When research company Technomic surveyed restaurant customers on the most important factors of an enjoyable dining experience, the 18,000-plus responses placed cleanliness firmly at the top of the list. Diners ranked the cleanliness of dishware, glassware and silverware as No. 1, with 93% identifying it as their top concern, while a clean restaurant interior, bathrooms and visible kitchen/food prep areas were also ranked among the top 10.

Hence, it’s a no-brainer that any eating establishment would want to make cleanliness a top priority. “Proper cleanliness is essential to any pizzeria or restaurant,” says Tom Lozano, executive director of Air Scrubber Plus in Petaluma, California. “The last thing a restaurant owner wants is for customers to question a restaurant’s commitment to cleanliness or get sick because of unsanitary conditions—this can destroy the reputation of a restaurant.”

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The Nano Revolution

Luckily, new technologies can help by making a pizzeria’s sanitary practices stand out. For Austin, Texas-based K&N Management, which operates two foodservice chains, utilizing the latest cleaning technology has entailed installing hand-wash Jacuzzis, hands-free sinks and hand dryers, and foot pulls on doors. “Of course, there are cost considerations when determining which technologies to use for cleanliness, but we consider these technologies to be essential pieces of our operations,” says Marlis Oliver, executive director for K&N Management. “We believe there’s a difference between providing a transaction and an experience, and attention to details, such as cleanliness, is what makes our guests have a truly memorable experience, tell their friends about us and come back.”

Score an "A" on Every Restaurant Inspection

Hands-free systems have been around for some years (and are constantly being improved for greater efficiency and ease of use), but other new technologies in cleaning abound—and many sound downright futuristic. For example, some YMCAs have installed nanotechnology-powered self-cleaning surfaces that work 24/7 without chemicals or heavy metals. Amazingly, the surfaces harness the power of available light to oxidize microbes. Meanwhile, peel-and-stick skins can wrap around handles, while other surfaces, such as counter mats, are portable for multiple uses. “You can place the touch points in high-traffic areas, and they don’t need replacement in 90 or 120 days; the nanotechnology is molecularly bonded to the mat,” explains Mark Sisson, partner at NanoTouch Materials in Forest, Virginia. “Plus, the surfaces don’t expire; they’re waterproof and washable; and they can be branded for restaurants.” Next up for this technology: sleeves for tablets and other handheld devices, plus static-cling screen skins that can be placed on POS systems—a constant point of contact for employees.

Cutting Back On Chemicals

Another new technology involves clearing the air: a system that uses a combination of UV light, oxygen and water molecules that react together and pass through a honeycomb cell coated with a formulation of non-nano titanium dioxide and other highly reactive metals. This process produces superoxide ions, hydroxyls and hydrogen peroxide, which in turn clean the air and surfaces in an indoor environment. The result: a reduction by nearly 100% in Staphylococcus aureus, antibiotic-resistant Staph, E. coli, anthrax, black mold and more. “The air is fresher and surfaces are cleaner, with a reduction in contaminants on surfaces, like kitchen or dining counters and toilet seats,” Lozano explains. “Dust, allergens, mildew and odor-causing bacteria are also significantly reduced. The added bonus for restaurant owners is that this system can reduce or eliminate many of the odors associated with cooking. After a Pizza Hut installed it, their customers remarked that the air felt cleaner and fresher, and they loved that the restaurant didn’t have bad odors.”

“The last thing a restaurant owner wants is for customers to question a restaurant’s commitment to cleanliness or get sick because of unsanitary conditions—this can destroy the reputation of a restaurant.”
—Tom Lozano, Air Scrubber Plus

Another recently developed cleaning technology is actually based on the discoveries of past centuries. Electrical Chemical Activation (ECA) technology borrows from 1800s-era research that found charging salt water with electricity creates a form of chlorine. Now, this process has been automated to create two eco-friendly cleaning solutions: a mild cleaning agent and a nontoxic sanitizer/disinfectant. “You no longer need to buy chemical products, and you save money and the planet with a solution that’s just as effective,” notes Anselm Doering, president and CEO of EcoLogic Solutions in Brooklyn, New York. “It can be used in many key areas of a restaurant: for dishes, cutting boards, sinks, to sanitize produce, to keep pathogens at bay in ice machines, in display cases and more.”

Create a Cleaner Restaurant Environment Through Strict Controls, No-Touch Equipment

Making Training a Priority

Ultimately, however, all of the cleaning technology in the world won’t do any good if your employees aren’t trained in proper procedure. Operators must make sure that cleanliness remains a top priority during all training, and that training should be ongoing. At K&N outlets, team members are introduced to the cleanliness culture from day one, and all new employees attend a foundations class before working in the restaurants, where they then learn standards and expectations. Detailed cleanliness processes take the guesswork out of practices for employees, and an internal inspector regularly shows up unannounced to each location—deducting points for every errant crumb or window smudge.

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Anselm Doering promotes green cleaning methods without the use of chemicals for key restaurant areas, including sinks and ice machines.

Finally, surveillance cameras around the restaurants help ensure that procedures are being followed on a day-to-day basis. “We take health inspections to the next level with our processes,” Oliver says. “This ensures that not only are we meeting the quality standards set for us, but we’re also delighting our guests by exceeding their expectations when it comes to cleanliness.”

And once you’ve created a spotlessly clean and safe foodservice environment, it never hurts to brag a little bit, Oliver says. Customers want to know about your efforts to protect their health, and K&N Management is happy to tell them. “Cleanliness is one of the most important factors to our guests, so we take every opportunity possible to let them know it’s important to us as well,” Oliver says. “Not only do we talk about our cleanliness standards in-store and on our social channels, we show our guests with small touches everywhere. Even our trash cans are immaculately clean, because we know that sends a message to our guests that it’s important. We frequently post updates on our health inspection scores via our social media channels, and we’re very open when it comes to our cleanliness practices. Our kitchens are open so guests know that we’re practicing the high cleanliness standards we preach. Finally, we’re extremely attentive when it comes to guest feedback and conversation. If guests ask about our cleanliness standards or processes, we’re more than happy to share information with them on what we’re doing.”

Tracy Morin is PMQ’s senior copy editor.