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Dress for Success - March 2017

FEC policies vary on staff uniforms, piercings, hair color, and more

by Mike Bederka

Perception is everything. So, think what happens when a family of four walks into your facility for the first time and an employee with ripped jeans and a sauce-stained shirt greets them. It can create a negative impression that lasts throughout the visit—and perhaps beyond.

For that reason, Elaine Scovill, general manager at Funhaven in Ottawa, Canada, strives for professionalism and uniformity with her family entertainment center’s (FEC) dress code.

“It lets people know we’re clean and safe,” she explains. “It gives them confidence in our ability to be able to serve them well. Your staff are your facility.”

Most FEC owners and operators would likely frown upon staff wearing things like tattered pants, but beyond that, policies vary on the nuance of their dress code, which may involve everything from the clothes, to the tattoos, hair color, and piercings, to even nail polish.

The Clothes Make the Staff

Scovill’s staff must wear a black shirt with an embroidered Funhaven logo. Management invests in pricier tops, which cost the FEC $35 each, for everyone except the tech team. (They wear logoed T-shirts.) The facility generally opts for higher-quality gear because it fits employees better and needs to be replaced less frequently, making economic sense in the long run.

“I have the same shirts from five years ago,” she says. “They don’t fade. I’ve replaced a button or two, but that’s it.”

Employees also have to wear closed-toed shoes with socks and dark-colored pants. The FEC recently disallowed long skirts for safety and maneuverability reasons, she says. “They can’t really do their job of putting people in a rock climbing harness if they have a full-length skirt on.”

However, they have relaxed their stance on yoga pants—a long-time staff request—since wearing something more flexible helps them with tasks like climbing around the jungle gym with young guests, Scovill says.

Glenn Feldman, owner of Oasis Family Fun Center, in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, describes his code dress as a bit more lax. Staff must wear logoed T-shirts or hoodies, but on the bottom, they can wear jeans, khakis, or shorts of any color “as long as it doesn’t look like they just rolled out of bed,” he says.

For Feldman, it comes down to creating an easy-to-follow policy, so he doesn’t want staff to have to run to the store for special work pants.

At Mulligan Family Fun Center, in Torrance, California, employees must wear their own black pants (no jeans), and the FEC issues a collared shirt with its logo on the front and “guests services” screen-printed on the back, describes general manager Kevin Altobelli. They have a “business causal” policy for management, who receive better quality logoed shirts but have the flexibility to wear other tops as well.

Listening to feedback from their female employees, the FEC soon will add a women’s cut shirt for a better fit, he adds.

Follow the Rules

While Altobelli plans to make some accommodations with the shirts, he takes a firmer line on the FEC’s policy on no visible tattoos or piercings. His one exception: Women can wear one pair of earrings no larger than a dime in diameter in the lobe.

“Employees want us to lighten up, but we have no plans to,” he says. “Even with the philosophy that ‘times are changing,’ we still have what some would consider an old-fashioned outlook. When parents put their children’s safety in our hands, we want to have the most professional-looking team members.”

Feldman and Scovill, too, don’t allow visible tattoos in most incidences. However, in Funhaven’s food prep areas, staff can roll up their sleeves to reveal any tattoos, but they need to put them back down once they become customer-facing.

The two also have common policies regarding facial piercings. Studs get the green light, but hoops must be removed.

They differ on hair color, though, with Feldman having no formal policy. “It’s OK as long as it doesn’t make them look scary to a small child,” he says. “We focus on kids under age 12, and we want staff to be approachable to them.”

On the other hand, Scovill requires staff to not dye their hair an unnatural color. She made this change recently in response to a growing number of employees with rainbow-colored hair.

Altobelli also mandates a natural color, one of the many uniform/appearance policies detailed in the employee handbook.

“It covers everything from head to toe, including headwear, jewelry, nail polish, and shoes,” he says.

For instance, beyond the earrings rule mentioned above, Mulligan only allows wedding rings and bands for jewelry. (For safety sake, management doesn’t want a loose bracelet or necklace to get caught on or pulled into something.) Beards must be neatly trimmed and maintained, and an employee has to request time off to grow out his beard. And nail polish needs to be a solid color, and the nail can’t be more than a half-inch over the end of the finger.

“From a consistency and enforcement standpoint, having a strict dress code has made it easier to enforce,” he says. “Everyone abides by the same standards. As fashion and style trends come and go, there’s no need to update the policy and constantly have to define what is and isn’t professional, as we all know that can be interpreted in many different ways.”

Be Black and White

How detailed is the dress code at Funhaven? Employees know exactly how many buttons can be undone on their shirts (two).

“When you’re dealing with 100 staff members, you have to be black and white,” Scovill says. “If there’s no policy, you’re going to have people going against the grain.”

Before potential employees at Oasis Family Fun Center hit send on the online job application, they must read the detailed “personal appearance” section and acknowledge they can comply with the requirements. “I want to set expectations upfront,” Feldman notes.

Beyond having uniformity in dress code expectations, the FEC must be cohesive in the enforcement of the rules, Scovill says. If one manager lets open-toed shoes or light-colored pants pass while another one doesn’t, it can create resentment between staff and the stricter manager.

“I don’t like going up to an employee and telling him to tuck in his shirt,” she says. “It’s uncomfortable, but we all have to do it.”

Still Room for Creativity

Funhaven staff members follow a fairly uniform and strict dress code policy, but GM Elaine Scovill says the FEC allows flairs of creativity in certain situations. The birthday party team can personalize their bright orange apron almost however they choose. One employee, a big Pokémon fan, covers his with character patches. Another glues glitter all over hers. Scovill has just one rule here: nothing potentially offensive to families, such as beer logos. Fortunately, staffers generally keep it age-appropriate. “They understand not to push their luck,” she says.