You arrive at a new restaurant that you are trying out for the very first time. You and your party are escorted to a table by the host only to discover that there are no table linens. At each place is a table setting consisting of a menu and a set of utensils wrapped tightly in a paper napkin. Questions about hygiene suddenly start running through your mind.
You wonder whether or not the table is truly clean. You also wonder if the entire experience would be hygienically safer if the table were covered by a tablecloth and your paper napkin switched out with a linen alternative. But do those things really matter? Do table linens really make that much of a difference in restaurant hygiene?
Customers Have Legitimate Concerns
Before ever getting to the table linens question it must be understood that customers have legitimate concerns about hygiene. Just do a brief internet search on restaurant code violations in your local area and you will fully understand why such concerns exist. Far too many restaurant owners do not seem to be concerned about hygiene and food safety until health inspectors bring to light all of the problems on their premises.
As for restaurant tables, they are rarely cleaned and disinfected after each use. Rather, bus staff just wipe them down with damp kitchen towels. Not only does a simple white down not remove germs, but it can actually spread germs picked up from the dirtiest areas of the kitchen. Not good.
In that sense, table linens do offer some contribution toward improving hygiene. A tablecloth would more or less insulate guests from dirty tables underneath. But of course, this supposes that the restaurant changes tablecloths with each use. There is also the question of whether or not the tablecloths are hygienically clean themselves, according to Salt Lake City-based Alsco.
Alsco explains that it is possible to get table linens visually clean without getting them hygienically clean at the same time. There is a significant difference. A visually clean tablecloth looks clean; you cannot see any dirt or embedded stains. A hygienically clean tablecloth not only looks clean, it is also completely free of pathogens.
The Least of Your Concerns
Alsco also explains the table linens are the least of your concerns as a diner. Even uncovered tables are not as serious an issue as some of the other things you have to worry about. As long as you are not eating directly off the table – no one does that anyway – your food is not coming into direct contact with any germs that might be sitting on the table’s surface.
They have a point. Of greater concern are dishes, utensils, employee hand washing, and the cleanliness of the kitchen itself. Local health departments scrutinize these things intensely because they know just how easily people can be sickened by poor hygiene and food safety practices.
Take your utensils, for example. Have you ever looked at them closely before you begin eating? Do not be surprised to look at your utensils next time you dine out only to discover they are not as clean as you thought they were. There is a reason so many restaurant patrons wipe down their utensils with a napkin before they begin.
Table linens can make a difference when it comes to restaurant hygiene. However, dining at a restaurant that does not use table linens isn’t necessarily any riskier for it. If anything, restaurant patrons should be more concerned about what and who comes in direct contact with their food. That is where most of the hygiene problems lie.