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Eating while staff is cleaning tables with Windex and mopping the floors with bleach..

This is a major buzz kill for me on so many levels..

Chemicals and eating don't go well for me.
Has this happened to you...what do you do?

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  1. How near was the table---next to you or a few tables away? I can see how the odor would be off putting, no matter how much I like cleanliness.

    1. God, I hate this. One of the most annoying things I can encounter while eating out. I sometimes ask them to stop. If it's fast food, however, I just eat faster and leave.

      1. "Do you mind not doing that right by us?"

        1. It's not the chemicals that I mind, but more the feeling of the implication to hurry up and get out. I understand that restaurants close at x time but if you allow me to sit and enjoy a meal I think that perhaps you can focus on other cleaning responsibilities outside the view of the customers and accept that you might have to stay later because you seated a table at whatever time with the risk that they might still be there near closing time.

          3 Replies
          1. re: fldhkybnva

            Since this is only about your perception of being rushed and not about the actual work or chemicals

            Quote: accept that you might have to stay later because you seated a table at whatever time with the risk that they might still be there near closing time

            um, if it bothers you that much then you can choose your timing better of when you show up. Go earlier and avoid the clean up. Choose a restaurant that closes later if you have no choice to go earlier. It's not the restaurants fault that you feel rushed just because someone is cleaning closed stations. BTW, in some restaurants certain stations are only open during the lunch rush and dinner rush and are reset in between hours.

            I see a lot of people posting stuff on Chow that is really based on their own internal dialogue ( cleaning means I have to get out) rather than any actual interactions with the staff ( them asking if you are finished yet, or telling you they are closing soon, no longer refilling your coffee because it's closing time). This really isn't about the staff.

            1. re: fldhkybnva

              << if you allow me to sit and enjoy a meal I think that perhaps you can focus on other cleaning responsibilities outside>>

              the "you" you are referring to is normally a very low-on-the-pecking-order person who has been given orders about what to do and when to do it. this person is normally NOT in any way in a position to protest the orders nor to change the orders on the fly.

              <accept that you might have to stay later>
              the closing procedures that management puts in place are normally constructed (for a host of reasons) so that nobody has "to stay later." as a matter of fact, in many restaurants, they are NOT PERMITTED to stay later.

              closing procedures are intentional, deliberate, decisions on the part of restaurant management based on management's judgement.

              closing a restaurant out is normally a team effort with everyone doing their part in a particular order for a particular reason. i've NEVER worked in a restaurant where a member of the closing team had any on-the-fly say about how to go about the job.

              re: mom 'n pop places
              one of the mom 'n pop places that i frequent has the same person doing the cleaning as doing the kitchen prep work.
              he arrives at 10AM and doesn't leave the place until 9:30PM. he does this 6 days a week.
              every time i walk in he is working feverishly.
              i would NEVER do anything that would cause him to
              <accept that you might have to stay later>
              the food they serve is special--not the usual corporate food made with industrial ingredients. the care they take in the cleanliness of the restaurant is special. the care they take of their clients is special.
              it would be worse than haughty for me to show late in the evening AND make requests that they stay late just for me because i chose to linger enough so that my visit overlaps with their cleanup procedure and i don't like being around during the normal cleanup/closing procedure.

              1. re: fldhkybnva

                Thing is, the workers can't stay late unless the owner is willing to pay them overtime. Some can't stay late because they have another job to get to. As a customer, your convenience is of course first consideration, but it's not a bad thing to be mindful of the people who are working to make your tables, floors, kitchens clean. When you go into a restaurant and sit at a table, you expect the table to be clean. What about the folks sitting next to that table who watched it get cleaned? When you turn over a table, it gets wiped, so unless the place is empty, somebody is going to witness the wiping. I'm not sure if I want a table wiped with water from a dirty bucket, or sprayed with, say, vinegar or something else benign. There's always a balancing act, and some give and take.

              2. in the back section that they've already closed? okay.

                next to me? Not so much.

                1. Several restaurants we visit for late lunch do one or both while we and others are eating.
                  They are small places where the smell is overwhelming.
                  I have asked them in Spanish if they can wait till I am done eating..most are gracious and I realize they are doing their job...just don't think they realize the chemical smell componet...I am clean freak, so that side is much appreciated..

                  1. There is a Del Taco near my work that does this all the time. And I don't want to say anything because the gal cleaning is mentally challenged and just doing her job. But, dang, I would love to enjoy my Deluxe Chicken Burrito without a side of Pine Sol.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Jelly71

                      Is Del Taco in Alexandria, VA, by any chance? I didn't go back a second time to a Mexican restaurant there because of the bleach fumes.

                      1. re: Jay F

                        Del Taco is a chain. There are a gazillion of them.

                    2. There's no quicker way to lose one's appetite than to see a dirty mop, a nasty table wiping rag or especially smell cleaning chemicals while you are seated to dine in any eating establishment. That is so disgusting to me that I would (and have in the past) asked that person to stop or I would just leave.

                      1. I'm torn on this because as much as I ate the smell, it's frustrating to be waiting on an empty table that is dirty. I figure workers need to clean when they have time and not wait until the place is emptier.

                        11 Replies
                        1. re: chowser

                          They can clean the tables without spraying chemicals around..
                          There are great green alternatives that disinfect without the overwhelming chemical smell..it might be of an orange or lemon scent, which is a lot better than Windex, Pine Sol, Bleach..

                          1. re: Beach Chick

                            One thing I ask the sprayers to do if they can't stop spraying altogether is to spray into the cloth, not onto the table, when they're cleaning near me.

                            1. re: Jay F

                              That helps a lot when spraying in a cloth..
                              Those chemical aerosal droplets waif around and its amazing how far and fast they travel.

                            2. re: Beach Chick

                              I'm all for green alternatives, though I do wonder if it's cost effective for some businesses. Have you talked to management about the possibility? Asking the workers takes care of the immediate problem but if it's recurring and bothers you, top down could help with it long term.

                              1. re: Beach Chick

                                But that's decided waaaay up the chain at the corporate level, not by a server, who is just doing what they are told and using what is provided. This is like blaming the server for the fact that the chain uses margarine instead of butter.

                                1. re: rockandroller1

                                  These are small family run Mex resto's and taco shop that are all over San Diego County...not chains.

                                  If it was a chain, I would call the CEO and let he/she know whats going on.

                                  1. re: Beach Chick

                                    AFAIK, the Mexican restaurant I was talking about in Alexandria is a chain of one.

                                    And the Chinese place in Pittsburgh where I encountered this most often was part of a chain of five restaurants.

                                    I find that actual chain restaurants use something far less pungent for cleaning tables these day. Panera doesn't use a spray that stinks up the room, for example (though you can definitely smell their floormop slop if you're there at the end of their day).

                                    I ate somewhere else recently that was a chain, and I was pleasantly surprised that they didn't stink up the room when they cleaned the table next to me. I can't remember where, though (must've been a toxic spray, if unscented).

                                    1. re: Beach Chick

                                      There are over 520 Del Taco's. It's a chain. I mean, maybe there is some other chain just in SD using the exact same name but when I was living in LA, they were everywhere.


                                      But my comment above, which you were replying to (I think?) is in regard to the OP, who said they were dining at Bob Evans, which is also a chain, and where the decisions as to what to clean with are made up at the corporate level.

                                      1. re: rockandroller1

                                        Hey rockandroller!
                                        I'm the OP..
                                        I think there is maybe 1 or 2 Del Taco's in SD but I'm not the one that is referencing to that..
                                        We have authentic taco shops out here that kick some serious butt on goodness..
                                        JayF is your guy on response back..
                                        Drummer chica

                                    2. re: rockandroller1

                                      iirc, in 2010 the majority holder of Del Taco was an arm of Goldman Sachs.

                                      if that is still the case, the folks that Goldman put in place will be the ones that determine how the restaurants operate.

                                2. I don't like the windex, but can put up with it if it's nopt spraying near me.

                                  MOP smell is a definite turnoff. Wife will get up and walk out of a restaurant if a mop comes into the dining room when we are seated.

                                  1. I had this happen (spraying Windex on the wood table next to me) at Peter Luger's in Brooklyn about 12 years ago. The odor of the Windex ruined my appetite. Have never returned to the restaurant since.

                                    Also had this at Alinea last year when the server was spraying the table to sanitize it for one of the courses. He unfortunately sprayed me too which did somewhat spoil what should have been a terrific dinner.

                                    9 Replies
                                      1. re: Beach Chick

                                        My waiter at Alinea, when he was sanitizing the table next to me, also sprayed one of the women at that table. I think a better alternative would have been to use a sanitizing wipe instead of a spray (or the waiter needed glasses). Well, at least I wasn't his only victim. Maybe (by now since my dinner was 9 months ago) Alinea has either changed the dish (which was delicious), or has come up with a better method of santizing the table.

                                        1. re: ellenost

                                          I'm aghast at your story of being sprayed and the other diner as well..
                                          For a restaurant of this caliber, you would think that Chef Grant, with all his molecular knowledge, would come up with something less pedestrian than a squirt bottle with sanitizing solution and staff who isn't squirting customers.

                                          1. re: Beach Chick

                                            At least use a spray bottle of Absolut.

                                            1. re: Beach Chick

                                              At least it didn't leave a stain on my clothes.

                                              1. re: ellenost

                                                or your Birkin bag..

                                                Like chowser's Absolut idea..

                                                1. re: Beach Chick

                                                  Wish I could afford a Birkin bag. Spend my money dining out instead.

                                                  1. re: ellenost

                                                    Nah, if you had a Birkin bag, you would have gotten nasty spray all over it at Alinea and then we'd have to deal w/ a long thread about having a Birkin bag sprayed at Alinea and whether you should have your meal comped and how you might tip the server.;-)

                                                    I'm thinking Absolut caviar might be a great way for Achatz to have his tables cleaned. A no spray alternative.

                                                    In all seriousness, though, if it happened to you, it has probably happened to others. I'm guessing the restaurant would like to know about it so they can train their people better.

                                        2. re: ellenost

                                          There is just no excuse for spraying the table while people are still in the restaurant. Even our gym--yes, the gym, where nastiness and stinkiness and general annoyances are part of the experience--has signs asking patrons to spray the cloth, not the equipment, to prevent spraying an actual person.

                                          It is much easier to control the spray when you hold the nozzle right up against the cleaning rag rather than broadcasting it across the table and neighboring diners. This is common sense...or maybe not.

                                        3. Back in the day, way back, I worked at a burger place that was open pretty late.
                                          When we wanted to finally close up and some patrons were "lingering" way too long the manager would ask us to do the bleach clean up. It worked every time.
                                          Just saying.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: Motosport

                                            It's still a time honored tradition to get rid of "campers"

                                            1. re: mrbigshotno.1

                                              hee hee...I respect the time honored tradition.

                                          2. About two weeks ago I was eating at a place an hour or so before closing. It has two large grills, and they started cleaning one of them. The smell was horrible. I have no idea what they were using. The funny thing is that only about 1/3 of the customers noticed (you could tell by the faces who noticed and who didn't.)

                                            I won't be going back there unless I'm sure I will be done and out the door at least an hour before they close.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: KaimukiMan

                                              Aloha Kman!!

                                              I know that smell that they clean the grills with and it is so nasty...they should provide bio-hazard suits..
                                              ; )

                                            2. ...or vacuuming. Even that is eeu for me.

                                              1. When they wheel out the cart with the Industrial "Janitor in a Drum," and start spraying that all over, while wearing haz-mat suits, I become concerned.


                                                1. This is one of my pet peeves!! I am very sensitive to cleaning product smells, and they can easily ruin my meal. I have a favorite taco place in Vegas that I stopped going to for exactly this reason!! I asked the guilty party if perhaps they could not do so near my table (in this case it wasn't just wiping down the table, it was mopping!!)...I asked nicely AND in (good) Spanish and got a shrug. Sorry, not going there again......

                                                  7 Replies
                                                  1. re: janetofreno

                                                    <<the guilty party>>
                                                    meaning the person who was following his/her boss' orders?
                                                    the person who could get fired for not cleaning when, where, and how s/he was told to do?

                                                    interesting choice of words.

                                                    1. re: westsidegal

                                                      Not that I want to defend my sister or anything :-) but regardless, and aside from the fact that I think the words 'guilty party' were used as a language shortcut here, I think perhaps you are being just a little harsh, for several reasons:

                                                      1. At many if not most of the taco places at least where I live (can't speak for Janet's favorite place in Vegas though I suspect it is true there as well), the person cleaning the tables IS the owner or one of the owner's kids or nieces and nephews: For whatever reason, I see this behavior most often at either fast food chains (and I am going to assume that Janet's favorite taco place is not a chain) and at Mom-n-Pop types of places. So at least at the places where this has happened to me, no one is going to get fired (because on the rare instances where I do eat at chains, I get the food to go.)

                                                      2. While I hate to see anyone lose a job they really need because of lack of business, and while it could be true that I am guilty myself of a bit of wishful thinking, I find it hard to believe that, if the person wiping off the tables was asked by the boss to clean tables, other than at a mindless corporate chain, that they would be fired if they went back to the boss/manager/owner and said, "a customer is complaining about my cleaning the table next to them; what do you recommend I do about it?" A good business will empower its employees at least to the extent of allowing them to report customer dissatisfaction to management, IMO.

                                                      3. (and this answers the OP's question as well): If it happens to me, I speak up and ask the person cleaning if they could please wait to use the spray, letting them know that the smell really bothers me. If they shrug off my request, I assume they are either uninterested in fixing the issue or, as you suggest, not empowered to do so, and I will then either go in search of a manager and let them know I love the food but am really bothered by the cleaning, or, I will just not go back. Which of those options I pursue will likely depend on how good the food is and how likely I am to want to come back....

                                                      Not everyone has the same sensitivity to such smells and in most cases I suspect the person doing the cleaning just isn't aware that the smell is bothersome. Indeed, if they do it often enough they could have become desensitized. I've even had a server try and wipe down our table with windex while we were still cleaning it! I am fairly sure this was not something the manager ordered them to do....

                                                      1. re: susancinsf

                                                        lol...thanks for the defense!

                                                        Actually, in the case of the taco place I mentioned, I happen to know that the offending person mopping the floors is the owner, because I know its a mom-and-pop place (literally). Now, admittedly her husband serves as the chief cook and manager...but since its a community property state the business is as much hers as it is his. And I do agree with Susan that if the offending cleaning is done by an employee, then they should at least report to the owner/manager that folks have complained about timing. And I do tend to vote with my feet in these situations, especially since in that particular neighborhood (one I no longer frequent, alas) there are probably 10 good taco places within a four block stretch......

                                                        1. re: susancinsf

                                                          "I've even had a server..." I meant while we were still eating at it, not cleaning it....tried to edit this but it didn't take. And no, we weren't camping: and yes, I am sure: this happened between courses. (Thankfully only once).

                                                          1. re: susancinsf

                                                            <<I find it hard to believe that, if the person wiping off the tables was asked by the boss to clean tables, other than at a mindless corporate chain>>

                                                            the inflexible, hard-hearted, treatment of the cleaning crew is what i witness as the norm at all the Taco Bell, Del Taco, type chains.

                                                            also, normally the folks in the cleaning crew would be taking their job in their hands if they were to say anything to management, so it is good that, if you ever end up in one of these joyless restaurants (almost all of which serve awful "food"), that you know that the customer is the only one who is likely to be able to safely make the request of management that they change their orders.

                                                            (even then, management may have IT'S hands tied by the policy and procedure book. some of these books have actual sheets wherein the manager and/or the employee has to sign that a certain job was done at a certain time). these are soul crushing types of jobs. the people holding them don't get to make even the most fundamental human decisions. . . .

                                                            the whole experience makes me think of a line from a song of my youth:
                                                            "and they're all made out of ticky-tacky
                                                            and they're all made just the same"

                                                            at mom 'n pop places, normally what interferes with service is a) exhaustion, or b) (possibly in your case) the wife feeling like she is always supposed to defer to what her husband tells her to do (community property state or not). ( i've watched this in many immigrant communities and many fundamentally religious communities.)
                                                            once i witness this dynamic, that is the last time i will ever visit the restaurant. just can't stand to watch it.

                                                            still, the words <<guilty party>> says it all. it is not an accidental choice of words.
                                                            you could just have easily have said "unresponsive party," or "ungracious party" both of which would have been much more benign.

                                                            1. re: westsidegal

                                                              Sorry for the choice of words. But honestly, the last time I checked someone would be "guilty" of a crime even if they did it solely because they were afraid they would be fired if they didn't. Their boss might be guilty for asking them to do it, and they might be horribly victimized by their boss and that might mitigate when it comes to sentencing, but they would still be "guilty." I think you are over-reacting to words I didn't even think about. That being said, perhaps if more people complained about this sort of behavior right when it happens, perhaps those doing what we would prefer they not do (There, is that better? :-) would get the message and change their ways. Fast food joints have those kinds of policies because most people go there no matter what. And that was really my point.

                                                              1. re: janetofreno

                                                                I think in any case it's probably best to speak to a manager, not the employee. No doubt the employee will get yelled at even if he is doing as instructed by a bad manager, and a good manager will know the employee was only trying to do their job.

                                                                I've not had the problem so much with wiping the tables as having to lift my feet while they mopped the floor under me.

                                                      2. eeuuwww. is this a 24 hour place? what time were you there? 4 a.m., okay, there has to be cleaning and prep. 10pm? not so much.

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: blaireso

                                                          even if the place IS cleaned at 4am, it would not be out of the realm of possibility that a 24 hour place would clean at 10pm AND at 4AM.

                                                          depending on how busy they are, it is not unusual for 24 hour places to be cleaned several times a day.

                                                          1. re: westsidegal

                                                            spraying anything within 10 feet of your table is probably not a good choice. wiping with vinegar solution MIGHT satisfy the health department, but might not, and that bucket of water can get real dirty real fast, so who wants tables wiped down with filthy water? all restaurants have difficult choices to make when it somes to satisfying all parties. speaking to the management might help, but then you get a new manager, or a new employee, and interpretation of health dept. requirements versus keeping customers coming back starts all over again. It is sometimes a balancing act. I like Viperlush's idea, just politely ask them to not spray by his table.

                                                        2. A pizza joint around Grand Central does this all the time. It's a small space & the dude is swabbing the deck when you eat. Gross!

                                                          1. You know, I'd let the manager know that this has become bothersome. He might not know. I imagine that staff is cleaning early so they won't have to do it early in the a.m. or right before closing?

                                                            I wouldn't like it either. It isn't good for the restaurant's atmosphere, to say the least.

                                                            1. Thanks for posting this Beach Chick. One of my favorite eateries tends to apply a heavy dose of bleach to the kitchen area. The sharp sting of the bleach rolls out into the dining area. Sometimes they start with this over an hour before closing.
                                                              The first time it happened we asked to move to a different table. I was pretty angry. Another time we were half way across the dining room and it was quite early when the assault began. Now I just make sure we sit by the windows as far away from the kitchen as possible unless we go super early. Like five pm.
                                                              This has happened twice before at other places where the table next to us was cleaned over zealously. Each time it was a teenager and there didn't seem to be any manager around. Once was at Red Lobster and another time it was a breakfast place. At the Red Lobster the kid was pointing the squirt bottle at me when he realized the smell was getting to me. This was pretty over the top. At the breakfast place the kids just wanted to clean up and get out of there and that joint never seemed to have anyone in charge.
                                                              At Red Lobster the evening was such a disaster that I had to grin and bear it. We had a new waitress and waited forever for a screwed up order. It was a surreal dining experience.
                                                              At the breakfast place we just didn't go back. Teenagers need some supervision. Duh.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: givemecarbs

                                                                in my area, the chain restaurants are the only ones that will regularly hire teenagers with no experience.
                                                                once the kids figure out the basics, they move on.

                                                                this turnover means that when you go to a chain restaurant, rarely does the server have any experience or knowledge about the "right" way to do anything.

                                                                lots of the "training" that the chains provide is geared toward getting the customer to order the menu items with higher margins, not geared toward the actual provision of service.

                                                                they will have the servers-to-be memorizing the ingredient list of the sugary "cocktail" they are pushing (we are selling PINK ones today!) and training them to push the "menu special" cheap-carb entree covered in sauce made out of partially hydrogenated oil, but they don't train them that when the ice scoop falls on the floor one should not just put it back in the ice bin.

                                                              2. We were in a Norm's (24 hr chain in SoCal) around 3:00 one afternoon and one of the buspersons came through with the vacuum cleaner just as were being served. No question of closing - I think he's just expected to do that at a certain time every day.

                                                                Simple Simon's in Riverside, an excellent handcrafted-sandwich shop, has large signs inside and out saying that they serve until 5 pm and close at 5:30. This give patrons the chance to eat in peace while the kitchen and counter area are cleaned up, and out the door for the wipedown and floor-cleaning. Civilized.

                                                                1. OK, I have been in foodservice (from fast food to catering to fine-dining) for 27 years, and NEVER have I used or seen anyone else use a spray bottle in the presence of customers or food / beverage in any stage of preparation until last evening. Not only do you risk contamination of the food / beverage, but it becomes airborn - what if you're using bleach and it gets on someones Brooks Bros. suit, or their Prada bag, or their infant's diaper bag, or child's toy...
                                                                  OR, as in my case, a patron or an employee has allergies or ASTHMA???

                                                                  Really, come on folks - THINK.
                                                                  You try to communicate your concerns and health issues as best you can, and then you call the board of health.

                                                                  8 Replies
                                                                  1. re: joestrike

                                                                    Really? Where do you live? I see it all the time in PA, where I now live (just came from eating at Whole Foods, where the cafe cleanup guy sprayed the table down next to ours and wiped it clean), and I know I used to see it in Alexandria, VA (at this one Mexican place on Rt. 1, which I eventually stopped going to).

                                                                    1. re: joestrike

                                                                      i saw it at the burger place i went to today.
                                                                      as i watched it, i realized that one of the reasons i keep going back to this particular burger joint is because no matter when i walk in, no matter how busy they are, the place always is spotless.
                                                                      today, when one of the cleaning guys was cleaning the floor near a customer, he found the customer's wallet that had fallen out of his pocket onto the floor. the cleaner picked up the wallet, immediately returned it to the customer, and then went and washed his hands.
                                                                      the guy who takes the money washes his hands before running the food.

                                                                      i guess i'm an anomaly. i like clean.
                                                                      i like knowing that they are not just using a dirty wet rag over and over again to clean all the tables.
                                                                      this place used a fresh, clean, rag every time they did a sweep of the restaurant and they used a disinfectant to clean the tables

                                                                      i don't want them to wait until all the customers have left before cleaning up.
                                                                      i like seeing a clean restaurant every time i enter the place.
                                                                      it's not going to happen by magic.

                                                                        1. re: westsidegal

                                                                          That's why the towel is spposed to be kept in a bucket of sanizer solution and changed out periodically!
                                                                          Me? I like clean, but I also appreciate being able to breathe, otherwise it doesn't much matter...I'm guessing you haven't beenblessed with Asthma? Oh, and how did I come to have asthma you ask? By exposure to - wait for it... CHEMICALS! namely Chlorine Bleach, which if you read the warning labels, you should not inhale as with any / every chemical with which I am familiar.
                                                                          You don't have to be stupid to be clean.

                                                                          1. re: joestrike

                                                                            they weren't using chlorine bleach.
                                                                            they were using another type of disinfectant.
                                                                            you don't have to be brilliant to know there are other types of disinfectant.

                                                                            1. re: westsidegal

                                                                              but asthma does not discriminate - I said my asthma was contracted by exposure to chlorine bleach, I dind't say they sprayed bleach...any airborn chemicals are offensive and problematic
                                                                              this goes to show that the general populous is CLUELESS! ...READ THE LABEL

                                                                              1. re: joestrike

                                                                                Yeah, this part of the populous really appreciates that you dind't talk about airborn stuff.


                                                                          2. re: westsidegal

                                                                            The wiping and mopping is as instructive as it is intrusive. If the mop bucket is full of murky gray water or the wiping cloth is a fraying, mildewy rag, it's not a huge leap to conclude that sanitation standards are also lax as regards food safety, something to be considered when deciding whether or not to be a return customer.

                                                                            First time at a local place, after a long wait for the menu, the mildewy carpet smell made me get up and leave. The server was approaching the table and asked what was wrong. She seemed genuinely surprised and claimed not to smell anything.

                                                                        2. If any of you go into food service, please let me know...
                                                                          I also wish you luck in avoiding consuming contaminated food & beverage, and hope you never develop allergies or asthma!

                                                                          1. I am seeing this happen all the time lately- at all types of restaurants and I find it very disturbing - they are also mopping the floor as I eat -