October 1, 2014 |

Man on the Street: Health conscious

By Scott Wiener

busy_counter_3979You know the feeling. You’re in a pizzeria and everything’s great. The staff is helpful and friendly, the ambiance is charming, the music is perfect and the food is excellent. But then it happens — you discover a single unsanitary detail that completely ruins your day. It’s an instant buzz kill and has the potential to destroy the remaining 98 percent of an otherwise perfect dining experience. You opened a pizzeria because you love food and people, not because you have a passion for mopping. Yet the fact remains: cleanliness is above godliness when it comes to food service and there are some details that get consistently overlooked.

Trouble begins before I even step foot inside. Parking lots are easy targets for litter so make sure yours isn’t a wasteland of plastic bags and scraps of paper. When I worked at a chain restaurant, it was the busser’s job to check the grounds in front of the store before every shift. We’d pick up receipts from the neighboring bookstore, food wrappers, soda cans and sometimes even broken glass. It’s a huge mistake to ignore the grounds around your restaurant, especially considering the fact that this is your guests’ first impression of your restaurant.

Outdoor seating is great, but be careful about the foliage you choose to accent the space. Beautiful flowers attract insects and not everybody appreciates the elegant nature of bees buzzing in their face. If it rains, you may have a bigger problem on your hand with mosquitos. You don’t want your guests’ last impression of your pizzeria to be the number of bug bites they received on their latest visit. Poorly placed garbage cans are another attraction for visiting insects, not to mention an unsightly scar on your otherwise perfectly coiffed outdoor oasis. At the very least, be sure to put a lid on that garbage can or you’re just asking for trouble.
The fun really begins once we get inside. If your restaurant is a hotspot for families with kids I’ll bet the benches and chairs in your waiting area are coated with a sticky film of kid goo. Keeping a disinfectant at your host stand isn’t just a smart idea for dealing directly with these messes — it’s also a sign to the waiting guests that you’ve got the cleanliness issue under control.

Once I’ve been seated, I summon all the concentration in my soul to avoid touching the mysterious underside of the table. Who knows what partially chewed gum awaits the accidental graze of my legs as I adjust my seating position? The same goes for cheese and oregano shakers. I can guarantee some of that kid goo made its way onto every loose item on my table. It’s particularly dangerous since I’m usually touching these things immediately before eating my pizza. Please give these little shakers the respect they deserve and bathe them after a tough day on the job.

We’ve come all this way and haven’t even mentioned the bathroom. It’s the part of your restaurant that has the potential to completely cripple a guest’s experience. If there’s water all over the sink area and paper towels on the floor, it’s an instant indication that someone’s not checking this room regularly. One New York pizzeria has a card hanging on the door that gets initialed by a busser every hour after he or she inspects it for disaster.

Easy devices like this are perfect methods for keeping an eye on the room while also showing your customers how vigilant you are about their health and safety.

Scott Wiener owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City.