“Our server,” my daughter muttered, “looks dirty.”
It was Sunday just before noon and we were at a popular downtown eatery in Salt Lake City for brunch, a place we had eaten many times before and enjoyed. I was studying the menu and hadn’t noticed our server’s appearance when she initially came to our table to get a drink order.
“Really? I’ll look when she comes back,” I said.
Sure enough, the server came back with drinks in hand, and I was truly disappointed to see a dark apron splattered with what had to be more than a few shifts’ worth of food. Her unruly hair hung over her shoulders and reached as far down as her elbows. One wrist had at least 10 skinny leather bracelets and to top it off, she had long pointy fingernails that looked dirty. If the manager let her work looking that way, I assumed some of the kitchen staff preparing our food didn’t have good employee hygiene either. Not a good impression.
For restaurants, good employee hygiene is just as important to the business as a clean dining room and kitchen. If a restaurant wants to win repeat business, it needs to deliver its customer experience A-game. Employee hygiene is major part of the cleanliness and overall customer experience in a restaurant. Think about it—front of house employees are on the front lines and face to face with customers. They are representing your brand. Likewise, it’s just as important that back of house employees maintain good hygiene, too. Kitchen employees responsible for everything from food prep, cooking and plating to dish washing and stocking supplies need to make sure they are not contaminating the food storage, prep and cooking areas.
A recent study from the University of Missouri asked more than 300 adults who ate at a casual restaurant at least once a month to rank the importance of different food safety factors. Three factors that the study respondents identified as highly important but receiving low performance scores were wearing gloves while handling food, having clean fingernails and wearing clean uniforms. This suggested that restaurants could be damaging perceptions of food safety by not meeting diners’ expectations for restaurant employee cleanliness.
Follow these tips for employee hygiene and use them during for a staff training on the subject.
When done correctly, hand washing is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of bacteria. There’s evidence of this. A government study by the Environmental Health Specialists Network (EHS-Net) found that “the spread of germs from the hands of food workers to food is an important cause of foodborne illness outbreaks in restaurants. It accounts for 89% of outbreaks in which food was contaminated by food workers.” Knowing when restaurant employees should wash their hands is just as important as how to wash their hands. Employees should wash hands before handling food, after using the restroom, and between tasks such as handling raw meat and then preparing salad.
Kitchen employees who wear fingernail polish or artificial nails should wear gloves when preparing food. Servers who wear polish and artificial nails should make sure their nails are well maintained and clean. Perception is reality for a customer—chipped polish and dirty fingernails as signs of poor restaurant employee hygiene.
A simple wedding band is okay, but anything with a lot of detail and ridges will be an opportunity for food to get stuck and transferred to other food, potentially causing cross-contamination during food preparation.
Employees must wear clean clothes to work. Front of house employees need to represent the restaurant brand well with a neat and clean appearance. Kitchen employees should wear clean aprons and outer garments to prevent the spread of bacteria and cross-contamination when preparing food.
Kitchen employees should wear hair coverings (e.g., hat, scarf, hairnet). Beards should be covered with a beard net. Front of house employees such as counter workers, hostesses, servers, bussers and bartenders should tie back hair that is shoulder length or longer.
Any kitchen employees with bandaged wounds on their hands should also wear gloves over the bandages.
Any employee who is experiencing a fever, sore throat, coughing, sneezing, vomiting or diarrhea should notify their supervisor as soon as possible. Managers should not allow any employee with these symptoms to report to work. An employee sick policy will guide managers and other staff on the correct protocol to handle employee illnesses.
After smoking and before returning to work, the employee should wash their hands. Servers and bartenders who will be face to face with customers should make sure their breath does not smell like smoke.
This will avoid contamination of equipment and food prep areas.
A vital part of a restaurant delivering its customer experience A-game includes making sure there are standards for employee hygiene. As a first line of defense, managers should provide training to restaurant staff on good employee hygiene and expectations. The next step is for managers to make sure that employees follow the hygiene standard. Managers should send home any employees who are not following good hygiene practices.