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SafeFood© - Do Appearances Matter?

During a TV ad for a national restaurant chain, a conversation about restaurant employee appearances began. Why? Well, I noted that someone at the corporate office must have had a screw loose to ok this ad with female wait staff members (note plural) with unrestrained long hair shown happily serving guests. I am glad they were happy while doing their jobs but as a customer, I would not have been happy with the hair hovering over my food. I am not aware of any foodborne illness traced back to hair in the food, but you have to admit it is not a good merchandising technique.

Because Food Code says all food handlers must effectively restrain their hair, I assume the restaurant has a policy about this. So, where is the boss? Food Code also does not allow any jewelry (except a plain ring band) – so why do I often see (and hear others comment) about food workers with nose rings, necklaces, etc? Fingernail polish also should not be worn – yet this piece of information is often news to those working in operations.

Individual expression is fine, but if I were the owner of a restaurant, I would expect staff to understand that they represent the restaurant – and if there is not a customer coming through the door, then there is no business. Cultural and ethnic expressions or norms SHOULD NOT TRUMP the science-based recommendations of Food Code, which are in place to protect the public’s health.

Clearly defining expectations in terms of attire and appearance, and then monitoring to be sure these are met is managements’ job. It is the employees’ job to meet these. If these fundamentals get in the way of an employee’s self-expression, then perhaps that employee should be working elsewhere. For the sake of your customers, please work together - appearances do matter.

Submitted by Catherine Strohbehn, PhD., RD, CFSP January 7, 2008