Best Food Forward: A Kitchen Shoe Guide

Best Foot Forward

In “ Dressed for Success,” appearing in the September 2015 issue of School Nutrition, writer Cecily Walters takes a look at options for uniforms in K-12 operations. When it comes to kitchen safety, however, the shoes that school nutrition operators wear are equally as important as other garments. Comfort, durability and slip resistance are key. A number of shoe companies make their products available to K-12 customers. Several of these companies share their experiences working with this customer group, along with advice for placing shoe orders.  

Comfort Is King 

“Our recent focus has been on lightweight, athletic styles,” says Mike Wilson, vice president for foodservice, schools and grocery for Shoes For Crews. “One of our newest styles, the Marathon, also has a 1.5-in. EVA midsole (or footbed) for all-day comfort. All of our styles include our patented slip resistant outsole,” he explains. (The outsole is the outermost layer of a shoe's sole.) Other lightweight, athletic styles popular with K-12 customers include Vitality, Endurance and Swift. Wilson notes that most of the company's K-12 customers prefer athletic or casual slip-on styles, as comfort is a top priority. 

He finds that budget can be a factor for school nutrition programs purchasing shoes for their employees. “Gathering the data to make a business case and getting buy-in from key stakeholders is usually the biggest challenge. Often this will involve many other departments such as risk, safety [and] finance and sometimes [requires] school board approval,” Wilson says.

Wilson believes that ensuring that all employees are wearing the same outsole can have a large impact on preventing slips and falls. “Not all slip resistant shoes perform the same in greasy, wet conditions. Our technology has been proven to prevent accidents and save money,” he says.

Shoes For Crews offers more than 100 styles and introduces new styles every quarter. 

A Surplus of Styles 

Among K-12 operations that purchase shoes from Payless ShoeSource—safeTstep™, commonly requested styles include lightweight athletics, women’s casual flats and chef clogs, report Craig Shultz, strategic account manager, and Autumn Kirchner, business development associate. They add that these styles offer comfort, breathability and ease of access. Shoes in the safeTstep line feature a slip resistant sole and comfort insole. (An insole is the inner sole of a shoe.)

Some of the most popular styles of women's shoes among K-12 customers are Gretchen, Kelly, Relay and Alissa. Frequently purchased men's styles among K-12 customers are Comfort Oxford, Expo, Blast and Avail. “Sometimes school districts' specifications require shoes to be made of leather or synthetic. With the advent of breathable membranes and new technologies, schools now have more options in upper materials that are breathable and stylish,” say Shultz and Kirchner.

According to Shultz and Kirchner, the majority of Payless ShoeSource—safeTstep K-12 customers subsidize the purchase of slip resistant footwear for their employees “because they understand the true risk associated with not doing so. By subsidizing the cost to the employees, it promotes a safe work environment and protects the school district in the case of a slip, trip or fall.”

In discussing challenges in working with K-12 operations, they identify school districts' “inflexibility of the buying process” as a factor that “sometimes prohibits a supplier from providing certain products and services.” Another challenge is educating customers “about our product options and solutions that incorporate shoe allowance and voucher programs,” say Shultz and Kirchner. “The K-12 market is focused on meeting the needs of our children. Because of this, slip resistant footwear is often overlooked. Typically, those that seek our services have experienced an accident within the district and are looking for a solution to protect their employees from another accident.”

When ordering from Payless ShoeSource—safeTstep, K-12 customers can set up an online company account for credit card purchases only or order against a line of credit. Payroll deduction is an optional feature. School nutrition programs pay a $5.95 shipping fee for the entire order to their operations. Return shipping is free, and employees can take their shoes to a Payless ShoeSource location for an exchange or merchandise credit.

Passing the Test

“Employees want options when it comes to their work footwear. Nobody wants to wear ugly shoes,” says Jordan Shouse, brand marketing manager for SR Max Slip Resistant Shoes. With this in mind, SR Max offers slip resistant shoes in more than 200 styles from brands such as Reebok, Rockport Works, Dansko and Skechers. It also offers its SR Max brand of shoes.

All shoes from the SR Max brand include a slip resistant MaxTrax outsole. This outsole also is available on other select brands, such as Dansko, Skechers, Reebok and Rockport Works. The company’s insole features cushioned padding to target the heel, while the midsole provides foot support, cushioning and stability with the goal of decreased foot, leg and back pain.

According to Shouse, the most common styles requested by K-12 customers are athletic styles. “Customers want a lightweight, supportive, well cushioned shoe in the $25-50 range. They’re looking for footwear that won’t break the bank but will still keep them on their feet and comfortable for five to eight hours,” she points out. Employees frequently choose colorful and stylish options due to the variety of name brand options offered by SR Max.

SR Max uses the Brungraber Mark II test, which Shouse describes as the most widely accepted slip resistance standard test, to measure how effective a slip resistant shoe is. The test measures the coefficient of friction (COF)—in other words, the measurement of an item’s ability to generate friction, thus reducing slippage. Slip resistance ratings range from 0.0 (very poor) to 1.0 (extremely slip resistant). “SR Max requires independent testing of all of the shoes that we carry. Each style must independently test at a COF of 0.40 or greater on the Brungraber Mark II test,” Shouse explains, adding, “This policy affords us the confidence to say that we are providing our customers with the highest quality safety shoes available.”  

Shouse finds that some of the company’s K-12 customers subsidize the purchase of shoes for employees, while others require employees to buy their own. SR Max works to understand how each school district handles purchasing and to provide a program that fits within that framework. “We [work with] programs that range from a $10 subsidy to a $100 subsidy, some programs that require shoes and some programs that don’t,” she says. Shouse notes that the most common challenge that school nutrition operators bring up is their concern that they have never purchased shoes online or from a catalog.

As a result, many of SR Max’s programs include a 30-day guarantee, during which employees can wear the shoes in the workplace for up to 30 days to determine their level of comfort and satisfaction with the product.      SR Max also offers payroll deduction, corporate program pricing, custom websites and catalogs and safety education and training materials.

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