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How Important is Restaurant Cleanliness to You?

Being a lover of dives I never really gave this too much thought until recently. I went with a friend to a Chinese noodle restaurant in Hells Kitchen (I can't recall the name). The food was ok and I was enjoying myself... until I went to the bathroom and saw someone flushing lettuce down the toilet. ?????? I was disgusted. The strange thing is that my friend didn't think this was a big deal. I completely lost my appetite. I don't think I overreacted but I am curious how you would react in this situation.

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  1. Hey- better flushing it down, than pulling it out!

    1. I can top that!

      It was a bagel place. I purchased some things and placed an order. I went to the (one) restroom. When I entered, I froze. The toilet was... Stood there thinking for a while. Saw a plunger. As much as I detest cleaning up other people's messes... Washed my hands/arms for a minute. Went out and didn't say a word.

      On the lettuce things, maybe it was lettuce that was just caught in clothing and noticed while in the restroom?

      1 Reply
      1. re: ediblover

        A busboy or cook was flushing lettuce down the toilet when I opened the door.

      2. Personally, flushing lettuce bothered you? Er weren't you in the bathroom to flush something probably more disgusting, of your own? I mean isn't that the role of toilets? AS long as it was flushed down and not being taken out, no bother to me.

        1. It is critically important! Poor restaurant hygiene can result in minor disgusts such as described above, but more importantly can result in serious illnesses such as staph gastroenteritis (usually from inadequate refrigeration), salmonella infection or potentially fatal hepatitis. I don't care how delicious the food may look or taste, foodborne illness is not something to mess with. If I see a serious offense, I'm out of there and on the phone to the health department.

          1. As long as they weren't pulling the lettuce out of the toilet I don't think I'd have a problem with it. There was a television expose a few years back on a Vancouver restaurant that was storing their meat slicer in the WC - that's about my limit.

            1. Well, I gaurantee what you witnessed was illegal, even in Hell's Kitchen.

              1. Actual cleanliness isn't so important (I've been in enough restaurant kitchens to know better), but I'd like at least to be fooled into thinking the place is clean. Ignorance = bliss.

                14 Replies
                1. re: ricepad

                  Disagree strongly. Cleanliness is extremely important. Ignorance is not bliss...ignorance can and often does result in illness, which can indeed be serious.

                  1. re: josephnl

                    You can disagree all you want, but unless you're inspecting the kitchen, you're don't know if it's clean or not. You just need the *impression* that it's clean. Have you ever been in a restaurant kitchen at the height of the dinner rush? If you insist on absolute cleanliness, you'd never eat out again.

                    1. re: ricepad

                      Actually, I don't disagree at all with your last post. Of course I realize that many kitchens are not as clean as I would like (and although busy kitchens may be very messy, they are not necessarily dirty). Nevertheless, one that is obviously filthy, is one that I think it is prudent to avoid.

                      1. re: josephnl

                        What is odd in my case, the three times I have gotten sick they were all upscale places- 2 near my house in CA and once in Las Vegas. Never in a foreign county, although I try to be careful with what I order.

                        1. re: BubblyOne

                          Regardless of where one eats, cleanness is likely worse than it appears. Therefore, whenever I see obvious and visible lack of cleanliness, it concerns me greatly. If what is visible is really bad, one can only imagine what's going on that's not so apparent. Whenever I see obvious filth, I'm out of there...with the rare exception of certain well cooked and very hot street food.

                          1. re: josephnl

                            in restaurants it's often the opposite, actually. regardless of the messiness of the work surfaces and floor around particularly messy prep/line cooks, those work surfaces and floor get sanitized--not "cleaned," in the sense that home cooks do this-- but cleaned and *sanitized* daily/several times daily. messy cutting boards, splatters of food, handprint on the fridge door, discarded pans used cooking waiting to be moved to the dish area. . . all of these things are acceptable to a certain point during a busy dinner service. then everything is cleaned-rinsed-sanitized-air dryed. making it much more "clean" than a home kitchen, where god knows how often the entire fridge is emptied, disassembled, and sanitized-- and there also you've got people using the same wiping towel weeks on end and using it to dry their hands *if* they wash their hands after touching the dog, and rinsing their cereal spoon and putting it in the drying rack, and letting their cat eat off the counter, and wiping off a cutting board with a paper towel after cutting meat/poultry and using the same for raw fruit/veg, or other stuff i've seen--though their kitchens *appeared* to be "clean."

                            i've worked in restaurants in older buildings with cobble-tile or old warehouse building wood floors, we'd mop nightly, but the floors appeared old and worn and maybe dingy to some people, though they were quite clean. some people insist that the cleanliness of the bathroom of a restaurant reflects the restaurant's kitchen, although nowhere i've ever worked, or ever heard of, do the cooks also clean the restroom, and in fact it's generally against health code for them to do this. an outside service is often engaged for restrooms and nightly cleaning of restaurants after closing time.

                            1. re: soupkitten

                              Glad I worked at a restaurant for a few years during college, because I agree w/you and it certainly formed how I keep my kitchen.
                              My friends joke that I'm "grandma" even though I'm a guy when it comes to cleaning but I don't care in the least.

                              1. re: soupkitten

                                I understand completely what you are saying. Messiness in a busy kitchen is normal...I distinguish this from dirtiness and poor hygiene (for example, crap hanging down from exhaust hood filters, egg based sauces not being kept hot or cold, corners of work surfaces that are crusted with age old grime, etc.). The latter to me point to places I don't want to go to (and are places I'll report to the health dept.). This is very different from a busy kitchen ready to shut down for the night where messiness is completely understandable, may be the norm, and doesn't represent a health hazard.

                                1. re: josephnl

                                  heh. i look at the hoods, too. and the stove grease traps. i could care less about whether the paper towel dispenser in the loo is askew or one of the lightbulbs next to the vanity is burned out or there is a spot on the carpet in the dining room. the hoods, i look at for the hanging dingies. and, i also look (first) at the walls behind the trash cans and the general state of the kitchen hand sinks, and the floor mats. and in the bar area i will check inside the speed rails, look for dust on the highest bottle display shelves, and hold the bottle of dry vermouth up to the light ;-P

                                2. re: soupkitten

                                  I agree with you 100% soupkitten! My experience mirrors yours.

                                3. re: josephnl

                                  I am always reminded of episodes of "Kitchen Nightmares," where Ramsay goes into the kitchen, the coolers and then takes the vent hood apart... frightening!


                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                    Thanks soupkitten and hunt...call me crazy, but if see obvious filth (not somewhat normal kitchen messiness) I'm out of there...not soon to return!

                                    1. re: josephnl

                                      +1. Seriously. If it's that bad where I can see it, I don't want to imagine what it's like where I don't.

                            2. re: ricepad

                              (I see someone already made this distinction after i kept reading)

                              "Have you ever been in a restaurant kitchen at the height of the dinner rush? If you insist on absolute cleanliness, you'd never eat out again."

                              There is a significant difference from "dinner rush" cleanliness (which I'm still not a huge fan of) and permanent cleanliness issues - 10 year old grease dripping from the vent hoods, black moldy corners of the floor, rotten food in the walk-in . . . .

                              I cook enough at home to at least "think" I know the difference between a day's grime and a weeks worth (I mean if you've seem my kitchen after making a cake or pizza, it is a mess but give me 30 minutes and it looks spotless again).

                        2. While visiting my cousin in San Antonio a couple of years ago she took me to one of her fave restaurants. I needed to visit the bathroom first; when I entered the stall after a young girl exited, there was feces smeared all over the walls. Now, I'm sure it's not the restaurant's fault (and fairly sure it was the girl because she looked non-chalant coming out) but I *could not* eat there after seeing that.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Jasz

                            After seeing that I don't know if I could eat anywhere for a while.

                            1. re: Jasz

                              Was that "young girl" a patron, or a food service worker?


                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                I assumed she was a customer as she looked quite young to me. Never really thought on it—just wanted to get out of there quickly.

                            2. Just curious - how did you see someone flushing anything down a toilet in a restaurant? Was the stall door open at the time? Cleanliness is very important but I'm not sure I would use a restaurant's choice of customers in terms of what they do in the restrooms to evaluate the level of cleanliness.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: hsk

                                Sorry if I didn't clarify earlier but I opened the door (not knowing anyone was in there). Inside was a cook or busboy flushing lettuce down the toilet. He left, leaving lettuce scattered all over the bathroom floor.

                              2. My curiosity would certainly have been piqued, but it just wouldn't have registered as a food safety issue. As long as the stuff is making a one-way trip into the room/toilet, what bearing does it have on what goes on in the kitchen?

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: MikeG

                                  If the employees are disregarding this health issue, what else are they disregarding?

                                  I'm just wondering what the benefit is of flushing lettuce down the toilet. Were their trash bins full?

                                  1. re: MikeG

                                    Nevermind, my question was answered downthread.

                                  2. I'm sure those of us who have worked in various dives have all sorts of horror stories--mine involved an airport where we were only allowed to change the dish washing water once an hour, no matter how many cockroaches were floating in it!--but now I look at whether there is hot water and soap in the bathroom that employees use--if not I'm out of there.

                                    1. Really depends on the type of restaurant.

                                      Sushi/sashimi joint? Gotta be clean.
                                      Deli (with deli meats)? Ditto.
                                      Burger stand? Not so much.

                                      1. Hm-m., this is a good question.

                                        I like a clean restaurant, BUT the best fried shrimp, that I have ever had was from a restaurant with a "Grade D" sanitation rating. In Mississippi, the ratings go from A, on down, but I had never seen a D, until I dined at Magnusen's House of Seafood. They had a Grade D, but did have a hole in the roof. Still, their's was the ultimate fried shrimp plate, and the paradigm, that holds to this day - 40 years later! None have even come close. Back then, they were anything but cheap, but at 5x the price, no one has come close.

                                        So, I would say that if the food makes the difference, then the heck with it.


                                        6 Replies
                                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                                          Boy, you're braver than I am. That said, it is possible to make to make a rare exception...but only in certain circumstances. I have had some wonderful street food in northern Thailand where it was obvious that sanitation was not a priority, but the only things I would eat were sizzling hot foods coming right out of scalding oil or right off a seriously hot grill, and served on paper. My mouth waters today just thinking about the seriously delicious sausages they grill at the night market in Chiang Mai.

                                          Having had pretty significant food poisoning....and being a physician myself, I tend to be pretty careful re eating where sanitation is an obvious issue.

                                          1. re: josephnl

                                            Yep, eating in "exotic" places can be hard on the system...

                                            My Doctor told me, before a trip to India, you can eat everything with 3 rules :
                                            If it's supposed to be eaten hot it must be eaten hot (temperature, not capsaicin)
                                            If it's cold it must be cold.
                                            if it's fruits you must be able to remove the skin yourself (banana, ... )

                                            But I got sick because our host had some some food rought in at work ...

                                            1. re: Maximilien

                                              Mr Pine is from India, so we've been there a bunch. Got ghastly sick twice: once from a hamburger at a Western-style place (became a vegetarian for 20 years after that, truly) and once from simply forgetting & using tap water to rinse my toothbrush, then back in my mouth. Otherwise, your rules generally work!

                                              1. re: pine time

                                                one time i think i had a parasite (because tests could not confirm), but doctors told me it was water born; we need to be careful of eating salad just as much, if not more; Not sure about India (never been), but I am more "afraid" of eating salad in a restaurant in the US than meat; meat can be cooked through, even overcooked, but not salad

                                                1. re: crowmuncher

                                                  Perhaps it can happen, but food-borne parasitic infection is pretty rare in the US. I don't think that eating salads here poses any significant risk of it...e. coli infection is a much greater risk.

                                                  1. re: josephnl

                                                    funny u say that cuz ii was asked if i had been traveling out of the country or camping; i had been doing neither of those, but i was eating out a lot during that time (many years ago); whatever it was- it was wicked :(

                                        2. I think I get this.

                                          Lettuce if often kept in a bucket of cold water, when the bucket need to be changed all lettuce bits left get flushed.

                                          If you dump it in a sink, the sink clogs ergo..clogged sink big hassle and more of a potential heath hazard.

                                          Lots of wet messy things go down a toilet drain that would clog a sink.

                                          And really you don't want to eat in a place with clogged or dirty sinks

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Luna2372

                                            You make an interesting point, but wouldn't common sense tell you to flush the lettuce after the last customer has left, and not to leave lettuce leaves all over the bathroom floor? It gave me the impression that the restaurant just doesn't care- which made me not want to ever go back there.

                                          2. Flushing lettuce down the toilet is not a cleanliness or hygiene issue. It is a strange practice and, I'd imagine, as unusual in a professional kitchen as I imagine it is in most domestic kitchens.

                                            But, to answer the title of the thread, rather than the issue actually raised, restaurant cleanliness is very important. I take the view that if the dining room and the toilet area is not clean, then I dread to think what it's like in the parts that are not "on show" to diners.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Harters

                                              "It is a strange practice"

                                              Me think this is the tip of the iceberg (lettuce), they probably could not or do not want to pay for proper garbage collection.

                                            2. if a rug is dirty/spotted, if the bathroom is filthy, i don't want to eat there. i know how restaurants are, having worked in them before, and i know even having cockroaches doesn't mean you aren't being as clean as you can. Dives can be divey and still be clean. and i'm not a finicky person at all.

                                              1. i think ALL restaurants are gross because i usually eat at home- so I am spoiled in that regard; however, if i do go out to eat I relax and enjoy it; i don't think about what gross thing may have transpired in the kitchen; and if i find a hair in my food, i take it out and keep eating, but if i find two hairs in my food? i probably won't return to that establishment :)

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: crowmuncher

                                                  Recently in a restaurant I left the fresh strawberry on my plate and didn't eat it. The waitress remarked about it - I replied that I didn't know where that strawberry had been -- she remarked quickly "I don't let those things bother me." I wondered what else didn't bother her.

                                                  But I did envision a kitchen environment and all the other places previous to that restaurant's kitchen where it might have been before it got to my plate.

                                                  The same goes for 'grapes,' but for some reason I don't see many grapes making it to a plate anymore. Passe?

                                                2. On the opposite end of the spectrum, my wife and I were eating breakfast at Camille's in Key West when I found a string used to open the wax that surrounds the cheese in my omelette. I thought nothing about it, I just put it to the side and finished my (WONDERFUL) meal. When the waitress returned to clear our dishes, I made a joke about the extra filling in my omelette. She looked horror struck and apologized profusely and even comped my meal! I told her there was no problem with it but she insisted. If you are ever in Key West, Camille's is the place to go!

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: PotatoHouse

                                                    i will thanks- i've really enjoyed My Blue Heaven too

                                                  2. I can't believe the lettuce would flush w/out clogging the drain; the whole thing would back up unless the lettuce was shredded and dropped in a little at a time.

                                                    4 Replies
                                                    1. re: mucho gordo

                                                      This is what I was wondering, too. Was it big chunks of lettuce which seems like a waste of food? Or was it bits of shredded lettuce? Did it amount to a cup or so? A small amount, in a big container of water wouldn't bother me but a large amount would be puzzling.

                                                        1. re: NicoleFriedman

                                                          That's so odd. I'm trying to figure out why and how it didn't clog the toilets! I don't know if I'd think it were not hygienic but wonder what other odd practices they have?

                                                          1. re: NicoleFriedman

                                                            I'm thinking the person was using the lettuce to conceal something else he'd stolen (like hiding some foie gras in a handful of lettuce leaves) and that he went into the bathroom to consume it.

                                                      1. Last week, a good friend and I were just having this discussion, because I had wanted to try a small hamburger place, which has been around for years. It's old, in a bad neighborhood, and definitely grungey....BUT I heard they make some damn good burgers.

                                                        My friend, who I would say is always a bit "squeamish" took me there, but he refused to eat anything. The whole time he sat at the counter looking rather uncomfortable... He was busy eyeballing all of the signs of uncleanliness, and pointing out potential health hazards...

                                                        I was just digging on the fantasticly delicious burgers!

                                                        I wasnt bothered at all by the filth!

                                                        After we left, he was going on about the health hazards...I said that I havent heard about anyone dying from a burger there...or even getting sick from one...so what is the big deal?

                                                        If the food is good enough, I can easily turn a blind eye to a dirty place.

                                                        AS a matter of fact, there used to be a brilliant pizza place in Brooklyn. (sadly, it's since closed)We used to go there all the time...One night I saw mice in the bread basket area...like 3 of them!

                                                        The pizza was so good, THAT didnt even turn me off! Not even that night...we got our pizza and ate it!
                                                        (though I never ate bread there again!)

                                                        5 Replies
                                                        1. re: NellyNel

                                                          "If the food is good enough, I can easily turn a blind eye to a dirty place."

                                                          Does that apply to your kitchen at home as well?

                                                          1. re: Fowler

                                                            I keep always a sparkling clean kitchen, Fowler.

                                                            1. re: NellyNel

                                                              All I can say is that I would not want the health dept. poking around my kitchen. :-)

                                                          2. re: NellyNel

                                                            This is why I'm picky about who I'll go to dives with. I can't sit with someone who is phobic about dirt at a dive, especially if that person keeps talking about it. I was with a couple of friends where one did that, the other asked if she wanted to leave because if she kept it, he would rather leave than listen to her whine.

                                                            1. re: chowser

                                                              I always whine when a cook is visible doing burgers and sloughing his/her hair with his/her hand over the burgers, or when the cook scratches his nose constantly getting a little too close inside the nostril, or when the cook coughs into my food, or when a server or cook is standing around with a toothpic in his/her mouth, or when a server passes by my table and coughs loudly, or when I see a server bussing the table beside me, putting little fingers into someone else's leavings, then immediately goes to the bar and pics up my drink with those same little fingers -- oh, I whine a lot. I mind dirt, but the habits of people who serve me and cook for me - I AM PHOBIC, and I WHINE.

                                                          3. Taste trumps hygiene every time for me. Highly recommend checking out George Orwell's "Down and Out in Paris and London." The more upscale and snooty the restaurant, the more likely the hygiene is lacking in the food prep area. Also, your local Board of Health website is a great source for the latest in who is the most eggregious violator. In my area, the worst are caterers and fast food establishments.


                                                            36 Replies
                                                            1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                              "The more upscale and snooty the restaurant, the more likely the hygiene is lacking in the food prep area"?

                                                              Why is that the case?

                                                              1. re: Fowler

                                                                I'd imagine after investing so much on interior design, table linens, silverwear, and monkey butlers, there's little left to put into keeping the sewage from flowing into the kitchen. Don't ask me, it's George Orwell's book.

                                                                1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                  well, the man has been dead for more than 60 years now. back in the early part of the 20th century when orwell was writing, there was little/no regulation in food, and many other industries, in many areas of the world, including big cities. as the restaurant industry developed, and thanks in part to orwell's "aiming for the public's heart, but hitting them in the stomach" exposition in his novels (particularly 1984), the laws, rules, and methods surrounding food production at every level has changed. . . quite a bit, in fact. orwell's fiction does not reflect today's restaurants any more than today's automotive industry is reflected by a 1933 ford. 1933, btw, is when "down and out" was published. so. . . almost a century ago, already.

                                                              2. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                [Quote] Taste trumps hygiene every time for me. [/Quote]

                                                                I used to stop at the Walt Whitman Truck Stop in Philly, down the street from the Rocky statue and right across the street from the Produce Market, everytime I could. The place was a rundown rat trap where I would not even take the health risk of using the urinals, but they had the BEST Cheesesteaks in Philladelphia!!! I would always order one footlong Chicken Cheesesteak and one regular Cheesesteak (Both with onions, peppers, and mushrooms) and would eat half and half for two meals, unless it had been too long between visits, then I would just eat both of them!!

                                                                1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                  As a physician who has both personally had severe food poisoning, and has seen persons close to death due to food-borne illness, I must say that it is incredibly naive (I'd use a stronger word, but I'm afraid that the CH police would censor me) to say that "taste trumps hygiene" every time. As I have said before on this thread, I very much distinguish between "messiness" which is commonplace in busy kitchens...and disregard of basic kitchen hygiene. The former is forgivable, the later may be deadly. When one sees obvious filth in a kitchen...crap hanging from exhaust fans, rodent droppings on the floor (yes, I've seen this), kitchen staff not washing their hands in the restroom (I've seen this too), crusted dirt on cooking surfaces, filth behind garbage containers, etc., etc....I don't care how wonderful the food is...it really is not smart to eat there. It's just not worth the chance of getting very seriously sick. No...it really doesn't make sense to me to say that "taste trumps hygienic every time".

                                                                  1. re: josephnl

                                                                    That's all good and well, but how many restaurant kitchens do you actually see?

                                                                    1. re: ricepad

                                                                      I have seen enough to know the difference between acceptable kitchen "messiness" and absolutely unacceptable disregard for basic rules of hygiene.

                                                                      1. re: josephnl

                                                                        You didn't answer my question. Do you inspect the kitchen of every restaurant where you eat? Yeah, I'll agree that a quick glance can tell you a lot about the hygiene practices about a restaurant, but not very many restaurants will give you that access. So we're back to my original statement, that it's not actual cleanliness (since you won't be allowed to check that out for yourself) but the *impression* of cleanliness that you get from looking at the public areas. And most restaurateurs know that.

                                                                        1. re: ricepad

                                                                          Of course I don't routinely inspect restaurant kitchens. That is precisely my point...when restaurant filth is obvious (in open kitchens, through serving windows, etc.), to me, it's a place I want to avoid.

                                                                          1. re: josephnl

                                                                            An uncle worked in for a moving company, and he once came home practically green...they had dismantled a local restaurant's kitchen for moving, and under the grinders & other equipment was decades worth of grunge, even maggots. He refused to eat out after that.

                                                                      2. re: ricepad

                                                                        exactly, if one is going to worry about hygiene then why go to restaurants, etc.? make it yourself

                                                                        1. re: crowmuncher

                                                                          In my case, I do make it myself; but there are times when one cannot carry a lunch basket.

                                                                          1. re: Rella

                                                                            how heavy is your basket Rella? :) i have a small cooler i wear like a purse around the shoulder; not sure about a basket, but i don't see how someone would not be able to carry food with them since i do it all the time (even when flying); with that said, i know that it may not be convenient sometimes or when we run out of time (didn't prepare ahead); and sometimes we just don't feel like it and would rather go out to grab a bite- but i think it's possible for one to pack/carry lunch everyday if we want to

                                                                      3. re: josephnl

                                                                        In college, I worked for a number of years at a popular pizza delivery chain (four stores in two different regions). Adherence to basic hygiene practices (like that "Employees Must Wash Hands" sign mandated by the board of health) went out the door when you were doing a 100+ pie-an-hour Saturday night. Standard practice was to have the DRIVERS help assemble pizzas and we were hardly the most hygienic bunch. And when your livelihood depended on it, you showed up for work whether you were sick or healthy. Needless to say, I don't order pizza from that particular chain, but it got me thinking: how prevalent are these practices at other chains, and not just pizza ones?

                                                                        I feel there's a certain level of self-delusion that goes on when you eat at restaurants or do carryout. It's like how we convince ourselves we're safe when we hurtle down the road at 80MPH in a metal box. We see white tablecoths and polished silverware and deliverymen in a uniform and this gives us the illusion of cleanliness. We want to believe our food is clean and our servers healthy and the kitchen messy but sanitary. My experience has led me to believe otherwise. It's like those "x is dirtier than a toilet seat" scare stories that run all the time. Well, of course your steering wheel/computer keyboard/reusable shopping bag is going to be swarming with e-coli and dirtier than a toilet seat. A toilet seat actually gets bleached once in a while. But I try not to think about the keyboard I'm using right now being dirtier than a toilet. Sort of the same way I try not to think about how unhygienic everyone involved in preparing my meal probably is.

                                                                        1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                          Yes. You make the point much more eloquently than I.

                                                                          1. re: ricepad

                                                                            you think it's valid to infer that the hygenic practices at a regional pizzeria mini-chain. . . somehow reflect how fine dining restaurants are run? with chefs and culinary school graduates, and, um. . . management? how many delivery drivers does alinea or the french laundry employ? i just don't see the correlation. i don't doubt that Monkeyerotica witnessed the wretched hygenic practices s/he is reporting, but i think it isn't reasonable to think this is widespread, or necessarily current, or even that the same four pizzerias still run this way, if they've retained their licenses and are still in business. i've never even heard of pizza delivery dudes jumping on the cooking line, and i worked at a *wicked* busy pizzeria. . .

                                                                            1. re: soupkitten

                                                                              You're absolutely right soupkitten. The majority of successful fine dining restaurants are pretty careful about hygiene in their kitchens. The last thing they want is to have an epidemic of hepatitis or salmonella traced back to them...or being temporarily shut down following a health inspection. Having this sort of thing reported in the press would be a disaster for a fine restaurant.

                                                                              As someone else pointed out, many restaurants nowadays have open kitchens where gross lack of hygiene is pretty obvious. We ate in Houston's last evening, and walking by their open kitchen, it was apparent that even though they were extremely busy, the kitchen was pretty darn clean!

                                                                              1. re: josephnl

                                                                                Open kitchens pretty much *have* to be clean so as not to scare away diners like you. Other kitchens are not similarly motivated.

                                                                                1. re: josephnl

                                                                                  " The majority of successful fine dining restaurants are pretty careful about hygiene in their kitchens."

                                                                                  A friend of mine is a health inspector. She's probably the pickiest person I know, as health goes, down to carrying her own pH tester to check chlorine level of pools before her daughter is allowed in. She eats out. So, I figure if she's seen the backrooms of most restaurants in her area and is happy, most are fine. I'm not nearly as picky as she is.

                                                                                2. re: soupkitten

                                                                                  No, not I. I've never worked in a pizza kitchen, nor do I know much about how they operate. I believe you were responding to monkeyrotica.

                                                                                  1. re: ricepad

                                                                                    i was responding to you, actually. i'm interested in what exactly you found about Monkeyerotica's post that was so eloquent/compelling you responded:

                                                                                    Yes. You make the point much more eloquently than I.

                                                                                    to agree with this post-- which i think is a rather unconventional viewpoint (but what do i know, & this is honestly what i'm trying to ascertain by responding to you, i am not trying to be rude to you or hound you, i'm just curious)-- particularly when you state you don't have experience with what you're plus-one-ing. . . is confusing to me.

                                                                                    of course, i knew a lady who stopped eating out after seeing "the cook, the thief, his wife and her lover" . . . "because that's what happens in restaurant kitchens." okaaaaay. . . everyone is entitled to her/his own opinion of course, i'm just interested in how they got there.

                                                                                    1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                      The second paragraph, about self-delusion and illusion...that's my point. IOW, unless you've got access to the kitchen (for more than just a quick glance), you're judging a restaurant's cleanliness on what you see in the dining room, which may have little bearing on their safe food practices.

                                                                                      I've never been in a pizza kitchen, but I've been in plenty of others, and I know that every single one of them has food practices that violated local health code to the extent that a re-inspection would have been required if observed by an inspector.

                                                                                      1. re: ricepad

                                                                                        ricepad...if what you say is true then every unannounced health department kitchen inspection would result in a required re-inspection. Is this really the case? I don't know enough about it to opine, but somehow this doesn't seem to be correct.

                                                                                        1. re: josephnl

                                                                                          You should really check your local health department website, under restaurant inspections. It's an excellent resource to see which places are repeat offenders and which ones have gross negligence written all over them. Rare is the restaurant that has zero violations. Regardless of whether the dining establishment is upscale or fastfood, there are violations big and small and they ALL have some violations. Fortunately, most are relatively minor. Here's a sample of a minor one related to storage of utensils:

                                                                                          "3-304.12(A)-(F) Corrected During Inspection Core Item Dispensing and/or in-use utensils improperly stored between use as follows: in water that is <135F.

                                                                                          During pauses in food preparation or dispensing, food utensils shall be stored in one of the following manners: 1) in the food with their handles above the top of the food and the container, 2) in food that is not potentially hazardous (time/temperature control for safe food) with their handles above the top of the food within containers or equipment that can be closed, 3) on a clean portion of the food preparation table or cooking equipment only if the in-use utensil and the food contact surface of the food preparation table or cooking equipment are cleaned and sanitized, 4) in running water of sufficient velocity to flush particulates to the drain, 5) in a clean, protected location if the utensils are used only with a food that is NOT potentially hazardous (time/temperature control for safe food), or 6) in a container of water if the water is maintained at a temperature of at least 135°F and the container is cleaned frequently."

                                                                                          1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                                            I agree completely with your recommendation and regularly check the county health department website where all inspections are recorded. True most inspections note some minor infractions, and of course some restaurants are shut down temporarily every month, but most of the nicer restaurants where we eat come out pretty darn good...only an occasional very minor infraction. Most of the closures in the southern CA county where I live are in smaller ethnic restaurants.

                                                                                            1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                                              "Rare is the restaurant that has zero violations."

                                                                                              I think part of that has to do w/ the codes and the inspectors. My FIL said one inspector would tell him one thing and he'd change it to comply to pass (eg ice scoop should be in ice bin w/ handle up). The next time a different inspector would tell him it should be outside the bin and so on. He was written up for having containers of flour, etc. written in Spanish and Chinese but not English. He said none of them could read English. So, there's a big difference in being written up and having a clean establishment. It pays to read the report in detail.

                                                                                              1. re: chowser

                                                                                                Agreed. Codes (and enforcement) can vary widely from town to town and city to city. One person's filthy is another person's "that's how we've always done it."

                                                                                                1. re: chowser

                                                                                                  yes, health inspectors, human beings every one of them, have their own personal quirks. it is very interesting.

                                                                                              2. re: josephnl

                                                                                                You'd be surprised how much you can do before the inspector actually hits the kitchen. Also, in my observation, a lot of inspections aren't all that much of a surprise. A friend who owned a restaurant used to be able to predict within about a week when she was going to get inspected.

                                                                                                Restaurant hygiene is like a swimming duck...what you see is really calm and collected, but under the surface, there's stuff going on that you just don't know about. I don't intend to be snarky, but your last sentence says a lot. You are getting fooled just as much as I am, but at least I know enough to know it.

                                                                                              3. re: ricepad

                                                                                                ok. thanks for clarifying your pov. my pov from working in kitchens is that most of them are really quite clean. that is not to say that health inspectors can't/don't point out areas to improve when they do their regular inspections, which is imo part of their job. i don't know if you are confusing some notes made by inspectors with "re-inspection would have been required," technically of course, ongoing inspections are required in every restaurant that is in business, and a restaurant is never passed "out" of periodic inspections, anywhere. for the sake of the thread, the distinction doesn't really matter. point is, in general, restaurants pass health inspections though, and more notably, it is in the best interests of a restaurant to have good sanitation procedures for other reasons than *just* passing inspection. . . so i am always confounded by the pov of folks like Monkeyerotica and yourself-- that restaurants at large are engaging in practices that hurt their own product/bottom line, or are actively "out to get" the customer, or make them sick. this would seem to be bad business. perhaps it's for another thread, or is outside of the site guidelines on health code status/violations. i don't know.

                                                                                                i actually agree that the visual appearance of the public areas of a restaurant more often than not don't reflect the actual cleanliness/sanitary state of the kitchen-- as the cooks and kitchen staff handle kitchen sanitation, but vacuum the dining room/clean toilets in the main dining room, in very very rare cases, if at all. of course if the foh is mismanaged to the point where the dining room looks terrible that isn't a great sign, but an uncleared table in the dining room is not an indication that the kitchen is unsanitary.

                                                                                                1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                  My point is not that businesses are "out to get" customers. Nor that they're actively trying to make them sick. My point is that restaurants are not nonprofit institutions and some restaurants are far less scrutable than others. This particularly becomes an issue when restaurants try and cut corners in order to stay in the red. I've read multiple accounts of higher-end, celebrity-driven restaurants (where management were either lacking oversight or actively skimming profits) were letting cleanliness and hygiene slack off shortly before the restaurants permanently closed.

                                                                                                  It's also common for organized crime to launder money through restaurants and carryouts. I know of one pizzeria in DC that was hardly ever open. When they WERE open, the employees couldn't care less about your order. If you even managed to GET them to make you a pizza, it was pretty lousy. Phone in orders were told they didn't deliver to your neighborhood, even though it was three blocks away. Yet the place stayed in business year after year after year because the owners continued to pour drug money into it. And, yes, the health department closed them multiple times before the property was siezed under the RICO Act.

                                                                                                  1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                                                    hmm. didn't think i'd be saying this Monkeyerotica, but i may actually be able to somewhat wrap my head around your position, based on the above post. fwiw, my pov is about legitimate restaurants/businesses, and does not include any commentary on how fronts for organized crime, or tax shelters for celebrities, are run or managed. perhaps a little "buyer beware" and "ymmv" is in order when it comes to ordering from your local mafia-owned salumeria? :)

                                                                                          2. re: soupkitten

                                                                                            For those getting upset about cleanliness at fine dining establishments, most people don't eat at them. They eat at McDonalds or Denny's, or for special occasions, the local steakhouse.

                                                                                            1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                              Here's an example of high-end restaurant where poor management leads to slack hygiene in the kitchen. Specifically, Roberto Donna's Galileo III in DC:

                                                                                              "The frustration over paychecks sometimes led to dramatic measures by the staff. They would threaten to quit or not come in to work until management cut them a check. The cooks and dishwashers also had another way to rebel, said James: They would leave the kitchen a mess at the end of their shift. “It was the dirtiest kitchen I ever worked in,” she said. “The line cooks were like, ‘If I wasn’t getting paid, I wouldn’t clean [the kitchen].’ ”


                                                                                              1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                                                if you had to work that hard to find an example of gross mismanagement, where the staff is clearly being abused. . . it seems to be the exception that proves the rule. perhaps, again respectfully, your pov is unusual.

                                                                                                there is a local (to me) restaurateur who has a rep for not properly paying/taking care of his people (bouncing paychecks, etc). this is perhaps not known so well to every member of the dining public, but it certainly is to the culinary community. his restaurants are reasonably well written-up on the chowhound boards, though they aren't stars by any means. i won't personally eat at his establishments, though it's more related to my feelings about him (not wanting to give him my money, and wishing he would go away, he embarrasses the rest of us--99.99%), than any fear of retaliation that would impact me personally, on the part of his hapless staff. i'm pretty germophobic, won't touch door handles without a physical barrier on my hand, etc, btw.

                                                                                        2. re: josephnl

                                                                                          Exactly. There are plenty of clean places to get good food without having to resort to eating in places that are disgusting. And I don't have to see the kitchen to know when there's a hygiene problem. If the front of the house and the bathrooms are dirty, I'll eat somewhere else. Missing the fabulous food at some nasty dive is no great loss to me. I love good food, but I'm not going to be macho about it.

                                                                                      2. This thread reminds me why I kind of like the open kitchen concept. While a patron cannot see everything, I am guessing the employees are a little more careful in clear view of the diners.

                                                                                        1. It's very important to me. I know there will be some issues with bugs in any restaurant. But if the dining area is trashed, I assume the kitchen must be a disaster.

                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                          1. re: danbuter

                                                                                            ime less than 10% of restaurants have "issues with bugs." there is usually another factor: climate or location, like being in a shopping mall/airport, that the restaurant has no control over. then there are dirty restaurants with bugs, but to me it absolutely is not normal. by bugs, i mean cockroaches. if i lived/worked in another climate like new orleans or mexico city i would probably have a different pov as to the ubiquity of bugs, though.

                                                                                          2. i'm confused. why is this a problem? how does this make the place dirtier than throwing the lettuce in a bin to sit until the garbage is taken out?

                                                                                            10 Replies
                                                                                            1. re: thew

                                                                                              It wasn't until u posted this that i even read under the title, How Important...to you?" That'z a pretty big thing to miss. I flush leftover old soup, ect down the toilet at home all the time.

                                                                                              1. re: crowmuncher

                                                                                                et cetera....damn this stupid phone edit

                                                                                                1. re: crowmuncher

                                                                                                  I couldn't do that to my septic system. But not everyone has a septic system.
                                                                                                  I put a pinch of yeast down my drain (not toilet drain) to help the yeasties do their job.

                                                                                                  1. re: Rella

                                                                                                    Why does it matter what drain you put the yeast down?

                                                                                                    Don't they all end up in the same place?

                                                                                                    1. re: Luna2372

                                                                                                      It doesn't matter. The subject of the original posting was putting food down a toilet. I added that I don't put it down the toilet drain because I don't put yeast down my toilet drain.

                                                                                                      I don't even think yeast matters that much, but I do it anyway, 1/8 tsp every now and then, but I've heard that the enzymes in one's own body are enough to get the bacteria action going in the septic system.

                                                                                                    2. re: Rella

                                                                                                      is that bad for the septic?- oooops! do you know why it's bad for septics? school me please

                                                                                                      1. re: crowmuncher

                                                                                                        I believe it's because flushing too much food waste into the system, means the tank gets overloaded too fast and needs to be pumped more often (not enough room for the poo, so to speak).

                                                                                                        But I'm not even close to knowing much about them (just grew up in a house with one...oh, the joys of single ply TP)). And I don't know about the yeast. My parents have lived with a septic system for 50 years and have never put yeast into it. Although they didn't know when the house was originally built that you had to have the septic tank pumped. About 12-15 years after moving in, it backed up on Christmas Eve requiring an expensive emergency visit by the honey wagon. Now they do it every 5-10 years or so as needed (probably less often now that there's just the 2 of them).

                                                                                                        1. re: Sooeygun

                                                                                                          One can go for a while without having it pumped if bleach, etc. is not added that keeps the bacteria from breaking down the product.

                                                                                                          Today I put down some over-aged yogurt down the drain and felt really good about it :-))

                                                                                                  2. re: thew

                                                                                                    It means the place has truly bizarre hygiene habits and that there are probably other, more serious issues going on that might affect whether you get sick from eating their food.