Appearances Aren’t Deceptive
It doesn’t matter whether you run a fine dining restaurant or a local café you will probably have heard of the phrase “we eat with our eyes”. Whilst it may feel quite modern in its tone, it appears to date back to a 1st Century Roman, Apicius, who was what we would refer to as a ‘foody’ of his day. Fast forward to the 21st century and there is a growing body of evidence from cognitive neurosciences that reveal just how true this is. In fact it is quite primeval.
In layman’s terms we are programmed to forage for nutritious foods and in humans this activity relies primarily on vision, especially when it comes to finding foods we are already familiar with. This is one of the reasons why food companies regularly showcase serving suggestions on packaging, presenting food in the most favourable and desirable (often unrealistic) manner possible.
Another part of this relates to our survival instincts and how we are designed to spot dangerous situations during this process. Now I am not suggesting that a visit to a local eatery has the same jeopardy as our ancestors hunting for food, but I do wonder if there are elements of this still with us. If there are, it would go some way to explain why as customers we sometimes get a bad feeling about a venue even if the food or drinks we are served seem ok.
So are operators sending out negative messages by not making sure everything in their venue is clean and tidy?
The most obvious places to start when it comes to cleanliness are the tables themselves. When servers are clearing tables they need to ensure that it’s not just the plates and glasses that are removed but also any rogue pieces of food and even breadcrumbs. If the venue has table clothes these might even need to be changed as no one wants to eat whilst staring at a food stain. If the tables are bare then they need to be wiped down properly and using an appropriate cleaning agent. It is also important to remind your teams to change the cloth they use to do this on a regular basis. Using a dirty cloth risks adding germs rather than removing them.
Two other key things which need to be looked at here are the state of the cutlery and glassware. It is no good if your staff clean the knives and forks only to leave finger prints on them when they put them on the tables. And while many outlets use dishwashers, experience shows that they don’t always remove lipstick, so that is another thing which needs to be checked.
If you have condiments on the tables you should regularly check them to make sure they are full. If you have ketchup bottles etc. they also need to be cleaned often. No one wants to see them caked with food or dry sauce.
Cleaning up and down…
I would like to think that most outlets taking cleaning very seriously however even in the most conscientious places things can get missed. While vacuuming is essential unfortunately it has its limitations. If food is dropped on the floor it can be quickly removed and the spot cleaned. If drinks are spilled you need to deal with this in a similar way. If not you risk having sticky patches which customers will notice.
Depending on your outlet you also need to look up as well as down. Whether it’s your lights or ceiling fans, these all need keeping clean. They probably don’t need to be done as frequently as your floors but have a plan for when they are done as your customers won’t be impressed by any dust or cobwebs on them.
As well as how they perform your front of house team also need to look the part. Your customers will notice if individuals in your team are poorly dressed or worse not clean and tidy. And if they can’t look after themselves how confident will your guests be that they can look after the food or them?
For example hair, hands and teeth should all be clean and tidy. Longer hair should be tied back appropriately and facial hair should be well-maintained and not look like something from a 1970s rock band, unless that is the vibe you are looking for!
If your outlet has a uniform everyone should wear it in the same way, there should be no option for freestyling. If there is no uniform then it’s worth laying out some simple and practical guidelines for what is and isn’t acceptable. Of course this may vary quite considerably depending on what sort of outlet you are running. Footwear is also an important consideration here. You could have the smartest of uniforms but a pair of dirty shoes will ruin the whole effect. Footwear also needs to be comfortable as servers in particular are on their feet for hours at a time.
As well as looking good your team need to feel good. Your guests don’t want to be served by someone who looks ill or coughs repeatedly. If one of your team isn’t very well the best thing you can do for you and them is send them home.
When talking about the cleanliness of a pub, bar or restaurant it would be remiss of me not to mention the toilets. Although exact figures vary depending on the survey you look at on average around 85% of people state that they wouldn’t go back to a venue if the toilets weren’t clean. But it’s not just how clean they are, it is also there overall functionality.
It doesn’t matter how clean your bathrooms are if the taps or hand dryers don’t work properly. Having no soap or even worse no toilet paper is also a red flag. It is vital that you bathrooms are checked on a regular basis but this has to involve making sure everything is working and not just a cursory glance and a scribbled signature on the sheet on the wall.
The reality is that your toilets are often the first and last place that your guests will see and how they look will have a major impact on what your customers think of your venue.