At home, it is easy to camouflage spills, messes and mishaps to furniture. Cover a stain on the carpet with a rug Hide a nick in a table with a cloth. Bury the mess on the couch by flipping the cushion over.
But in a restaurant, furniture mishaps are harder to camouflage. A rug might cause customers and staff to trip. Tablecloths get messy fast with many diners. And sometimes it is just impossible to flip a booth’s cushion over to hide a mistake. And since customers notice everything, from stains on fabric to tears on upholstery, operators have to be on immediate damage control.
“First, I will say that there are tons of different kinds of upholstery and vinyls on the market,” says Brian Christensen, a graphic and web design coordinator at Waymar Companies in Burnsville, Minnesota. “With that comes a multitude of different coatings to repel spills. Some fabrics actually have silver ions embedded in the threads to kill germs and ‘self-clean.’ These different characteristics lead to higher prices.”
Annabelle Petriella, owner of www.StylishFurnitureAndDecor.com and www.StylishDesignServices.com, recommends treating fabric upholstery with a stain guard, if possible, before using the fabric and to adhere pads to the bottom of chair legs to protect floors and legs. “Choose fabrics that are easy to clean and won’t show dirt as easily,” she says. “Dark colors, patterned and non-plain fabrics, vinyl, acrylic and microfiber/ultrasuede are good choices. Avoid cotton, linen and silk.”
When it comes to proper clean-up, operators need to act fast and follow manufacturer’s instructions, which are many times overlooked or lost.
“Prompt cleaning is always recommended,” Christensen says. “Ordinary dirt and stains can be removed with mild soap and water. Rinse with clean water and dry with a lint-free cloth. The use of certain cleaning agents can be harmful to the surface appearance and lifespan of a product. Some fabrics that do not have a coating can actually transfer dyes from clothes (such as denim jeans) causing permanent damage. For this reason, it is typical to see a darker fabric on seats.”
For mild messes on vinyl and upholstery, head to the kitchen for supplies. “For light soiling, use a solution of 10-percent household liquid dish soap with warm water applied with a soft damp cloth,” says Janet Gregoire, office manager at Millennium Seating in Marietta, Georgia. “If necessary, use a solution of 10-percent household liquid dish soap with warm water applied with a soft bristle brush. Wipe away the residue with a water-dampened cloth.”
Heavier messes will require a stronger solution. “For heavy soiling, dampen a soft white cloth with a one to one (1:1) solution of Formula 409/water,” says Donny Oglesby, furniture specialist at KaTom Restaurant Supply in Russellville, Tennessee. “For more difficult stains, dampen a soft white cloth with a solution of household bleach (10percent bleach/ 90 percent water). Rub gently and rinse with a water dampened cloth to remove bleach concentrate.” No matter what cleaner or solution is applied, make sure it is properly removed to avert further damage, like plasticizer migration, according to Christine Worley, fabric claims handler at Mayer Fabrics in Indianapolis, Indiana.
“This occurs when cleaners have been applied and left on the material and the plasticizers (the molecular hinge that allows materials to maintain their flexibility) are drawn to the surface,” she says. “When the plasticizers migrate to the surface, the material becomes brittle. A tell-tale sign of this is that the sides of the booth (where they have not been cleaned) are still soft and pliable to the touch whereas the ‘seat’ surface is hard and brittle indicating plasticizer migration has occurred. We have all sat on a booth at one time or another that was cracked with sharp edges, haven’t we?”
To prevent this, Worley said every cleaning should be followed by a rinse wipe with clear water to remove any chemical residue that could build up on the surface.
“For example, it would be like washing your dishes and not rinsing them or washing your hair and not rinsing out the shampoo. You have still taken the step to clean the item but the result will not be pleasant in any of those scenarios if rinsing does not take place,” Worley says.
To repair a tear or rip to upholstery, avoid duct tape. “I cannot recommend any do-it-yourself patching or fixing; I would have a professional do it right. The largest impression a customer has of a restaurant (aside from the food) is the atmosphere, furniture is the largest contributor to that,” Christensen says.
Oglesby agrees that do-it-yourself patching is not the answer. “There are a few repair kits on the market where you glue torn areas down with a patch over top. These are very obvious and do not last long as people slide across them, and it rips the vinyl more. You can remove the vinyl and attempt a patch underneath but you will still have the rip on the top and if you are not a trained repair man replacing the vinyl can be very hard. The best thing to do when you have a rip is contact your local furniture repair company and have them come out to attempt a repair or replace that section of vinyl.”
But even with the best care and attention, time takes its toll on booths and chairs, and operators must decide when to replace.
“Booths and chairs have different replacement needs,” Oglesby adds. “Booths need to be replaced when the springs or the wood under the cushions have broken. This is evident by springs coming through or when you sit, you feel like you are going through the bottom of the booth. For chairs, the upholstery can be replaced as needed. As long as the frame is not bent or welds are broken, it can stay in use. Wood chairs can separate over time. A little wood glue or gorilla glue, clamp and leave overnight, and the chair will be good as new.”.
DeAnn Owens is a freelance journalist living in Ohio. She specializes in features and human interest stories.