Project McDonald's: Designer 'De-Americanizes' Fast Food Uniform

Wayne Hemingway has gone where no high fashion designer has gone before: McDonald's.

Eighteen months ago, the man behind HemingwayDesign and the award-winning street style label Red or Dead, was tasked with revamping the fast food giant's burger-colored (that's being kind) uniforms.

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The new look still takes its cue from the kitchen: pickle green and mustard yellow polo shirts at the counter. Mustard-colored skinny ties and belts for managers. Lettuce green pants for customer service assistants. But the condiments cues are the only reminder of the old get-ups.

"We've taken some of the Americanism out of the uniforms," the British-born Hemingway told Yahoo! Shine in an interview Monday, just a few weeks before the uniforms are rolled out at four Olympic park restaurants in London.

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If you've ever been to a drive-thru or even a Starbucks, you'll realized what Hemingway means by American. "Baseball caps are a big thing with fast food," he says, "but they're far too casual for restaurant service."

He may have a point. The old-school paper fold-out cap, a trademark of burger joints in the '50s, gave way to tennis visors in the '80s and eventually home-team caps emblazoned with fast food logos in place of slugger mascots.

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But for most of us, eating out isn't a sport, it's a luxury and one that Hemingway hopes to enhance with his designs.

The new customer care uniform for employees.
The new customer care uniform for employees.

Taking inspiration from both the "Mad Men"-era and casually elegant Italian bistros, Hemingway's new designs swap out baseball caps for the kind of pageboy hats preferred by singer Chris Martin.

Meanwhile, Adidas-style zipper jackets, button-top pencil skirts, and plaid blouses are the kind of ironically flattering work-clothes our kids will place high eBay bids on in 20 years.But first, the real McDonalds staffers will have a shot at the uniforms. Come July, 2000 employes will debut the new looks in four London chains. By fall, 87,500 more British employees will be dressed to the McDonald's nines.

So far the response from staffers has been largely positive.

"At first there was a slight worry about hats because everyone was used to wearing baseball hat but now people seem to like it," says Hemingway who tested the looks on about 300 employees before finalizing the designs.
"With fashion you're never going to get 100 percent but by far vast majority of what we're getting are compliments."

Hemingway hopes the new uniforms have a positive effect, not only on employee morale, but on flavor profiles.

"Humans don't operate on just one plain when they eat," explains Hemingway. "What people look at in a restaurant plays a role in how something tastes."

Can skinny ties really enhance the special sauce? "Without a doubt," says Hemingway.

Unfortunately, there are no plans just yet to import the uniforms to U.S. "It'd be great if they did," says Hemingway, though he wonders whether our culture is ready for baseball hat-less food service. "Apart from the caps I don't know why they wouldn't work in the U.S."

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Money could be a factor. The original McDonald's outfits look like they probably cost (that's to say not much), and with the high employee turnaround in fast food and the potential for ketchup disasters, designer uniforms might not be as cost effective in places lacking the boost from Olympic tourism.

But Hemingway tells Shine the new uniforms are not "ridiculously more expensive" than the old ones and in the long-term the benefits could add up.

Unlike the phased-out Styrofoam big Mac clamshells, these clothes are totally recyclable. "These are sustainable materials that will never go into a landfill," explains Hemingway. "When they reach the end of their wear-ability they'll be collected in the store and reprocessed into new uniforms or other useable materials, so they'll never go to waste."

In the U.S., however, where the fast food industry is the enemy #1 in the war on obesity, McDonald's has been cleaning up its image in other ways. Apple slices, low-fat milk options, more salads to toy-free happy meals, along with parent-pleasing commercials, have been the hallmarks of the State-side makeover.

But with arecent U.S. poll rankingMcDonald's last in customer satisfaction, our hometown chains could use all the help they can get.

In the meantime Hemingway's services are available for more franchise improvements. "I'd like to do Home Depot and other big DIY stores," he says. "A lot of people care about how they look but with the uniforms now I bet they can't wait to go home and get changed."

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