Should Your Restaurant Staff Dress Up for Halloween?

Costumes can be frightfully fun, as long as they don’t offend customers or create safety hazards.
entertainer
Embrace the playful spirit of Halloween and create an atmosphere that customers will remember by having your restaurant staff dress up in costume. (Photo: Pressmaster/Shutterstock)

Looking for ways to spice up your restaurant atmosphere this Halloween? You might add a few decorative pumpkins or stick decals of black cats to your window, or mix up some spooky cocktails. But should you allow your restaurant staff to come to work in a costume?

Steve Zagor, dean of the School of Restaurant and Culinary Management at the Institute of Culinary Education, said letting restaurant staff dress up for Halloween will delight customers.

“When it comes to the holidays, people go to restaurants to celebrate,” he said. “Halloween is at the forefront — a lot of people don’t go to parties or go out, and it’s often on a school night, so the only opportunity to celebrate will be going out to lunch or dinner. You can transplant yourself into a restaurant and pretend you’re having a celebration if the staff is dressed up.”

Related: 7 Tips for Throwing the Ultimate Halloween Bar Party

However, people can sometimes go a little overboard with Halloween costumes, which could take the fun out of the holiday at your restaurant. If you decide to give your staff the green light on dressing up this Halloween, here are a few tips to follow.

Give clear guidelines

Dressing up can be so exciting that some people forget the outfit still needs to be sensible for the workplace. To help, Zagor said restaurant owners should provide clear guidelines on what counts as an appropriate costume for dinner service.

steve-zagor

No matter how fun or creative the costume is, it’s not worth the risk of offending a diner or compromising the safety of your restaurant, said Steve Zagor of the Institute of Culinary Education in New York.(Photo: Steve Zagor)

“Your costume at the restaurant is going to be different than what you’d wear to an after-hours Halloween party,” said Zagor. “Costumes, like everything, have to be regulated. You need to draw lines in the sand about appropriate costumes that don’t depict anything that might be contentious or inappropriate. The costumes have to be very G-rated.”

Costumes that are too revealing, political or religious in nature, themed around race or gender issues or otherwise offensive to members of the community must be avoided, he said — or you could end up getting sued.

If you run a kid-friendly restaurant, your staff should avoid costumes that might frighten children.

“Many kids are afraid of clowns, for example. You don’t want to upset the kids — and ultimately the parents,” said Zagor.

Costumes also should not interfere with staff performing their regular duties, like carrying heavy trays, busing tables and mixing drinks.

“These are costumes you’d wear to the workplace. They have to hold up under lots of regular activity, whereas a regular costume might not,” he said.

Related: 6 Last-minute Ways Your Business Can Capitalize on Halloween

Safety must come first

Whether your employees are working the front or back of the house, their costumes should never put the health or safety of your restaurant at risk.

“When you’re around food, there’s still sanitation requirements. You can’t have long hair out, even if it’s fake, or long fingernails that might fall into food,” said Zagor.

Front-of-house staff may be able to create head-to-toe costumes that are safe and appropriate for the restaurant, but since back-of-house staff work with knives, stoves and other potential dangers in a tight environment, they need to be extra careful when choosing an outfit, said Zagor.

“When you’re in the kitchen, there’s no room for lack of sanitation or restrictions on moving around. There are just too many hazards. They should stick to impressionistic costumes or maybe a funny hat — something that conveys the idea to everyone on the team but is less involved than those in the front of house.”

Related: How to Pass a Health Inspection With Flying Colors

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Costumes should not interfere with staff performing their regular duties, like carrying heavy trays, busing tables and mixing drinks.
(Photo: IVASHstudio/Shutterstock)

Approve costumes in advance

Giving staff rules on what to wear will guide them toward costumes suitable for the restaurant. However, you should also consider creating an approval process to help weed out any dubious outfits before the big day, said Zagor.

“Employees should tell management what they’re wearing in advance so they can determine if it’s appropriate for the restaurant, knowing the clientele. There should be no misunderstanding.”

If you have any concerns about what an employee wants to wear, gently suggest alternative costumes that fit the guidelines.

“In general, costumes that reflect life are good. Maybe come dressed as a fruit or an animal, or you can create a theme for all the staff at your restaurant to follow.”

How to handle inappropriate costumes

Despite providing clear guidelines and running your staff’s outfits through an approval process, there’s still a chance an employee’s Halloween costume just isn’t right in a restaurant environment. So what do you do?

“You have to send them home,” said Zagor. “Anytime an employee comes dressed inappropriately, whether they’re wearing a costume or not, you reserve the right to send someone home if you have to. The staff knows that.”

Related: The 7 Top Reasons People Get Fired

No matter how fun or creative the costume is, it’s not worth the risk of offending a diner or compromising the safety of your restaurant, he added. However, with Zagor’s recommendations, your staff will likely embrace the playful spirit of Halloween and create an atmosphere that customers will remember.

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