■ By CONSTANTINE N. KOLITSAS, Consultant
HOW important is a clean establishment to your efforts to grow or, at the least, retain business? Food is important – you have to have a menu that has food that people want, and the food has to taste good. Speed of Service is important – people have limited time and food is not always a leisurely affair. Location is important – people have to see your business and its geographic positioning needs to be convenient and accessible. Hospitality is important – people like to connect with the business operators and staff; essentially they like to feel wanted. Still, if your restaurant is not clean, the rest doesn’t matter much.
So then, what makes a restaurant clean?
A good score from your local Health Department surely means a great deal. But you can run a restaurant where food safety is spot-on and still give your guests an impression that you are not clean. Remember, customers are not taking the temperature of your bain marie or examining your walk-ins for dirt and mold. What determines in their minds the cleanliness of a restaurant is based on that which their eyes can see. So, let’s take a tour of your restaurant, looking through the eyes of one of your restaurant guests.
The first thing a customer sees is – you guessed it – the glass doors. While the occasional smudge is tolerable, it’s not tolerable when the door is covered in hand prints ten minutes after you open. It’s critical that this be among the first cleaning tasks performed as there is no changing the guest’s first impression of your restaurant. The excuse that it will get done as soon as you’re completely set up doesn’t sound legit. The best strategy is to assign this as a CLOSING task. (I preach the gospel of “close to open”, meaning that at the close the restaurant should be completely cleaned and set up so that the next day there is be very little to do except open the doors and turn on the grille.)
Before you put down that Windex bottle, it’s a good idea to hit the glass on the kitchen doors and any other glass you have around the restaurant.
Next, examine the tables and booths or chairs. Move the condiments to make sure that the closing staff simply didn’t wipe around them, leaving crumbs to the first guest that moves them or uses them. Being the first customer in a restaurant and sitting on a booth seat that has yesterday’s crumbs signals to the guest that no one is monitoring the cleanliness of the restaurant. And (fair or not) dirt in the dining room suggests a dirty kitchen.
Don’t leave the table. There are a few traps here… Pick up the salt shaker. Is it greasy? If a guest sits down and feels the need to wash his or her hands as soon as he or she goes to add salt to their French fries there’s a problem… Look under the table too – there’s nothing worse than running your fingers along the underside of a table and touching someone’s half-chewed gum!
Once the dining room tables have been inspected and issues addressed it’s a good idea to head to the restrooms. We’ve all heard it before: If the restroom is dirty, then the kitchen must be dirty too. I’m not sure how this logic fits as only employees are permitted in the kitchen and because there are employees that spend the entire shift in the kitchen, they are there to address cleanliness issues continually. Restrooms, on the other hand, are places that primarily receive guests. And it’s damned near impossible to make sure guests are not making messes in there. Still, we manage to perceptions, not to realities. So it’s important to establish restroom cleaning routines. I always recommend a dedicated staff member inspect the restrooms every 30 minutes. A signature chart is a good idea so that staff members can be held accountable. Those inspections must include the following: paper removed from floors, toilet seats free of urine, toilets and urinals flushed, paper towels stocked, toilet paper stocked, sanitary products disposals emptied and mirrors clean. Baby changing tables must be immaculate at all times, with pads always stocked. Again the importance assigned to the cleanliness of your restrooms cannot be stressed enough. My father had a koumbaro, God rest his soul, who was such a clean freak that after the dishwasher was done cleaning the bathrooms, he’d go in behind him and clean them more. He understood that this is a huge part of how his business was judged by customers. And to close the topic, restroom maintenance is also extremely important – there should be no foul odors, no grime build-up and no fixtures in disrepair (this includes slow leaks). And when it’s time to remodel, this is the first place where you should invest a few dollars – people are impressed with restrooms that are clean and BEAUTIFUL.
Returning to the dining room, it’s time now to look at detail. Is there dust along the railings and partitions? Are your kickplates on doors clean or scuffed? Is your waitress stand cluttered? If you move the POS is it dusty or dirty underneath?
Look up! Are your ceiling tiles dirty or dusty? Are your lighting fixtures dust-free? How about your picture frames?
Once your shift is in full swing it’s important to keep the focus on cleaning. Again, look at what the customer sees. Bus pans should be emptied continually. They are not places to store dirty dishes. They are places to TEMPORARILY place dirty dishes until you have the first opportunity to return to the kitchen and place them in the dish area.
Look down! Your floors need to be continually kept free of litter. There should be no napkins, no straw wrappers, no food crumbs. A small broom and a dustpan are inexpensive and effective solution to keep your floors in good shape until their next full cleaning!
And lastly, your staff needs to be well groomed. A disheveled server or busser makes the restaurant look dirty. Uniforms must be clean and wrinkle-free. They can’t be frayed or worn out. And staff must follow good personal hygiene protocols.
So, this month’s column was filled with information that everyone already knows. The intent was not to cheat you out of the five minutes that it took to read. Rather, the intent is to stress to you the importance that your customers place with cleanliness and to help you to see what they see.
Constantine N. Kolitsas is a restaurant consultant living in the New York tri-state area. His company, CNK Consulting, has helped numerous businesses improve their operations, develop their concepts, and increase profitability. For more information visit cnk-consulting.com or call 1-888-869-6068.