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Cleaning debate: In-house or outsource

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With so much at stake—from guests’ perceptions to overall safety—deciding whether to trust the task of cleaning a restaurant to in-house staff or farm it out to the pros is of the utmost importance. Which choice is the right one for an operation? It depends on whom you ask. 

Employ the experts?

Because of the large size of Chicago-based B. Hospitality’s restaurants—which include Formento’s and Nonna’s, plus Balena and Swift & Sons through a partnership with Boka Restaurant Group—it’s more cost-effective to contract a third-party service, says partner and director of operations David Johnston.

“We built a great relationship with the company and … they’re able to provide us with a large team that, if we were doing it in-house, would be an additional few thousand dollars a month, which is a big deal,” says Johnston. “They clean it consistently, and they have a [daily] checklist that we created.”

The cost of cleaning supplies (which are charged to the operator in this instance) is a battle, Johnston says. “That’s the thing you have to keep your thumb on with constant gentle pressure all the time,” he says. “Make sure that the outside company is not tearing through supplies because they feel like they can … because they’re not thinking like an owner. The purveyors we work with understand that we’ve got our eye on the ball, and we have budgets that we need to meet.”

Keep it in-house?

Passion Food Hospitality used to contract a corporate service for overnight cleaning shifts before it brought cleaning entirely in-house five years ago at its 10 restaurants in the Washington area, which range from quick-service Burger Tap & Shake to full-service seafood restaurant PassionFish Bethesda, Md. CFO David Wizenberg says that once he factors in the cost of supplies (which he didn’t pay for with the contractor), it’s only slightly cheaper to do so; however, accountability rather than cost prompted the switch.

If your overnight cleaning crew doesn’t show or misses the mark, you won’t know until the next morning. “[Then] you don’t have the bodies or the equipment to get the restaurant clean for service,” Wizenberg says.

It’s not one strike and you’re out, though, Wizenberg found; many contracts require a grace period to correct unsatisfactory work. “You put them on notice and they have 30 days to remedy the situation,” he says, adding that, in his experience, cleaners who know they’re on the way out don’t do as good of a job.

A special touch

Even restaurants that bring their cleaning operations in-house find that certain tasks still are best handled by specialists. The cork floor of Formento’s ballroom, for example, requires special handling in order to avoid damage, so B. Hospitality has it cleaned by a separate company after each event.

Passion Food pays about $500 each quarter to bring in a third-party service to polish marble floors—the one added cost Wizenberg didn’t anticipate—because doing so in-house would require expensive heavy-duty equipment and the requisite safety training. “We’re not going to be able to [afford to] buy a piece of equipment as good as they have,” he says. “If you’ve ever ran a buffer, it will knock you on your rear end. They are very powerful machines.” 

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