Cleaning your restaurant and keeping it clean is not just something every restaurateur should be doing on a regular basis. It’s now going to become something that customers and guests will expect and local authorities will likely require.

We know that the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t caused by or transmitted through food, but the foodservice industry may forever feel its impact. Guests will expect a higher level of cleanliness, at least for the short-term, when restaurants reopen for dine-in business in the coming weeks or months. 

Midlab, Inc. professional Keith Manning breaks down levels and high-focus areas of cleaning within a restaurant, along with best practices in each to promote health and safety in the foodservice industry.

Manning says that while cleaning and disinfecting have always been important parts of a healthy environment, the emergence of the novel coronavirus emphasizes how critical each is for the long-term health and safety of both foodservice professionals and their guests. 

According to Manning, there are 4 aspects of keeping a foodservice establishment clean and sanitary:

  • Hand Washing—best way to prevent both your staff and guests from getting sick. 
  • Cleaning surfaces—removing soils and food sources from surfaces. While cleaning does not kill pathogens, it is the most important part of the hygiene process because it impairs the environment where those pathogens would thrive. 
  • Sanitizing food contact surfaces—lowering the number of germs on surfaces or objects to a safe level, as judged by public health standards or requirements, but not as thoroughly as a disinfectant.
  • Disinfecting touch points—killing pathogens on surfaces or objects. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection.

Many people will mistakenly use disinfecting interchangeably with sanitizing, but it is important to note two major differences: effectiveness and application. Disinfecting with a product such as the Maxim Facility+ disinfectant cleaner removes more germs than sanitizing, making it more effective in killing pathogens like Covid-19. However, disinfectants are not generally food safe. Due to the high level of actives and detergency in disinfectant products, they must be followed with a potable rinse once the dwell time, or amount of time the surface must remain visibly wet, is achieved.

In contrast, food safe sanitizers like the 430 Maxim Hard Surface Sanitizer Tabletop and Decanter, removes pathogens to a safe level after cleaning and food products may be placed on the surface immediately after the dwell time. Though such sanitizers may not remove pathogens as thoroughly as a disinfectant, the application process is simpler because they do not require a potable rinse.

When we look at a typical foodservice establishment, there are three distinct areas to address: front of house, back of house and restrooms. Each area plays a vital role to guests and should be kept clean at any and all costs. Especially now. Here is what Manning also recommends in terms of each:

Front of house

In a typical food service operation, cleaning and sanitizing have always been the rule of thumb.  From wiping off gross soil with a wet cloth to cleaning surfaces with an all-purpose or glass cleaner and food-grade sanitizer, this has been the norm for general surface hygiene. 

Moving forward, what will we see?  We are already seeing more of an emphasis on disinfecting rather than sanitizing as we deal with concerns over more contagious pathogens such as Covid-19.  We will likely continue to see more disinfectant usage. 

The keys are the staff and guest touch points. Staff should be disinfecting, not just sanitizing, the areas that employees and guests touch frequently. This includes, but is not limited to, all door handles, rails and non-food contact countertops. 

Tables are considered a food contact surface, so food safe sanitizers still need to be used between guests. Disinfecting followed by a potable water rinse needs to be done daily.

Back of House

The good news is that heat kills viruses at about 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, cooking and dishwashing will take care of viruses and bacteria on what you eat and eat on.  Again, staff hand washing best practices are another key to reducing the spread. 

Slow times are an excellent opportunity to implement best practices. This means using that time to disinfect touch surfaces with dwell time and a potable water rinse on food service areas.

In summary, the simplest and most effective measure for combating the spread of viruses is to keep them away from you.  Hand washing and high touch point disinfecting, along with being more aware than normal, will win the day for you. 


Restrooms are one of the main danger areas for the spread of infection, not to mention the image of a business in general.  Surveys show that dirty restrooms can have a negative impact on guest satisfaction overall. 

Disinfecting touch points, such as fixtures, flush handles and dispensers, several times per day is best practice. Deep cleaning, including thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting every major surface and scrubbing down toilet bowls, is best done daily.

People may not continue wiping down their environments with Clorox wipes every 30 minutes, but we do know they will be paying more attention to how clean public areas are, especially restaurants. Legal requirements and regulations will likely increase maintenance standards, and customers will be even more conscious of slightly unkempt bathrooms. Do your research to make sure you’re using A-grade products and practices throughout all areas of your establishment, and be prepared to increase how often you disinfect instead of sanitize. And finally, make sure you teach your employees the difference.

With decades of experience in the industry, Steve Starr has become a nationally-recognized leader in restaurant and retail design. While his insight and expertise spans the hospitality industry, his focus is on branding, consumer behavior and the development process. Steve leads a creative, multi-disciplinary team of architects, interior designers, graphics designers and branding professionals at Starr Design in Charlotte, North Carolina, where they concentrate on connecting people with brands through creative environments and responsible processes.

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