No matter if it’s a fine dining establishment or a mom-and-pop diner, when it comes to restaurants, proper sanitation is an absolute requirement on any guest’s list. It’s important to feel comfortable when you dine out — and seeing unsanitary conditions is certainly a quick way to ruin your dining experience. It can be something as major as a health and safety issue, or it can be something that just looks like it’s unhealthy.
Whether or not the correct cleaning processes are carried out in your favorite dining hot spot can be the difference between enjoying your great meal or being concerned about sanitation — or just being completely turned off.
If you’re walking into a restaurant you’ve never been at before, you want to know the signs that a restaurant is keeping it clean. Below are five signs to indicate a clean restaurant beyond reading their health inspection score.
1. Check the outdoor spaces.
Does the restaurant have a patio, beer garden, or other outdoor seating area? Give it a quick look as you walk through or by it. Are the open tables messy or clearly cleaned up after the last group of guests? Is there any trash on the ground? Is there dropped food left under the tables, just ready to lure in squirrels and birds to the area? If the outdoor space is being neglected, that’s a sign there might be other cleaning duties neglected inside. If it’s fastidiously cleaned, you’ve got a great indication of a well-maintained cleaning regimen.
2. Look above and around you.
Some restaurants can forget that it’s not just the tables and floors that need to be cleaned — it’s also the walls and ceilings. Look for clues in those areas. Do the walls (painted or wallpapered) look shiny, smooth, and like the original color? Are the paintings, other hung decorations, or potted plants free of fingerprints, dust, and smudges? Dust not only can aggravate allergies (and is aesthetically displeasing), but it is also a sign that the staff might not be cleaning in other areas of the restaurant, too. And don’t forget to look at the ceiling fan. If they aren’t cleaned regularly, the fans could be whipping dust into the air and onto guests’ food.
3. Check the bathrooms.
The savviest of restaurant goers will tell you that they make a beeline to the restroom to see what’s up. Why? Because the cleanliness of an eatery’s restroom can tell you a lot about the cleanliness of the restaurant as a whole. Not only is a dirty bathroom indicative of a lack of cleaning in other parts of the restaurant, remember that it’s also the bathroom that the staff uses during their shifts. If the staff is in this area just as much as the guests and doesn’t see the need to clean, other areas of the restaurant may also be neglected.
Do the floors look like they’ve been recently mopped? Are the toilets wiped clean? Is there soap left in the dispenser? What do you smell the second you walk into a stall? These are all signs you need to look for when it comes to the restrooms and the restaurant in general. If a bathroom is pristine, walk back to your table with confidence and a smile on your face, knowing you’re dining with an establishment that cares about details.
4. Look at what’s on the table.
You and your group have been seated at a table. Take a look at what’s in front of you. Obviously, silverware and glasses are going to touch your mouth, so they better be properly cleaned before being placed in the table setting. However, menus (whether laminated or kept in plastic sleeves) can get overlooked. If the restaurant is following a proper daily cleaning regimen, that should absolutely include servers wiping down the menus with a disinfectant. If you are handed a visibly dirty menu, you’ll know that the staff is cutting corners on their cleaning work. Do not be hesitant to ask for a replacement.
5. Check out tables being cleared.
One more thing to keep an eye on is how well staff clears a table when other guests have paid their bill and left. Are they doing a good job cleaning those tables? Are they wiping down surfaces properly? Like with the outside seating area, is the busser picking up any dirty napkins or food remnants that have fallen to the floor or onto a booth seat? For that matter, check under your own table and see if any dropped food was left during clearing. It certainly isn’t a great start to your meal when you sit down and see what someone else just ate.
Curious about how restaurant staff maintain a clean kitchen behind closed doors? Check out our advice on staying ahead of the game in cleaning restaurant kitchens: