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Restaurant etiquette in an age of superbugs

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I recently had lunch with a friend who ordered iced tea with the caveat that it be served without a lemon wedge. My friend explained that so many friends and family members around her have gotten the flu and that she was doing everything she could to avoid getting sick. She had read that lemon wedges in many restaurants are contaminated with germs. It seems the flu epidemic in this country has everyone on edge.

I bring this up because the AARP recently released a list of objects people touch every day that are most contaminated by germs. The idea behind the list is that people with the flu touch objects and then healthy people who come along and touch those same objects are much more susceptible to the flu. What’s surprising was what topped the AARP’s list—restaurant menus. Someone with contaminated hands leaves germs all over the menu, and then the next person picks up those germs. And because the act of eating often involves one touching food like a sandwich or french fries and putting them directly in one’s mouth, it’s easy to see how a disease can spread so quickly and easily. By the way, number two on the AARP’s list is lemon wedges, while number three is condiment dispensers. “Squirt hand sanitizer on the outside of the condiment bottle or use a disinfectant wipe before you grab the dispenser,” the AARP suggests in its report.

I’ve been going to restaurants forever, and I can’t ever remember seeing anyone wiping down a restaurant menu or tabletop salt and pepper shakers. And, frankly, this is not the sort of chore restaurants do in front of customers. But in light of the recent flu epidemic, should you openly demonstrate to customers that you’re doing everything you can to keep items they touch germ-free?

Times change. What may have been considered bad form or inappropriate yesterday may not be today. Customers who once cringed at seeing restaurant workers swabbing the deck in front of them may now feel some sort of relief. What do you think? Is letting customers watch your people cleaning menus and condiment dispensers acceptable in light of health concerns? Does it give you a leg up on competitors who don’t? Or is there a better way to let customers know you’re doing your best to keep your restaurant germ-free?

And let’s not forget the issue of lemon wedges in drinks. While it may be a nonissue with most customers,many others are aware of a study in the Journal of Environmental Health that concluded 70 percent of lemon wedges served with restaurant drinks contained disease-causing microbes. “Tell your server that you’d prefer your beverage sans fruit. Why risk it?” advised the AARP.

Email me and let me know your thoughts about keeping menus, condiment dispensers, lemons and everything else in your restaurants germ-free.

Michael Sanson, Editor-in-Chief
e-mail: [email protected]
Twitter: @MikeSansonRH

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