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Casual dining’s other problem: Bad employee hygiene

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Employees of casual-dining restaurants may be driving away customers by failing to meet such rudimentary hygiene standards as keeping their fingernails and uniforms clean, according to new research.

The study found that adult consumers who dine in casual restaurants at least once a month put a high value on the personal appearance and habits of the staff. In particular, noted the report from the University of Missouri, patrons gauge the food safety of where they’re eating in part by looking at employees’ nails and uniforms and noting whether staffers wear gloves when handling food.

As a group, the 300-plus survey respondents said they were unsatisfied with what they see when using those three gauges of a restaurant’s sanitation efforts.

However, they gave high grades to restaurants’ efforts to keep employees with runny noses or other visible signs of being sick from interacting with food or customers. They also gave an overall thumbs-up to other sanitation cues, such as serving utensils and tableware being clean, food being served at the appropriate temperature, tabletops and other surfaces being clean and restrooms being clean and stocked with supplies. 

A sign of substandard sanitation will trump other factors in consumers’ minds, according to the report, which was drafted by Pei Liu and Yee Ming Lee, both of Missouri’s hospitality management department.

“Research found that consumers would not revisit a restaurant that served tasty food at a reasonable price if the hygienic aspects of the restaurant were compromised,” they wrote.

The report did not cite specific casual-dining restaurants or chains.

The study noted that 48 million instances of food poisoning occur in the United States every year and result in 3,000 deaths. Nearly two-thirds of the afflictions (60%) are traced back to restaurants.

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