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Dishing the dirt – Caterer and P&G Professional survey results

26 February 2010 by

Caterer has teamed up again with P&G Professional to nvestigate the cleanliness of the hospitality industry, but the results of our research suggest a lack of progress in he area since we conducted our last survey three years ago. Daniel Thomas reports.

When you walk into a hotel room what is the first thing you do? Check how many channels the TV has got? Well, that means you're a man, but what many guests do is check the cleanliness of the room, making sure there is no hair in the bath or dirty sheets on the bed.

The cleanliness of an establishment is "extremely important" to customers when choosing a hotel or restaurant, according to 73% of the 520 hospitality professionals polled for exclusive Caterer research, sponsored by P&G Professional. This is compared with the 59% of respondents who said value for money was extremely important to potential customers and 47% who said price was key.

But while 95% of the hospitality professionals agreed that a clean and fresh environment has a "direct positive impact" on the bottom line - with 91% stating that presentable and tidy public areas are "extremely important" in creating a positive first impression - a third admitted that their establishment is not always cleaned to the highest standard.

This is a similar result to the 2007 survey, when Caterer and P&G first teamed up to investigate the cleanliness of the hospitality industry, suggesting a lack of progress in the area.

DISTURBING READING

While staff facilities (cited by 62% of respondents) and store rooms (49%) were the worst affected areas, the most important areas of the business were not immune, with the kitchen (35%), restaurant/dining room (29%) and customer toilet facilities (37%) all not cleaned to the highest standards, the survey reveals. A worrying 16% revealed that they had worked in an operation where the kitchens were unfit to serve food hygienically.

Some of the examples of poor hygiene cited by the respondents make for disturbing reading. Animals made regular appearances, with cockroaches "crawling out from under lettuce leaves", a cat "soiling under a table in a Chinese restaurant" and dead mice in a Bain Marie counter.

"I once visited a restaurant where there was dog poo from the owner's dog under my chair - I left," said one respondent.

Of course, there were some less than impressive examples of human behaviour, with the hospitality professionals revealing tales of chefs sneezing on, and then cooking, steaks, a member of staff dropping a hamburger on the floor and still serving it to a customer, and cutlery being cleaned by a member of staff breathing on it.

One respondent's comment was typical of many of those received: "The service area was dirty, due in part to the poor maintenance of the building reducing the ability to keep it clean. The kitchen was also visible, poorly maintained and dirty. There was clearly no evidence of monitoring of these standards by the managers."

Respondents blamed a lack of time (65%), lack of resources (45%) and a lack of training (41%) for below-standard cleanliness. More training (51%) and a hygiene/cleanliness recognition scheme (50%) would be helpful to improve the situation, they said.

A NEED FOR STRUCTURED TRAINING

Many operators do appear to have grasped the nettle when it comes to training, with 73% of respondents stating that all of their staff are trained on cleaning issues (compared with 63% in 2007) and just 4% admitting they did no training at all (down from 12% in 2007). Nevertheless, 88% agreed that structured training would improve the cleanliness of their establishment.

John Dyson, technical affairs adviser at the British Hospitality Association (BHA), says there is "absolutely no excuse" for operators not to keep their eye on the ball when it comes to hygiene and cleanliness, despite budgets being tightened because of the economic downturn.

"If you aren't clean and hygienic as a business, you are going to get into trouble," he says. "These are basic issues - there is no excuse for not training your staff in this area."

John Firrell, secretary at the Considerate Hoteliers Association (CHA), which encourages the adoption of economically, socially and environmentally sustainable policies and practices among hoteliers, agrees that there "can be no compromise" on cleaning standards in whatever walk of hospitality life you exist in.

"We might suggest the 33% (who admit their establishment isn't always cleaned to the highest standard) is lower than it is in reality," he says. "Any self-respecting operator would admit there are times when things could be done better."

So what can be done in order to ensure that standards of cleanliness and hygiene are maintained in times of economic difficulty? Dyson says improving cleanliness comes down to a combination of three factors - training, management and monitoring.

"Getting the most effective cleaning method will also make a difference," he adds. "Cheapest isn't always the best."

Given the importance of this issue there can be no cutting corners, so savings have to be made in other areas such as energy, water and waste expenditure, advises Firrell.

"A tightening of belts in these areas releases pressure on the cleaning budget," he says.

"We all know the story of the housekeeper who flushes the loo unnecessarily several times during cleaning, thereby wasting water."

Training always seems to be an area that suffers during bad times, yet it is the function that should be enhanced in order to maximise staff effectiveness in this area, according to Firrell.

"Make sure they are trained to the standard you expect, and know how to use and apply equipment and cleaning products," he says. "Ensure staff have the right equipment and cleaning aids."

MANAGING RESOURCES EFFECTIVELY

Firm and fair management is also critical to ensuring hygiene standards are maintained, warns Firrell.

"In recent times, perhaps because of a fear of litigation by an employee, there is a reluctance on the part of managers to demand a fair day's work for a fair day's pay - it's a two-way street, and in much the same way as a good worker should be nurtured and rewarded, a bad one who does not adhere to best practices should after due process be jettisoned," he says.

"It's obvious that an efficient and happy workforce needs less supervision, allowing the manager to concentrate on other aspects of the business."

Ian Hughes, chief executive of the UK Housekeepers Association (UKHA), agrees that managing resources effectively can go a long way to improving hygiene standards.

"It's a matter of managing the supply chain and people management; using your products efficiently and making sure you have the right amount of people to do the job," he says.

There has been a long decline in housekeeping standards due to years of underpaying and undertraining staff, but the industry has now reached a stage where general managers are realising that it is a vital area, according to Hughes.

"Even in a recession, standards should be maintained but it has often been the first area to be cut," he says. "But managers are beginning to realise that hygiene is more important than food and beverage."

Hughes revealed that the UKHA is working with the British Institute of Cleaning Science (the professional body for the cleaning industry) and the Hospitality Skills Academy to create official standards for housekeepers.

"What we have suggested is creating hotel certification so companies can publically state that a percentage of their cleaning staff have been trained to an industry standard," he says. "We hope it will one day be up there with AA certification."

Many of the larger operators outsource their cleaning services to third party suppliers, but while this is often cost effective, there can be negative repercussions. It emerged last summer that a number of cleaners in luxury London hotels were earning less than the minimum wage, as the agencies were paying them by the room rather than the hour.

"Outsourcing is a growing area as it is easy to budget if you know the cost per room, but, while there are many very good outsourcing companies, there are a lot out there who are not very good," Hughes says.

"Realistically, hotels should always employ their own housekeeper to work alongside the outsourcer's staff and oversee it all."

WAKE-UP CALL

It is not only exposés over pay that can lead to bad publicity for the hospitality sector. Online review website TripAdvisor's list of the "dirtiest hotels in the UK" caused controversy recently, with hoteliers on the list insisting it was not a fair reflection on their business and industry leaders calling for stricter authentication standards to guard against malicious reviews.

But can lists of this nature - and television programmes such as the BBC's Rogue Restaurants, which exposed poor hygiene standards - act as a wake-up call for the industry?

Hughes insists that they should do, despite the issues with TripAdvisor. "It is an open book where people can put in comments even if they haven't stayed at the hotel, but it shows that your reputation can be a couple of clicks away from ruination," he says.

Dyson says websites such as TripAdvisor do have an impact, but stresses they should not be seen as a benchmark, while Firrell admits they do "the industry no favours", adding that examples of a dirty hotel can always be found. "We all have our own horror story," he says.

"We should look beyond a reliance on hoteliers to get it right and ensure that quality assurance schemes and the like are robust and brave enough to fail those establishments that are not up to the very best standard of cleanliness and hygiene, which is the essence of a good hotelkeeper."

COMPLYING WITH FOOD SAFETY REGULATIONS

The examples of poor hygiene cited in the Caterer/P&G Professional research would see the operators in question falling foul of a number of regulations, but the rules can confuse even the most diligent businesses.

Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) - the international standard for handling food - has been particularly difficult to establish in catering businesses because of the sheer number and variety of processes involved in preparing and serving food.

The guide is available to BHA members at a reduced rate, and can be downloaded from www.bha-compliance.org.uk. Non-members can obtain a copy of the guide by eâ€'mailing support@cocoms.co.uk.

In addition, the Chartered Institute for Environmental Health has produced Food Safety Management: A Guide For Caterers, which provides information about the HACCP process and the Food Standards Agency's Safer Food Better Business scheme to help operators: make informed decisions when implementing a food safety management system and procedures; identify and control hazards; and maintain high standards of food safety.

For more information on the guide, go to www.cieh.org

FIRST IMPRESSIONS COUNT

Don't leave your business to chance; take control of the things that really matter to your customers, says Adrian Camp, managing director, P&G Professional.

The old adage "you never get a second chance to make a first impression" has never been truer than in today's hospitality industry. With businesses increasingly wary of their bottom line and customers choosier than ever on where they dispense their hard-earned cash, getting that fresh and clean first impression right has never been more important. According to our research, a staggering 95% of hoteliers agreed that a clean environment has a direct impact on their bottom line.

This special research feature lifts the lid on customer expectations of cleanliness within UK hospitality establishments and addresses how businesses can go about shaping up their operations front and back of house to meet the high expectations of their guests. With customers increasingly placing a premium on cleaning and hygiene standards, businesses really have one chance to get it right or risk losing custom - far from ideal in a post-recessionary climate.

With a range of high performance cleaning and laundry solutions for the out-of-home market, P&G Professional is committed to using its industry know-how to help hospitality professionals manage successful businesses and delight customers. By sharing research and industry best practice, we want to empower hospitality operators to seek ways to add value for their customers as well as increase profit margins.

The Flash and Febreze range from P&G Professional is specially designed to meet the needs of demanding hospitality outlets, from small cafés right through to B&Bs and guest houses. With concentrated cleaning power, the product range is perfect for use in all businesses where cleanliness and reputation are a priority.

For further information on the Flash and Febreze line-up or other P&G Professional products, call 0800 716854 or visit www.pgprof.com.

HYGIENE HORRORS

â- Cat soiling under a table in a Chinese restaurant

â- Chef coughing and sneezing whilst cooking steaks on display in restaurant

â- Cockroach crawling out from under a lettuce leaf, covered in salad cream

â- Customer areas and toilets hadn't been cleaned for days with sick, broken glass and toilet paper everywhere - and it stayed open for business

â- Dead mice in Bain Marie counter

â- Spoons used for serving customers after they have been in a staff member's mouth

â- Restaurant owner's dog mess under chair in dining room

â- Lots of mouse droppings in and around the fry area, large deposits of fat accumulating around the floor area, fly infestation around the kitchen area

â- Making a sandwich with gloves on; taking money with the same gloves; going to the toilet with gloves on; and serving someone afterwards with the same gloves on

â- Guest smoking all around reception and tipping his ash all over the carpet - a superstar actor from the USA!

â- Broken urinal waste pipe leaking on to a loading bay area with food products sitting there, awaiting staff to put away

Source: Reed Business Insight poll of 520 hospitality professionals

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