• Course 2: Lesson 2: Ensuring Cleanliness Among Service Staff

    The hygiene of the wait staff should not have to be a concern of management, since all adults should maintain a neat and clean appearance. However, in this imperfect world it is an issue that often arises. There is no easy way to deal with something that is so personal by its very nature, but there are a few tactics that could help.


    • Set an example. Your appearance sets the pattern for the staff. Make certain that you’re sending the right signal to the staff.
    • Consider uniforms. Uniforms are available in everything from polos and khakis to t-shirts and aprons to tuxedos. Mandated uniforms create standards for appearance and cleanliness. The benefit to your establishment of a well-dressed staff may outweigh the costs.
    • Tie in perks. Arrangements—often as a barter—can be made with local barbers or salons to offer your staff a discount for regular appointments. The employees view this as a perk, and other local businesses benefit from regular customers.
    • Make handwashing mandatory. Most localities’ health regulations mandate a separate hand washing station for kitchen personnel, but the same need holds true for the service staff. Waitstaff must always serve food with perfectly clean hands.


    • Don’t demean staff. Staff members who haven’t gotten hints about their appearance before need clear instruction. Post a sign in employee areas detailing all the aspects of good personal hygiene and appearance. Be subtle.
    • Don’t be insulting. As with any condition that affects good service, the offending staff member should be reminded repeatedly until the condition is corrected. Be professional, patient, and considerate.
    • Don’t do it in public. Discussions about hygiene are embarrassing for everyone concerned, so don’t make it worse by doing it in front of employees or customers. Have a private conversation.

    Ensuring Cleanliness in Your Operation

    The hectic nature of front-of-the-house activities often leads to lapses in basic sanitation procedures. Most sanitation issues are simple to correct, but they require diligence and consistency. A list of daily tasks assigned to various servers may be all it takes. In other instances, a posted list on the employee bulletin board may do the trick. In every situation and in every eating venue, a small slip in sanitation can cause very big and very negative repercussions for the establishment. These are some of the basic areas that cause the most problems:


    • Wash hands regularly. Sinks or special areas should be available for staff to wash their hands frequently during service.
    • Keep sick staff members at home. A wheezing, sniffling, coughing server does not enhance the dining experience. Have a clear policy about when employees should call in sick.
    • Check condiment holders before each meal service. Salt and pepper shakers, sugar bowls, and containers for mustard, ketchup, or jelly should be checked before each service and—on at least a weekly basis—emptied and run through the dishwasher. The daily wipe is good but the hot water and detergent used in a commercial dishwasher can kill most pathogens.
    • Check and replace table tents and other tabletop cards. Paper items should be replaced if they become soiled and the laminated ones should be wiped as a regular part of busing the table.
    • Keep water with detergent handy. Tables and service areas should be washed with water that contains enough detergent or sanitizing liquid to kill pathogens. Check the detergent labels for the correct proportions.
    • Protect the ice bin. Scoops for the ice bin should not be used for anything else. Likewise, something intended for another use—like a cup or pan—should not double as your ice scoop. The ice from a bin used for drinks should never be used as a cooler for bottles or other containers.


    • Handle plates in a way that allows fingers to get into the food or sauce. The appropriate handling of plates for service is imperative and your patrons will realize the slightest inaptness. Your wait staff should be practiced in the proper way to handle, present, and serve. Servers should touch only the edge and bottoms of the plates as they transport them from kitchen to dining room. Although the difference in presentation is often slight, your patrons will recognize the difference.
    • Touch the guests. A guest may misinterpret a friendly hand on the shoulder as an aggressive or inappropriate move.
    • Reuse the bread. Bread served to a table should never be reused for another table. Reusing bread is not a way to economize; it’s a way to violate your health code.
    • Leave dairy products unrefrigerated. Dairy products must be kept under refrigeration until they are served to the guest. Keeping pitchers of milk or cream or containers of butter on tables throughout the meal service for various seatings allows pathogens to grow.
    • Reuse seemingly untouched glasses or flatware. That glass or piece of flatware left over from the previous seating should never be considered to be “clean” just because it has no visible signs of use. Be safe by removing all items from the table after each seating.
    • Leave uncovered drinking cups in the service area. Employee cups should be well-marked and covered. An uncovered cup could easily spill its contents onto a meal intended for a customer and contaminate it. In the fast-paced world of the service staff, a glass could easily be knocked over and shatter, spewing shards into customers’ meals and beverages.

    A Note About To-Go Boxes

    Most establishments have a policy that allows the customer to take home the uneaten portion of the meal in a special container. A clear procedure should be created for the handling of this food by wait staff. It is usually best if the wait staff transfer the food from the plate to the container in the kitchen. Some identification of the meal should be placed on the outside of the container so that customers are assured that it is, indeed, their meal in that container.

    Another item that should be considered is instruction for use. It sounds so simple, but you really should remind people that the aluminum in which you may have placed the meal should not be used in a microwave, and likewise, if you placed the food in a paper container, that it should not be placed directly in the oven.

    An important cautionary note is that customers should be advised that food should not remain indefinitely in the backseat of the car or in their shopping bag—the foods should be refrigerated immediately to remain safe.