Restaurant Food Safety Image: Menus, Restrooms, Tableware and Gloves


Menu’s and First Impressions

How often have you glanced at a restaurant menu and noticed crusted food or stains?

In a limited quasi study sponsored by Good Morning America, they found that menus that were swabbed for bacteria were often contaminated. While the Good Morning America “study” has limited scientific value it does give us a hint that there may be a problem.

It would make sense. Most people are seated at the restaurant table and are given a menu. After ordering, they may use the restroom to wash their hands before eating, but that means that they have walked in off the street with contaminated hands, fondled the menu and given it back to the waiter who then recycles it.

How often have you seen menus cleaned?

Well, I am happy to say, I witnessed a restaurant greeter wiping down menus with a germicidal spray. I was so impressed; I took her picture and told her I would post it on my blog. Wouldn’t you be? Wouldn’t it be great if this became the standard?


Next time you see a dirty menu, ask for a clean one. And just as importantly next time you see someone cleaning a menu compliment them, it reinforces positive behavior.

Restroom Image

Dirty dishes, …. and dirty restrooms are the top reasons consumers would never return to a restaurant.” Cintas Corporation

I have heard it stated many times that people will walk into the restroom of a restaurant and if it is dirty, they will walk out and not eat there. No one eats in the restroom but the presumption is that if the restaurant is not interested in keeping the public restroom clean, how clean is the kitchen?

In a study conducted by the Opinions Research Group and reported by the Restaurant Hospitality Group, 69% of diners noting dirty restrooms likely will not patronize that restaurant and 39% might immediately leave.

There may not be a direct correlation between bathroom cleanliness and kitchen cleanliness but the Cintas Corporation and the Opinions Research Group studies suggest there may be some truth the perception. If it is true, then a restaurant wanting to improve the financial bottom line should be concerned about its cleanliness image and should proactively increase monitoring of their restrooms.

A restaurant certainly wouldn’t want their restroom to look like this.

dirty sink

Incidental Contamination

I was recently in a restaurant where the waitress delivered a pitcher of water, complete with ice, lemon rinds and cups floating in the water. I am told the look on my face was shocking. Those around me didn’t know what I was going to do.

The outside of those cups are contaminated with bacteria from the skin of multiple people. Putting the cups in the water contaminates the water. Anyone should know that, but I would especially expect an educated, conscientious food server to be savvy enough not to contaminate our drinking water.


I took a picture. My friend politely asked the waitress to get up a clean pitcher without the plastic glasses.


The same it true when bottles are held in ice and the ice is used in a glass. The outside of that bottle was likely handled by multiple dirty hands before it was put in the ice bin.

Handling of Tableware

Have you ever asked for a glass, utensil or plate because they were dirty or because of how they were handled?

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The image that lasts in your mind is that someone didn’t care. If they didn’t care with what you see, do they care with what you don’t see?

Fortunately I have seen servers take extra care and that image is very powerful.


Why wear gloves? They can and they do get contaminated.

I addressed the food poisoning prevention aspect in a March 2016 blog.

Remember wearing gloves, when preparing food, not only prevents spread of disease and just as importantly from a food safety image it shows the consumer the concern the food preparer has for food cleanliness.

Touching ready-to-eat foods with bare hands creates a “yuk” effect in the eyes of the beholder. Why does one preparer think they can get away without wearing gloves?


Attention to clean menus, clean bathrooms, caution to prevent contamination, clean tableware and use of gloves set the stage for the main event – a great dining experience. Sloppiness in any of the above creates an image that is hard to ignore and will effect the restaurant profitability, server tips and lasting food safety image.


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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