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Restaurant Design: Five Questions With Richard Haines

Richard Haines Fashion designer Richard Haines is fusing high style with haute cuisine. Haines, who has designed for major New York Houses, including Bill Blass, Calvin Klein and Perry Ellis, brings a fine eye to his shirts, which are now being worn by servers at top New York city restaurants Union Square Cafe, Savoy and Patroon.


RR: Why fashion clothing in restaurants?

RH: Why not? Fashion has entered the mainstream consciousness - customers expect to see a fashion sensibility as part of their dining experience.

There is an enormous amount of thought and effort put into the presentation of the food and décor - it stands to reason that the look of the staff should be just as polished. It amazes me to walk into a beautiful room and the servers are wearing white shirts and bad ties. People are very sophisticated and expect to be dazzled when they go to a restaurant. It also reinforces the identity of a restaurant in the customers mind.

RR: What do you think are the benefits to a consistent uniform for the staff?

RH: There are so many benefits. First, the staff usually makes the first impression on the customer - that in itself is a reason for well turned out servers. It also provides a consistent message about the tone of the restaurant. A well-designed uniform gives the servers a stronger sense of identification with the restaurant's brand and instills an extra sense of pride in their involvement with the dining establishment. That enhances everyone's experience. The customer has had a pleasurable experience and hopefully the servers have more money in their pockets at the end of the night.

RR: What are some of the restaurants you have been working with?

RH: My daughter and Danny Meyer's son had a huge crush on each other in pre-school. I met Danny when I started making shirts and he placed an order for the staff at Union Square Cafe. It was a great way to start the business and get the word out. One restaurant followed another - Savoy, Patroon, Eleven Madison Park, Gramercy Tavern.…I realized that restaurateurs benefit from my expertise to enhance the overall experience they offer their customers It is a great opportunity to take all the knowledge I got from working with people such as Calvin Klein and Perry Ellis and apply it to uniforms.

RR: How has your fashion background helped you gain perspective on the restaurant business?

RH: I have a wealth of knowledge from working on Seventh Avenue where I learned the importance of image. A meal in a good restaurant is like a fashion show, and the staff represents the models. I shop the European fabric market twice a year and I know how to make a pair of pants and a shirt, and where to get a tie made. It's conceptual as well as technical. The beauty of American sportswear is its ease and comfort. I love to integrate these qualities into the uniforms. The additional stitching on a vest pocket to make it more durable, finding a pant detail that keeps the shirt from sliding out. The demands of the server's job are unique and I create clothes that make the employee's time on the job more comfortable as well as attractive.

RR: What role do fabric and color choices play?

RH: They play a major role. The fabric, color and pattern tell the story of what your restaurant is all about. I sit down with the managers and owners and we talk about what they want to achieve with the uniforms. What do they want to tell the customers about their space? Based on that, I go back to my studio and put together a presentation of fabric swatches and silhouettes, and we make a selection from there. I wanted to start a business so I could work with all the wonderful European fabric mills. I pride myself on my knowledge of fabrics and colors. Beautiful Italian shirtings in special textures, gorgeous colors and lightweight wools that drape's the concept of bringing great American sportswear to the dining experience!


RR: What was it like to work for the Calvin Klein Company?

RH: I worked directly with Calvin. The man is a genius at image and branding. What I learned is priceless, and I will elaborate when I write my memoirs!

RR: Name some favorite spots you like to dine out in NYC?

RH: I keep it pretty simple. I'll go to any of Danny's restaurants in a heartbeat. There is a little place called Westville in the West Village that has the best hamburgers, the best butterscotch pudding and they serve diet coke in a bottle. Plus it's fun to people watch - it's where people take a break after shopping at Marc Jacobs. I also love Mary's Fish Camp and Pearl Oyster Bar for their lobster rolls.

RR: Where have you traveled most recently?

RH: I usually make two trips a year to Paris for the fabric shows, but my most recent trip was a 2-week vacation in Mt. Desert Island in Maine. It's beautiful and the complete opposite of New York. Steamed lobsters, organic farm stands, blueberry pies - heaven - but I'm always ready to come back to New York.

RR: What's next for you?

RH: I have just delivered a big order to Gramercy Tavern that the staff will start wearing in the New Year. I am very excited about it because I designed an entire new look that will be fantastic in their space: pants, vests, shirts and ties. I will continue developing the restaurant staff business, and a new goal is to start working on uniforms for high-end hotels in the coming year.

RR: What's worth seeing at the theater right now?

RH: I really don't go to the theater as much as I should! I have a 7 year old daughter, so I am very current on kid's movies. I loved The Incredibles, and really appreciated the fashion designer character based in Edith Head. I recommend The Polar Express for the dancing waiter scene - I find inspiration for my work everywhere!

Richard Haines
Nwe York, NY

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