The first stop for your safety inspector is often the place you don’t want associated with your kitchen in any way: your bathroom. Dirty, littered bathrooms are a major red flag for inspectors – and guests too. If you’re not taking care to tidy these visible areas, why should people trust that you’re adhering to safety and hygiene standards in your kitchen? Indeed, in an interview with Mashed, Angela Anandappa, the founding executive director of the nonprofit Alliance for Advanced Sanitation, advises guests to check out a restaurant’s restrooms before they sit down to their meal – and make an educated guess about its food safety based on that experience. If you’re slipping in this area, ensure that your staff check and clean your restrooms at more frequent intervals. Digital tools can help you stay on schedule and identify when problems tend to arise during shifts.
In times when labor is in short supply, restaurants often have to revisit what tasks are essential. Unfortunately, that often means focusing on food preparation and food-related customer service at the expense of other important tasks happening behind the scenes. Cleaning practices may suffer as a result. Your restroom maintenance is one area that might easily slip off of your list of priorities, but do your best to keep it on the list. A survey from Harris Interactive found that 50 percent of restaurant guests who had a negative experience with a restaurant bathroom will mention it to friends and family. Based on that bad experience, whether it relates to dirty toilets, bad odors or something else, your guests are apt to make assumptions about the level of care you put into your food and food safety (and opt for a different restaurant next time). Make sure you don’t leave guests with a bad impression before they even have a chance to taste your food.
Even before the pandemic, restaurant guests would make assumptions about the state of the restrooms and what they might indicate about the restaurant’s commitment to food health and safety. Now that guests are all the more aware of cleaning and sanitation practices, as well as the ways in which viruses can spread, it’s important that your restaurant presents you well. If your restaurant has high-traffic periods, make sure you have larger dispensers that help ensure you won’t get caught short on soap and hand towels. Replace air dryers. Finally, develop a clear checklist of maintenance tasks and have your staff check restrooms at regular intervals.
To avoid the spread of the coronavirus, not to mention seasonal flu, restaurants and other facilities where people congregate are raising their game when it comes to regularly disinfecting the surfaces where germs can lurk and be easily transferred. Beyond the long list of items such as table surfaces, seating areas, food preparation areas and trash containers that are a regular part of your cleaning routine, remember small-surface-area items like light switches, keypads and door push plates that can harbor harmful bacteria. Don’t neglect to clean and sanitize handles throughout your facility too – such as those on toilets, sinks, doors, food and ice scoops and appliances – as well as push plates on soap, paper towel and beverage dispensers. Be sure to use sanitizers at the proper temperature, concentration and for the proper length of time to ensure their effectiveness. The health technology company Ecolab provides industry-specific checklists that remind operators of the surfaces they need to clean and sanitize regularly – or contact Team Four for help in fine-tuning your cleaning and sanitation practices.
Even if you have a winning menu and friendly staff, your restroom could be turning people off of your restaurant. A Harris Poll survey of more than 2,000 adults found that 86 percent of respondents said a clogged toilet would negatively affect their perception of a business – and 76 percent of respondents had experienced this situation in a public restroom. While you may not have the capacity to monitor your restrooms regularly during the day, you can take steps to minimize bathroom clogs, odors, bacteria and other problems that can impact your restroom’s condition and your brand. QSRweb advises operators buy toilet paper that fights clogs and activates environmentally safe microorganisms when it touches water, helping to keep pipes clear. Opt for paper towels for better sanitation – air dryers can blow bacteria around a restroom – and use touch-free faucets and dispensers to help limit the spread of germs.
Your food inspector isn’t the only person scrutinizing your safety practices. Your guests evaluate you too — and there are a number of areas in your restaurant that, if mishandled, can alert people to the possibility of more serious problems. The Food Network talked to dieticians for tips on what to watch out for. In addition to the more obvious signs of a problem — dirty bathrooms, tables and menus, for example — be extra vigilant if you have a salad bar or buffet where foods are sitting out at room temperature. Any hot foods should be served hot. Finally, your staff can send the wrong message if they don’t take allergies or food sensitivities seriously, or if they are careless about handling money and food.
Guests make inferences about the cleanliness of your kitchen based on the condition of your restroom. And if your staff share restroom facilities with guests, those inferences tend to be correct. A Modern Restaurant Management report said that in addition to putting a business at risk of negative word of mouth, a dirty restroom can result in a lower food hygiene rating during inspections. Make sure you have waste bins large enough to avoid overflow, that you have staff monitor the cleanliness of your restrooms at regular intervals, and that you keep the restrooms well stocked with toilet paper, towels and soap. If guests have to chase your staff down for toilet paper in the middle of the dinner rush, they may get the message that you’re overlooking other details of the guest experience in your restaurant.