From the vantage point of 2012, it's somehwat hard to imagine a time when conformity was the restaurant industry's strongest selling point. But during the rise of fast food restaurants in the first half of the 20th century, people were very much attracted to the idea of consistency across the various locations of a given restaurant chain.
Uniformity in food and architecture was meant to imply that a particular restaurant was running as an efficient machine; churning out food inexpensively and safely. The success of this method -- the McDonaldization of eating outside the home, for lack of a better term* -- led to the explosion of the fast food industry in the United States.
A 1932 brochure for White Castle proudly proclaimed:
When you sit in a White Castle remember that you are one of several thousands; you are sitting on the same kind of stool; you are being served on the same kind of counter; the coffee you drink is made in accordance with a certain formula; the hamburger you eat is prepared in exactly the same way over a gas flame of the same intensity; the cups you drink from are identical with thousands of cups that thousands of other people are using at the same moment; the same standard of cleanliness protects your food... Even the men who serve you are guided by standards of precision which have been thought out from beginning to end. They dress alike; they are motivated by the same principles of courtesy.
Clearly, this uniformity of experience didn't just manifest itself in food and architecture; it was also important that employees act, dress and wash consistently across various locations.
Below is the 1931 checklist that dictated how White Castle employees were supposed to dress, wash and present themselves:
- Cap should cover hair.
- Keep hair trimmed.
- Be ready to make suggestions.
- Have clean shave.
- Be prepared to speak pleasantly.
- Brush teeth.
- Correct bad breath.
- Get rid of chewing gum.
- Wear clean collar.
- Be sure tie is not frayed or dirty.
- Wear clean shirt.
- Button all shirt buttons.
- No body odor.
- Fold shirt sleeves neatly.
- Fasten apron neatly.
- Have shirt neatly tucked in trousers.
- No patches in trousers seat.
- No wrist watch.
- No flashy jewelry.
- Wash hands.
- Clean fingernails.
- Wear clean trousers.
- Turn up trousers if too long.
- Wear comfortable shoes.
Perhaps no better example of the way that employees became interchangeable parts in a much larger fast food machine was in the switch to paper hats. Initially, White Castle employees wore linen caps, but these would shrink after being washed. The company switched to disposable paper caps which could be adjusted to fit different head sizes.
Source: Orange Roofs, Golden Arches: The Architecture of American Chain Restaurants by Philip Langdon
*McDonald's wasn't founded as a hamburger business until 1948, but their methods of fast food efficiency and consistency (for better or worse) were evolving for decades before they arrived on the scene.