Upholstery care takes little time and mild cleaners
Duct tape can fix many things, but it should not be used to repair torn upholstery. The low-budget patch is unsightly and it’s only a temporary fix. That’s one reason why operators need to take good care of the materials that cover their seats and booths. By choosing durable materials, and the right cleaners, operators can make sure upholstery lasts a long time.
Upholstery should be attractive and it should also be durable and easy to maintain. “If you are a pizza shop you probably shouldn’t have a fabric seat,” says James Savitske, team lead, customer experience for Millennium Seating Corporation in Marietta, Georgia. “You’re probably better off with vinyl.”
He adds that restaurant design firms might select textiles that are visually appealing and that match the décor, but function is more important than style. Vinyl is more durable than fabric, and vinyl bounces back more easily. While there are some carpet cleaners that work well for spot removal on colorfast fabric upholstery, vinyl is generally much easier to clean.
They key is to use the correct cleaning products. Savitske suggests using mild dish soap with warm water. “The worst thing we see is the folks that are bussing the dining area will grab the spray bottle of sanitizer from the kitchen,” he says. “They don’t know any better, so they are just going in and grabbing the cleaner.”
While sanitizer is essential for cleaning stainless steel tables and kitchen equipment, it is detrimental to wood furniture and to upholstery. “If you ever go into a restaurant and the top of the table is tacky, and you feel like you can scrape the finish with your fingernail, there has been some chemical applied and it is breaking down the polymer,” he explains.
Any cleaner should be applied sparingly. “Don’t ignore overspray,” says Jen Fallis, sales service manager for Mayer Fabrics in Indianapolis. “If a cleaner is sprayed on a table surface, the overspray falls onto the seating and is left to dry. My recommendation is to spray directly onto the cloth or do a quick fresh water rinse of the seating afterwards.”
The rinse is an important step for cleaning any vinyl or faux leather product, Fallis says, because chemical residue that is left on the surface can contribute to splitting and cracking vinyl.
Others agree that heavy duty cleaners are not recommended for upholstery. “The main thing that ruins upholstery is when people use harsh chemicals,” says Andrew Sarno, co-owner of RSA Seating in Addison, Illinois. “What usually causes vinyl or fabric to crack is when they are using harsh chemicals. That will usually lead to them needing to get it reupholstered faster than they would have.”
It is difficult to estimate how long furniture should last, as variables such as the amount of traffic can affect the life of the furniture. Upholstery fabric is measured in double rubs, an abrasion rating, and the more double rubs, the more durable. Still, when the material does tear, there is little an operator can do.
“There is no good way of patching upholstery,” Sarno says. “The only good way is to get it reupholstered.” He adds that most booths consist of separate pieces, the seats and backs, so if one piece tears, the operator can have only that piece reupholstered instead of the entire assembly.
If the vinyl has a small hole, try Super Glue and a blow dryer, Savitske says. For larger rips, there are professional furniture repair companies, but operators should do a cost analysis to make sure fixing it does not cost as much as a new seat. Also, the booth will be out of service while it is being repaired, unless the repairer can do the work during off hours.
Another alternative is to contract with a repair company to come in regularly. That’s the strategy of Omaha, Nebraska-based Sam and Louie’s Italian Restaurant and New York Pizza. “We have a local company, Dr. Vinyl, stop by our Omaha-area locations every couple months and do on the spot repairs for small nicks or cracks in the vinyl booths and chairs,” says Michael Nolan, director of
operations and franchising. “When you catch them while they are small you won’t need to have them completely recovered. You can’t see the repairs at all, they do a great job.”
In the markets where there is no Dr. Vinyl, Nolan says, the locations contact a local car restoration shop. “They can usually order in the same or very similar vinyl to do the repair,” he says. “Many of them will do it for partial food trade, which keeps costs down significantly.”
Fabric seats often have a protector such as Scotchgard sprayed on them, which helps block stains such as red sauce and wine. Fabric seats should be vacuumed frequently for crumbs, says Jay Miranda, principal at Chipman Design Architecture in Des Plaines, Illinois. If not a vacuum, at least brush the crumbs away with a soft bristle brush. Another newer fabric is Crypton, which has “moisture barrier technology,” according to the company.
For leather furniture, Miranda recommends applying a leather care oil two to three times a year to refresh the leather and maintain its elasticity. For vinyl, vinegar is another effective cleaner. “Vinyl can have mildew and mold growth, and vinegar kills mold and mildew,” he says.
Replace or repair?
Sometimes it is better to replace upholstery than to try to repair it. “If it is ripping because of wear, there is nothing you can do,” says Janet Gregoire, team lead, inside sales for Millennium Seating Corporation in Marietta, Georgia. “If the back is
ripping and torn, at that point you need to replace the whole booth. By then the kick plate is banged up from people’s feet.”
She adds that many times, the cost to reupholster a seat or a booth is about 75 percent of what a new one would cost. “We have found most of our customers want to replace them,” she says. “They just want a new booth.”
Nora Caley is a freelance writer specializing in food and business topics. She lives in Denver, Colorado.