Hotel uniforms have come a long way. Gone are the days of the stiff, formal front-desk suits and all-polyester housekeeping garments. Today, it’s about stylish comfort-wear, breathable fabrics and, in some cases, even high fashion.
The female service staff at Shangri-La Hotel Toronto’s Lobby Lounge sport stunning Ming-era inspired dresses from high-end fashion designer Sunny Fong, creative director for Vawk. The collaboration captured global attention when MailOnline Travel named Shangri-La Toronto among the world leaders for best-dressed hotel staff.
Not only are the uniforms a fashion showpiece, they are an important visual representation of the hotel’s brand, says Jens Moesker, area general manager, Shangri-La Toronto. “When people walk through the main floor, those uniforms help tell our story.”
The Lobby Lounge is just one of many areas of the hotel where the right uniform can deliver a strong brand message. Moesker says after the property design, uniform selection is one of the more complex jobs. “Not only does a uniform speak to the brand, it also has to speak to the local architecture and culture of each property, as well as the seasons.”
He notes the property has “Quite a battery of uniforms. Naturally, we also have special uniforms for people working in more hazardous areas such as engineering or the kitchen.”
Whatever the choice, a uniform has to be a blend of form, design and functionality, as “It’s better to have staff act naturally and be comfortable,” he says.
Moesker estimates each set of uniforms runs about $300 per employee (based on two uniforms per staff member). Typically, uniform designs are reviewed on a three- to four-year cycle. At that point, he works closely with employees, department by department, to reach a consensus. “A uniform redesign is a great opportunity to get employees involved in the process,” Moesker says.
While some stylistic choices are unique to the Shangri-La Hotel Toronto’s property, many of the back-of-house uniforms are standardized throughout the chain with some slight variations. This allows operations to take advantage of economies of scale. “We try our best to maximize on purchasing power in terms of volume,” Moesker says.
STANDARDS WITH A TWIST
Even where brand standards have to be maintained, there’s always room for creative thinking. Christophe Le Chatton, general manager at the Omni King Edward, says the company has specific standards to follow when selecting uniforms. The standards set out by Omni fall under four distinct hotel categories: city centre, traditional, resort and golf. “We fit into the traditional category because the King Edward has a historical element,” says Le Chatton.
He works with Cintas and its designers to select uniforms for various functional areas: food and beverage, doorman, front desk, banquet servers, housekeeping and engineering. The hotel purchases all its uniforms with the exception of the kitchen uniforms, which are rented.
While uniform styles are similar for historical properties, there is variance in colour schemes, depending on each hotel’s decor.
“Fabric choice and comfort are important, especially for employees with labour-intensive roles, Le Chatton says. “Housekeeping and doormen need fabrics that breathe easier and follow their body movements without going baggy. The good news is that today’s fabrics are much more elastic and less rigid.”
But, that doesn’t mean sacrificing style, he says. In addition to selecting classic modern motifs, hotels in the Omni family individualize their uniforms based on the city they represent. For example, a doorman in Nashville may sport a cowboy hat, while a counterpart in Toronto may be seen wearing a Canada Goose jacket on the coldest winter days. “Every hotel has a bit of personalization,” Le Chatton says.
Depending on the function, staff members are assigned two or three uniforms. The hotel provides dry cleaning, but laundering is handled by the individual. Le Chatton estimates each uniform lasts six months to a year.
Like most establishments, footwear is chosen by employees based on hotel standards and recommendations, he adds. “People love to differentiate themselves with shoes. You can’t blame them.” Each employee is provided a $70 allotment every year for footwear, with additional support for special needs.
As far as the overall image, Le Chatton says it’s important that uniforms reflect the guest experience. “There’s a certain formality given we serve a lot of business people, but we don’t want to be ostentatious or stiff either. It’s important to not just reflect the Monday-to-Friday business guest, but the weekend leisure ones as well.”
At Groupe Germain, uniform choices come in many colours and sizes. For Le Germain Hotels, the company works with Montreal designer Marie Saint-Pierre for female staff uniforms and Toronto designer Bustle for male staff. It also works with Image Folie for room-attendant uniforms.
Going the designer route is not without its challenges, says Paul de La Durantaye, GM for Hotel Le Germain, Maple Leaf Square. “Working with individual designers on custom-made uniforms tends to make the selection process longer than with off-the-shelf. We have to make sure what we choose fits with our identity and each location, because every Le Germain has its own flair.”
Le Germain Hotels ensures its employees’ uniforms are standardized across the country. Currently, the colour palette of choice is grey and black with some elements of the brand’s signature emerald green. Each site can still add its own touch by accessorizing with bowties or other colour accents.
La Durantaye says the hotel goes through the added work to bring custom fashions to the hotels because “It’s essential that staff feel good about what they’re wearing. When employees feel good in their own skin, they project a positive image. If they’re uncomfortable it will show in their demeanour around people.”
Alt Hotels has gone a slightly different route, says Julie Brisebois, general manager of Alt Hotel in Ottawa, who has been charged with uniform choices for the banner since it opened nine years ago. “We decided from day one we would work with jeans,” she says. “But, we don’t want to look too laid back. We also wanted to maintain a professional look.”
The jeans of choice are sourced from Second Clothing Yoga Jeans. For the brand’s female staff, the jeans are paired with tunic-style tops from Quebec-based designer Myco Anna. Men’s shirts are sourced from No Limits Design.
Housekeeping represents the largest team in each hotel, so attention must be paid to durability and comfort. “You have to keep in mind they will wash the clothing every day,” says Brisebois. “More importantly, a design also has to fit all sizes which is the biggest challenge. That’s where we pay the most attention with the designers to make sure what we choose looks good on all shapes and sizes.”
However, Brisebois admits it’s not easy getting consensus. “I’ve learned over the years that it will never be unanimous.”
Volume 28, Number 5
Written By Denise Deveau