Secret Hopper

Mystery Shopping and Consulting for Craft Beer Businesses

Brewery Staff Attire

When Sam at Crafting A Strategy first posed the question about the role taproom staff members’ clothing plays in a guest’s experience, I simply thought that the matter was a mere decision made by the brewery owner based on the atmosphere they are looking to create. While this is ultimately still true, your staffs’ attire affects not only the minds of your guests, but also those behind your bar wearing that required, or lack thereof, uniform.

Let’s start with the effects of a uniform on your guests. Via an online survey, we asked 1500 craft beer drinkers what they prefer their server dressed in, regular clothes (i.e. jeans and a brewery shirt) vs something a little more standardized (i.e. black slacks and a branded polo). 87 percent of all respondents preferred the more casual approach. We will discuss the greater perks of the more casual approach and offer additional aspects of attire to be considered when creating some sort of brewery dress code.

Identifiable – First, consider the benefit of having your staff easily identifiable. The ability to identify a twenty something, red beard sporting, brewery t-shirt wearing guest from a twenty something, red beard sporting brewery t-shirt wearing staff member is more important than you think. 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, as regulars of breweries, that guests will be able to identify who’s working. However, for first time guests, making the process of ordering as easy as possible will ultimately result in them spending more and returning sooner. A branded shirt can help make this part of the experience smoother. Many breweries responded they support a Dickies style work shirt if they are aiming to be a little more formal than just a t-shirt.

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% 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.

In addition to having your staff identifiable for the purpose of serving your delicious beers and giving payment, it is also important for them to be recognizable in case of an emergency. Looking for a doctor on a plane may always be a scramble, but calming and assisting a situation in your brewery should not. A good uniform, even something as simple as your brewery’s logo on a t-shirt, provides instant recognition and helps promote your brand.

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. Some may argue that a branded polo projects the “chain restaurant vibe”; however, this concern can be countered by the value in having your figures of authority stand out.

Company Pride - 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 tee 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 their 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, states, “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.”

Creating a sense of brewery pride should be your ultimate goal, regardless of your choice in attire. At Rhinegeist, while they don’t require employees 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. Many of your staff may love this sense of community. Community demonstrates your passion for your brand.

At Presidential Brewing, the staff wears a black logo tee, which like Rhinegeist, 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. Co-Founder Kayleigh Lohse states, “(Our staff) shirts says ‘Secret Service’ on the back to indicate they work here. It drives me nuts when I can’t tell if someone is an employee or just a patron wearing the merch they bought.”

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. How many times have you sat front of the mirror trying to pick out the perfect flannel or super rare brewery shirt to impress your brewmaster? Ok, maybe not many, but not having to worry about what to wear can make a person’s day easier and some people like not having to worry about decisions like this.

On the other hand, many people like the opportunity to choose their own clothing. Clothing is an easy way for your staff to express themselves. Their attire helps create the culture your brewery emits. While some may like not having to worry about what to wear, others savor the opportunity to be an individual and use their clothes to stand out. People feel more confident wearing clothes they enjoy and this helps build self-esteem, making them more comfortable with themselves and guests at your brewery.

If more formal uniforms are required, consider the ultimate vibe you are looking to achieve at your brewery. 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.

It should be no breweries goal to create an experience that can be described as “socially distant.” Engagement should be a buzzword at your brewery and building lasting relationships with your guests your ultimate goal. Your staffs’ attire should be identifiable, easy on the eyes, and properly present your company.  This attire can go beyond the basic branded shirt. Hats, jackets, and any other piece of gear you put your logo on help promote your brand.

Matthew Steinberg, Co-Founder of Exhibit ‘A’ Brewing Company, 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.

Every brewery aims to create a unique experience. Attire, while not often acknowledged, is a key part of this. Before your guests even walk through your doors, they may have preconceived expectations of what they will see based off your location, outside marketing, and word of mouth. This needs to be part of the discussion when deciding your policy. A brewery in a hardworking, middle-class neighborhood probably shouldn’t take the formal approach. However, a brewpub next door to a 5-star hotel may see benefit to conforming to their surroundings. Whichever approach you decide upon, wear it with confidence.

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.

Building your brewery coincides with building your brand. You certainly won’t sell more merchandise by having your staff wear regular clothes or your neighboring brewery’s t-shirt. The more guests see your logo on staff, the more guests will also desire to support your company following a positive visit. The more guests wearing your logo around town, the more other beer drinkers will be intrigued and pay a visit to your taproom. It all started with that great t-shirt your bartender was wearing as they poured a guest a beer.

 Other Brewery’s 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. Nobody ever started a business to be #2. Consider whether you want your guests looking at the logo of your neighbor’s brewery or seeing a wall of your beautiful logo. Once again, there is no right or wrong answer.

 Ben Wolff, Director of Guest Experience at Denver Beer Company, 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 Company 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 states, “this allows our staff to maintain their own personal style and show some DBC pride.”

On the other hand, many businesses may encourage staff to wear other craft beer shirts out of support for the industry as a whole. Additionally, frequenting other breweries can be a source of inspiration, both positive and negative, for your staff. Other companies, however, may see that as not being loyal. Beer is a business so make the best choice for your brewery.

What Matters Most – Hygiene and Knowledge - More important than what an employee is wearing is their hygiene. As shared with us by an Atlanta brewery, “they [staff] can have awesome beards, but still need to be groomed and professional.” 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.

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 co-workers, 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; however, 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. They should be knowledgeable about your brewery’s history, culture, and offerings. Regardless of whether they are clad in your competitor’s shirt or a freshly pressed, branded dress shirt, knowledge is key. 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. We are all in it to help craft beer grow. The more positive experiences that surround craft beer, the more both your staff and guests will take pride in your brand.

We would love to offer any brewery that reaches out after reading this article one free Secret Hop*. Please email andrew@secrethopper.com to schedule. Cheers!

*1 free visit per brewery per calendar year