UnderCover Waitress: Hands As Utensils

Monday, September 12, 2011

Hands As Utensils

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An extremely important hygiene issue caught my attention in Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed. This should come as no surprise to those of you who are aware that I am a germophobe.

She discusses the fact that in the second restaurant she works in waitress hands are often utensils. It is a busy environment and they use their hands to move food, such as chicken fingers, from one plate to another. They use their hands in many ways to touch other people's food.

One of the first things a sous chef said to me when I was new to waitressing was never, never touch other people's food unless you absolutely have to. In our kitchen, the cooks and chefs avail themselves of gloves to prevent excessive touching of food. We also have hand-washing stations in both the front and back of house. Not all restaurant owners are willing to spend the money on gloves or other hygienic tools, unfortunately.

Take Ehrenreich's place of employment, for example. She claims that every bathroom must be stocked with three things: soap, toilet paper, and hand towels. Of those three, her employer's restroom is always missing at least one. I must say, it does absolutely no good whatsoever to hang a sign reminding employees that they have to wash their hands if you don't buy soap.

And then these employees use their hands as utensils. Yuck.

As diners, I recommend you look around at the cleanliness of the eatery before deciding to enjoy a meal. If tables or booths are sticky, leave. If the bathrooms are not clean and well-stocked, leave. If you see employees touching food, biting their nails or wiping their faces with their hands, leave. Management levels of cleanliness are communicated and taught to workers, so if a place gives you the impression it's dirty, it's because it is dirty.


  1. We left a restaurant once because the menus were filthy. The owner asked why we were leaving so abruptly and I told him that the menus were so sticky and gross that I was afraid of what his kitchen or the bathrooms looked like. He was livid and offered to give me a tour of both. I politely declined and told him if his staff didn't have time to take windex and a paper towel to a few menus then I already knew what his BOH looked like.

    He was none too pleased with my online review, but honestly? We going to eat the food - why would I pay $20 for an entree at his restaurant when you could scrape the dang menu for a meal there was so much stuck to it? [It was a seafood place in a tourist destination, so yes it was expensive with laminated menus]

  2. If he wants to be pleased with you review, he has to do a better job! The small things say a lot. If a waitress isn't bothered by or can't be troubled to wipe a menu with cleaner, what other corners is she cutting?

  3. Agreed. As a waitress, I am SO careful when handling the food. I wash my hands before touching every time I touch food--like you, I am a germaphobe.

    After working in a restaurant, though--I would NEVER ask for lemons in my water. Lemons are just disgusting. Even the most sanitary joint can't do much to change that.

  4. Yech! Don't even get me started on lemons... ;-)


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