When Sam Holloway at Crafting A Strategy first posed the question about the role taproom staff clothing plays in a guest’s experience, I simply thought it was a mere decision by the brewery owner based on the atmosphere they are trying to create. While this is ultimately still true, your staff’s attire affects not only the minds of your guests, but also those behind your bar wearing the required uniform (or lack thereof).
In this article, we will discuss the perks of the more casual approach and offer additional aspects of attire to consider when creating some sort of brewery dress code.
Research from a team of psychological scientists from California State University, Northridge and Columbia University found that “formal clothing is typically introduced in settings that are explicitly not intimate — essentially making formal clothing ‘socially distant’ clothing.” In this context, formal clothing refers more to a suit and tie, rather than a branded polo; however, when choosing your dress code, or lack thereof, consider the influence it will have on your guests.
No brewery’s goal is to be “socially distant.” Engagement should be a buzzword at your brewery and building lasting relationships with your guests your ultimate goal. Your staff’s attire should be identifiable, easy on the eyes and properly represent your company. This can go beyond the basic branded shirt, to hats, jackets and any other piece of gear you put your logo on help promote your brand.
Via an online survey, we asked 1,500 craft beer drinkers if they prefer their server be dressed in, regular clothes (i.e. jeans and a brewery shirt) vs. something more standardized (i.e. black slacks and a branded polo). Eight-seven percent of all respondents preferred the more casual approach.
First, consider the benefit of having your staff be easily identifiable. In smaller breweries with a single bar, it’s a fair assumption that those behind the bar are the employees. However, once you begin to study larger breweries, there are often servers helping guests at non-bar areas, and in these situations it becomes important to be able to tell them apart from any old guest.
We may often take for granted that guests will be able to identify who’s working. However, for first time guests, easing the ordering process ultimately results in them spending more and returning sooner. In addition to being identifiable for the purpose of serving beer, it is also important for them to be recognizable in case of an emergency. A branded T-shirt can help make this part of the experience smoother (or a Dickies-style work shirt if the aim is to be a little more official.)
A simple name tag can also be beneficial. In a prior Secret Hopper study, we found that when staff introduce themselves, a guest tips 15.5 percent higher. While not quite a personal as a “Hi, I’m Andrew,” a name tag does make a staff member more approachable merely by giving a name to the person serving the beer.
You may also want to consider having your managers wear something different than regular staff. Of course, if your brewery consists of you and your husband, this may cause problems, but if you regularly have a staff of 20+, having the taproom manager dressed in a branded polo could be a beneficial touch.
At Mich.-based Presidential Brewing, the staff wears a black logo tee, which is a piece of apparel only provided to staff. Guests are only able to purchase the same shirt in red, blue and grey — not the exclusive black version.
“Our staff shirts says Secret Service on the back to indicate they work here,” Cofounder Kayleigh Lohse stated. “It drives me nuts when I can’t tell if someone is an employee or just a patron wearing the merch they bought.”
Company pride and exclusivity
Creating a sense of brewery pride should be your ultimate goal, regardless of your choice in attire. At Rhinegeist in Cincinnati, while they don’t require employees to wear their branded merchandise, they offer their employees perks to encourage them to want to do so by making it highly appealing– and most do. Aislinn Brown, the taproom assistant general manager at Rhinegeist Brewery, shared that their brewery just implemented a written dress code for their staff in June. She shared the following:
“As opposed to strict directives, we simply set some guidelines regarding appropriateness/professionalism so our approach definitely falls on the more casual side of the spectrum. For larger events, we do require our staff to wear the T-shirt released in conjunction with the event both to streamline messaging/promote the event itself and also to make them easily identifiable as staff members. Other than that, we just ask that they present a polished, professional look. We don’t require that they wear Rhinegeist branded apparel although many choose to.”
In addition to the above, Brown also described a unique program Rhinegeist has in place to encourage staff to wear their brewery’s merchandise while at work. Their marketing/apparel department releases a yearly catalog of Rhinegeist branded apparel that is exclusive to its employees and includes items such as plaid/flannel button-downs, Carhartt outerwear, PFG lightweight button-downs and specialty ladies items such as Patagonia athletic. Each full-time staff member gets a $100 yearly allowance to spend on staff wear items.
Jon Colasurd, general manager at Rhinegeist, stated: “I’d like if employees wore our branded merchandise when they work, but I also feel it’s important to not force them to do so and let them feel comfortable and be able to express themselves.”
Ease and expression
Many like the concept of standardized uniforms, whether an issued brewery T-shirt or a branded polo, because it makes coming to work easy. But on the other hand, many people like the opportunity to choose their own clothing as a way to express themselves (thus, making them more comfortable with themselves and guests at your brewery). Whatever the attire, it adds to the culture of your brewery.
Matthew Steinberg, cofounder of Exhibit ‘A’ Brewing Co., pays to have his staff’s own clothing get printed or embroidered. Four times a year his brewery will do collections where staff can bring in any article of their choosing and slap their brewery’s logo on it. This is a perfect combination of personal comforts meets branded attire.
Selling your merch
Staff proudly wearing your brand and enjoying their job can encourage guests to also purchase merchandise and become walking brand advocates for your brewery. With more and more craft beer fans taking brewcations, many guests already plan to bring home souvenirs from their adventures. When they see your staff rocking a sweet T-shirt, they are subconsciously given the thought that “I, too, could look awesome in this shirt.” Always display merchandise in a visible location with prices easy to read.
Other breweries’ merch
You should also consider the affects of your staff wearing other breweries’ merchandise. There is a huge sense of community in craft beer. However, at the end of the day, every business owner should want to be their guests go to brewery. Once again, there is no right or wrong answer. Ben Wolff, director of guest experience at Denver Beer Co., shares the following:
“We ask that the staff not rock brewery shirts for other places that are downtown with us. We love everyone and we love craft beer, [but] at the same time, downtown, they are competitors for the same money. That is not to say that if someone asked where else they should be going, that we wouldn’t let them know all of the amazing places we also love going. It has just a weird look when a customer sees an employee at one establishment rocking a shirt from another place that is only a few blocks away. It gives that feeling like ‘man, the staff must like that other brewery more than their own, I wonder why.'”
Like Rhinegeist, Denver Beer makes it easy for staff to wear their brand. They offer employees a 40 percent discount on all merchandise. Like Exhibit ‘A’, they also give staff the opportunity to get any piece of clothing embroidered with their logo several times a year. Wolff stated: “This allows our staff to maintain their own personal style and show some DBC pride.”
What matters most
More important than what an employee is wearing is their hygiene. No one wants a dirty glass and no wants to be served by someone with pour hygiene. A clean shirt, pants and shoes are a must. Granted, a little grain powder all over your bartender’s slacks won’t hurt anyone. As shared with us by an Atlanta Brewery: “[Staff] can have awesome beards, but still need to be groomed and professional.”
To quote someone who is on a much different plane than craft breweries, Patricia Napier-Fitzpatrick, founder of the Etiquette School of New York, states:
“If you look the part, you’re more easily able to act the part. You’ll have more confidence, you’ll gain respect from coworkers and you’ll make a better impression on clients. We’re in a very fast-paced world. We look someone over very quickly, and even though we’re told not to make judgements of people, we are making assumptions about them.”
Her teachings may be an extreme to the world of craft beer, but the general sentiment still applies: Be professional, no matter what your attire may consist of.
Encourage your staff to always be presentable and act professional. They are the first line of brand advocates for your business. Your brewery’s presentation should reflect your values and the image you aim to create. Keep your staff happy, comfortable and proud to work at your establishment. The more positive experiences that surround craft beer, the more both your staff and guests will take pride in your brand.
Andrew Coplon is a founder of Secret Hopper, a mystery shopping company for craft beer businesses.