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National Restaurant Association - Now on restaurants’ fashion runway: eco-apparel

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Now on restaurants’ fashion runway: eco-apparel

The hot new fashion in restaurant attire soon could be eco-friendly uniforms.

National Restaurant Association members Pizza Fusion and Snappy Salads are dressing their teams in eco-friendly fabrics, such as organic cotton and hemp.

Virtually all employees of Big Bowl’s eight Asian restaurants wear uniforms spun from trashed plastic beverage bottles. It’s the result of what Big Bowl President Dan McGowan describes as a three-year learning curve.

The chain started out with server uniforms made from bamboo. They looked fine, but didn’t stand up to restaurant work, McGowan said.

Big Bowl switched to organic cotton, but the colors faded.

Choice No. 3 was clothing made from the familiar containers for water and soda. Big Bowl stopped selling bottled water some time ago because of ecological considerations. “It’s ironic that now plastic water bottles are being dug out of the landfills to make our uniforms,” says McGowan.

He says the new clothing, which ranges from chef’s jackets to busboys’ apparel, costs the same “or maybe a little less” than conventional items. Upkeep is less costly for the employees because they don't need to dry clean the clothing.

McGowan says he sometimes laments the $50,000 outlay for the bamboo get-ups, but “it was part of the education process.”

Other examples of restaurants that pledged to make sustainable employee uniforms key features of their operations include upstart concept LYFE, a fast-casual collaboration of fine-dining chefs and former McDonald’s executives. Quiznos employees wear caps made from recycled plastic soda bottles.

Big Bowl's McGowan offers these tips for operators considering eco-apparel:

• Find the right supplier and make it a partnership. Work with them to identify the right materials and styles, now and as other options emerge.

• Start with small tests − one location for a few months.

• Be prepared for a few mistrials before hitting the right option.

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