The uniform of the average fast food worker varies by chain, but it always includes an element that's relatively unique to the industry. Whether they're sporting In-N-Out's paper caps or McDonald's visors, the person who hands you your burger and fries typically wears a hat of some kind. These accessories are more than a fashion statement. Fast food chains have to mandate hair restraints for their staff to comply with health regulations.
The hats worn by fast food employees serve the same purpose as hairnets worn by school cafeteria workers. They prevent hairs from coming loose and falling into food, which could pose a health risk to diners.
California takes a similar stance on restaurant headwear as other local governments around the country. The state's health and safety code reads: "All food employees preparing, serving, or handling food or utensils shall wear hair restraints, such as hats, hair coverings, or nets, which are designed and worn to effectively keep their hair from contacting non-prepackaged food, clean equipment, utensils, linens, and unwrapped single-use articles."
You've likely noticed that not every restaurant employee sports a hairnet or baseball cap. In sit-down establishments, bartenders, hosts, and wait staff can get away with cutting their hair short or tying it back because "they present a minimal risk of contaminating non-prepackaged food." In fast food settings, where the entire staff is more likely to be coming in and out of the kitchen throughout the day, hair restraints are required for cashiers and managers as well as the cooks.
Such regulations still don't answer the question of why fast food workers are more likely to wear hats than hairnets. This is where aesthetics play a role. While hairnets suggest industrial cafeteria food, hats can communicate the style and professionalism companies want from their uniform. They can even become an important part of a restaurant's brand. In-N-Out's paper hats, for example, help sell the chain's old-school vibe to customers.
The true purpose of the headwear in fast food uniforms is just one secret of the industry. Here are some insider secrets from McDonald's employees you should know.