel of a uniform extends from head to toe, which is why culinary footwear company MOZO continues to launch new styles to respond to customers’ wants and needs.
MOZO’s Fall 2015 launches reflect this strategy. “Chefs love a good slip-on shoe, so we took the well-loved men’s Maverick and recreated it to be a true slip-on with the upcoming Fallbrook,” says Makenna Thatcher, MOZO’s marketing director. “We have also noticed our customers love leather, so we are coming out with the men’s Maverick in leather and expanding our women’s line to include three brand-new, all-leather styles.”
MOZO’s shoes combine comfort and style, so popular lines reflect trends that go beyond footwear. “Rustic is definitely in right now,” says Thatcher. “Our Natural collection is really resonating; I think it hits on growing values for items that are thoughtful but urban, and have a handcrafted and artisanal feel to them.” The line includes low- and high-cut versions in canvas, leather and brown bison leather, with an inner lining featuring a butcher apron-inspired print.
The company’s other best-sellers include, for men, the Forza, a slip-on clog with gel insoles, a lightweight frame and slip-resistant outsoles; and Sharkz, ultra-lightweight shoes designed for speed and comfort, with gel insoles, side vents for breathability and synthetic leather uppers to make them easy to clean. The Forza slip-on clog is also popular with women, along with the Maven, a classic sneaker style that can be worn as a slip-on or as a lace-up. The Maven’s waxed canvas uppers make it spill-friendly.
As with uniforms, black leads the pack for customers’ color choices, says Thatcher, though MOZO has been designing shoes with seasonal colors to reflect how chefs cook with seasonal ingredients.
“The best trend of all, and one we are proud to lead, is that footwear is becoming so good-looking that it can be worn in the kitchen and on the street with ease,” says Thatcher. “In the past five to seven years, chefs have become more public than ever, while still working long hours in the kitchen. It’s so important for them to have a shoe they can wear in the kitchen without changing for an event.”
A polka-dot print adds a modern touch to the Traditional Fit Chef Coat with fabric-covered buttons from ChefUniforms.com (opposite left). At DWA Uniforms, classic blacks and whites still sell best. At left is the unisex DWA Executive Chef Coat, in both black and white with piping. DWA Uniforms’ Batiste Café Shirt is available in eight colors (below).
Functional trims have helped to elevate the look of uniforms, such as the Women’s Contrast Trim Long Sleeve Chef Coat from ChefUniforms.com (far left). Short-sleeve chefs’ coats are popular at ChefUniforms.com, including this white Basic Fit coat with a snap front (left). The Batiste Camp Shirt from DWA Uniforms (above, in steel grey and black) is wrinkle-resistant. Noticing a growing demand for the hue, Happy Chef has added more shades of blue to its collection (opposite right).
DWA Uniforms’ new Batiste Café Shirt (below left, in black) features a modern collar and no pocket for a clean finish. The #SMART chef coat from Happy Chef (below middle and right) has secure storage pockets for mobile devices and ports for earbud wires.
Happy Chef #SMART pants (above left) feature thigh pockets with Velcro closures and water-resistant lining to keep phones safe. ChefUniforms.com carries a rainbow of colors for its many styles, including an avocado option for its Women’s Long Sleeve Economy Chef Coat (above).
MOZO’s Forza slip-on clog (top left) is popular with both men and women. The Divine clog in black leather (below) features a three-inch wedge heel.
MOZO’s Natural collection for men includes a canvas low-cut style (left). The Maven classic sneaker (below, in Lunar Rock, red and black; and opposite, bottom left, in black and white) is a popular women’s style.