Are Diners Really Concerned about Restaurant Cleanliness?

We live in a society that expects a certain level of service. Our trash and sewers are controlled. We expect our water to be clean and we all know not to litter. Many people recycle and compost trash. When we walk into a restaurant, however, are consumers really concerned about restaurant cleanliness?

When asked, most would say they care about restaurant cleanliness. They will tell you about all the times a restaurant was not clean, such as the time the bathroom was disgusting, or hair was found in the food. Having a dirty restaurant is a good way to be remembered, but it is not the kind of reputation a business wants. When faced with extreme dirtiness, most will tell their friends and advise them not to eat at that restaurant again.

Diners do expect a certain level of cleanliness. We expect the plates our food is served on to be clean and we expect the counter at the coffee shop not to have any stains or crumbs on it. We expect to have a working chair when we sit down to be waited on at a restaurant. We also expect to have our dessert served on a new, clean plate. How much, then, does cleanliness factor into why a customer chooses a restaurant?

When searching for a restaurant, patrons want to be in a pleasant environment and feel served. Many will tell you about their favorite restaurant or cafe. They will describe in exquisite detail how the candles light the mood or how the piano player played the perfect song for the evening. Some will tell you about the art on the walls or the items on the menu. One thing that is consistent in these stories is the presumption the restaurant is clean, but most people do not disclose this detail.

You can tell how customers feel about cleanliness by listening how they talk about their restaurant experiences. Many are quick to point out a bad experience and will tell whoever listens what happened. This sort of word-of-mouth rant is the worst kind of publicity possible. If a restaurant is unclean, the person will likely never eat there again and will warn many of their friends.


Written by Becky Hayes


Author: Dr. Harlan Stueven, MD

Harlan Stueven M.D. is a Board-Certified Emergency physician with sub-specialization in Environmental Toxicology and Board Certification in Medical Toxicology. Starting his career in the USAF, he served as a Flight Surgeon and Environmental Health Consultant Physician where one of his duties was monitoring food safety. In his nearly 40-year practice, he treated a range of medical, surgical and poisoning emergencies. He has been a Medical Director and/or Chairman of several hospital-based Emergency Medicine Departments, served as the President of Emergency and Environmental Medicine consulting group, a physician group Chief Financial Officer and sat on many national, state and local committees. Dr. Stueven founded Dining Grades and the Dining Safety Alliance to improve food safety by increasing awareness of food borne illness and the formation of partnerships within the food industry. He is a consultant to the Wisconsin Retail Food Establishment Grading Work Group; a Co-investigator in a CDC funded “Evaluation of Health Department Restaurant Inspection Programs” project. He has presented at several National, State and Regional conferences on restaurant grading and food safety. He is an accomplished leader, medical researcher, a champion of process improvement, author, and national and international speaker.

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