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A Guide for Cleaning Restaurants Safely and Efficiently

Cleaning is often the least-favorite task of anyone you ask — don’t be surprised if your restaurant staff members try to make themselves look busy with other tasks when the cleaning checklists come out. But keeping the restaurant clean should be one of the top priorities of all restaurant owners because of its importance. Creating a restaurant cleaning checklist and ensuring all employees know their role in cleaning can help with consistency.

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Importance of keeping restaurants clean

A busy restaurant can see hundreds — or even thousands — of customers per day, and you don’t know what germs any of them are bringing in with them. That doesn’t even address how clean their hands and shoes are. The same is true for your employees. They can bring in all types of germs and dirt that affect the health and cleanliness of your restaurant. Despite the hygiene procedures you create for your restaurant, you’ll still have dirty surfaces and the potential for contamination.

On top of that, you also have the messes that happen as part of preparing food and serving customers. You’ll have food messes in the kitchen, spills and crumbs on the tables, dirty dishes when guests leave and all of the dirty pans and utensils in the kitchen. That adds up to a lot of cleaning. Making sure you complete your restaurant cleaning checklist every day is important for many reasons, including:

  • Health and safety: Proper cleaning can prevent food contamination and other health and safety concerns for your customers and employees. This can help you avoid receiving a violation for those issues.
  • Appearance: Dirty tables, trash on the floors and filthy bathrooms make your restaurant look bad to your customers. It can make them question what the kitchen looks like and whether or not they want to eat there. It could also discourage them from coming back.
  • Protecting your reputation: Poor cleaning procedures can increase the risk of customers getting foodborne illnesses. An incident like that could devastate your restaurant’s reputation.
  • Preparing for inspections: When you clean regularly, your restaurant should always be ready for a health department inspection. This can reduce your stress.
  • Preventing pest infestations: Keeping crumbs and other food remnants cleaned regularly can cut down on the risk of bugs, rodents and other pests infesting your restaurant. This helps reduce additional health risks for your employees and patrons.
  • Accident prevention: Leaving spills or trash on the floors can increase the risk of an accident. Employees or customers could slip on spills or trip over items left on the floors. Reducing those risks can protect you from legal action or expensive payouts.
  • Employee productivity: A clean restaurant gives your employees a better place to work. When their workstations are free of debris or mess, they can prepare food more efficiently.

Difficulties of cleaning a restaurant

During a single shift, your staff could serve hundreds of meals with all of the food prep, refills and dirty dishes that come with them. During busy shifts, it can be difficult to keep up with getting the food out in a timely manner. So cleaning as you go can be difficult. Here are some of the challenges of keeping restaurants clean:

  • Finding the time: You need to keep things clean throughout the shift, which can be difficult when you’re slammed with orders.
  • Being consistent: Without a restaurant cleaning checklist, cleaning policies in your employee handbook and training for your employees, it’s difficult to clean the restaurant consistently. This can cause you to miss some important cleaning tasks that help keep your restaurant sanitary.
  • Employee attitudes: Getting your restaurant staff excited to clean is no easy challenge. You might find that your employees avoid cleaning or take shortcuts because they don’t want to do it.
  • Keeping up with messes: Even when your employees clean regularly, it can be difficult to keep up with all the messes. You might not notice immediately that a customer made a mess in the bathroom, or it can be difficult to keep up with washing cloth napkins and dishes during a busy shift. Staffing shortages can also make it more challenging to keep up with the cleaning demands during the shift.

Who handles restaurant cleaning?

Cleaning isn’t just a one-time event each day. You’ll need to clean throughout the shift to keep everything safe and looking good. That means all of your restaurant employees will need to help out at least sometimes.

Restaurant employees typically handle cleaning the areas where they work most — servers and bussers will handle the front-of-house cleaning and cooks and food prep staff will handle the back-of-house cleaning tasks. Since they use those areas the most, they know where the messiest areas are, and they know what type of cleaning standards they have to meet for their areas.

Employees might clean as they go when it comes to things like sanitizing the tables or washing the dishes. Having end-of-shift cleaning checklists helps with deeper cleaning and preparing the restaurant for the next shift. A closing and opening checklist for cleaning can also help.

Some restaurants hire a cleaning crew to come in when the establishment is closed. You can hire employees directly or use a commercial cleaning service. This lets them clean all surfaces thoroughly without any disruptions. This should be done in addition to the regular cleaning that your employees do during their shifts.

Restaurant cleaning supplies

You’ll need commercial cleaning supplies and tools to equip your employees and cleaning crew for the job. Review local health code requirements to determine if you need specific types of cleaners for certain tasks. In general, you’ll need these items:

  • Surface cleaner
  • Sanitizing cleaner
  • Glass cleaner
  • Floor cleaner
  • Bathroom cleaner
  • Detergent for dishes
  • Degreaser
  • Brooms
  • Vacuum
  • Mops
  • Buckets
  • Dusting tools
  • Cleaning brushes
  • Scouring pads
  • Cleaning cloths
  • Gloves
  • Trash bags

Ensure you have plenty of these supplies on hand. Keep dedicated containers of cleaners in different areas, such as each food prep station and a front-of-house location. This ensures all employees have easy access to the cleaning supplies they need. Label every bottle of cleaner clearly to avoid misuse of the cleaning chemicals. Make sure employees know how to safely use each type of cleaner to avoid accidents.

Training your employees

Cleaning a restaurant might be a simple task to you, but your employees might not understand the importance or the procedures that go into it. Incorporate training for cleaning as part of your new-hire training program. Go over the cleaning checklists and cleaning products, including how to complete each task and use the cleaning products safely. It’s a good idea to do cleaning refresher training occasionally for your experienced employees to remind them of the cleaning procedures.

Restaurant cleaning checklist

Breaking down the cleaning tasks by front-of-house and back-of-house makes it easier to divide the tasks between the employees that work in each area. You might break the lists down by during-shift, after-shift, daily, weekly and monthly tasks to ensure things get done at regular intervals. The following checklists give you a good place to start, but you might need to customize them to fit your specific restaurant layout or procedures.

Front-of-house restaurant cleaning checklist

Front-of-house cleaning helps you create a professional appearance for your customers. It’s how they judge the restaurant, so you want to make a good impression with a clean environment. Here are some basics for front-of-house cleaning:

  • Clear dirty dishes from tables
  • Clean table after the customer leaves
  • Sanitize high-touch surfaces, such as table condiment containers, railings and door handles
  • Wipe down menus
  • Pick up food debris and trash from floors
  • Sweep, vacuum or mop spills as needed throughout the shift and at the end of the shift
  • Clean bathrooms regularly
  • Wash cloth napkins after every use
  • Wash tablecloths and aprons regularly
  • Empty trash cans in front-of-house areas
  • Dust light fixtures, ledges, cabinets, wall decorations and other surfaces at least weekly

Back-of-house restaurant cleaning checklist

The back-of-house cleaning checklist is very important for food safety because it includes the food prep areas. Regular cleaning helps ensure you have a clean, sanitized place to prepare customers’ meals. Here are some tasks to include on your back-of-house cleaning checklist:

  • Sanitize all food prep surfaces before the shift starts, at the end of the shift and during the shift as needed
  • Sanitize when switching to a different type of food on the prep station to avoid cross-contamination
  • Clean knives and other tools when switching to a different type of food and at the end of the shift
  • Clean up spills on countertops and floors as they happen
  • Sweep and mop the floors at the end of the shift, removing any mats before doing so
  • Wash dishes as they come back to the kitchen; make sure all dishes are washed at the end of the shift
  • Place clean dishes in appropriate spots to avoid contamination
  • Empty trash cans as needed
  • Scrape off food remnants from griddles and other cooking surfaces throughout the shift
  • Wipe down all surfaces of refrigerators and freezers regularly
  • Wipe the walls near food prep stations where splatters are common
  • Use degreaser on relevant surfaces at the end of the shift
  • Toss dirty towels in marked bins as they get dirty; replace towels frequently to avoid using a dirty, contaminated towel
  • Deep clean any appliances, such as the coffee maker or fryer, weekly or at other designated intervals
  • Wipe down your vents and range hoods
  • Test and clean all kitchen drains regularly
  • Clean the nozzles on your beverage dispensers daily
  • Refill soap dispensers and paper product holders
  • Clean anti-fatigue kitchen mats weekly or more often

Tips for cleaning a restaurant

Here are some more tips for keeping restaurants clean:

  • Start with local health codes: Your local health department has specific guidelines for restaurants and does inspections to ensure you follow those rules. Make sure you know those guidelines well, and create your checklists and procedures to ensure you follow them.
  • Consider having employees get licensed: A big part of cleaning and safety procedures is to prevent foodborne illnesses. Having one or more employees with a food handler license can help you improve the overall safety of the restaurant. They can serve as a leader for training and enforcing your food handling and cleaning guidelines.
  • Think like a customer: When establishing your checklists and setting expectations for your employees, consider what a customer would want to see. Look for things like cobwebs or crumbs in the corner that might make them question the overall cleanliness of your establishment.
  • Post checklists: Ensure your employees can easily see the cleaning checklists at all times. Having them posted reminds them of their duties and helps them avoid skipping a task.
  • Assign cleaning duties: Don’t assume your employees with gladly jump in or do their fair share of cleaning. Assign cleaning tasks to specific employees or positions to avoid any confusion on what each person should do.
  • Recognize employees who follow cleaning protocol: Knowing that you see their efforts can encourage employees to continue doing a good job. It can also remind others that you’re watching so they should pull their weight, too.
  • Monitor cleaning: Have your supervisors and managers monitor the cleaning efforts to ensure employees are doing everything to the high standards you expect. Offer corrective guidance for employees who aren’t following the cleaning guidelines.
  • Outsource deep cleaning: If you struggle with the deep cleaning that needs to happen on a weekly or monthly basis, consider hiring a company that specializes in cleaning restaurants. This can ensure the cleaning gets done well, and it can give your employees a break from the deep cleaning, which can boost morale.
  • Emphasize hand washing: Train employees to know when to wash their hands. This includes washing after going to the bathroom, sneezing or coughing, before shifts start, after breaks end, after eating, after touching your face or hair, when touching something that’s dirty and after handling food that could spread germs, such as raw meat.

Cleaning might seem like a cosmetic thing, but regular restaurant cleaning is essential to running a safe, healthy restaurant. Establish your cleaning protocols and expectations now to get your employees on board.

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