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Restaurants: The Cleaner the Better?

I am ecstatic that Buffalo has so many lowbrow, mom and pop-style restaurants.  I visit many of them quite often.  I feel that the food is generally a good value, and that sometimes, the service is homey and adds great pleasure to the trip.  But often, I take my food to go.  Why?  Because even though you will occasionally see staff wiping down tables or sweeping the floor, many of these places don’t feel clean. The dining room may even look neat when you walk in, but as soon as you sit down, you notice. The salt & pepper shakers need replacing, the menus haven’t been wiped down (ever) and the crevices of every booth or chair are filled with old crumbs and larger bits of food.  Tables are made level by makeshift supports crafted from what are now mucky, grease-stained, old paper napkins, the register has never seen a damp cloth and you can’t tell if the paper-lined tray/basket your food came on/in has ever been washed.  The service in many of the dirtier joints often comes without a smile or
even a word.  I guess you can assume that the staff aren’t treated any
better than the building.   

But the mom and pops are not the only guilty parties.  Go into some of the city’s fine dining establishments during the day and you’ll find the same thing–upholstery that’s stained, walls that are filthy and in need of paint, broken down restrooms, grease-stained rugs and crumbs, crumbs, crumbs. It is often at restaurants like this that my husband will look at me and say, “WWGRD?”  In our house, that stands for “What Would Gordon Ramsey Do?”  Love him or hate him, if you watch Chef Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares–particularly the British version which hasn’t been dumbed down for Fox’s viewing audience–you know what I mean. 

Don’t go making any rash generalizations, I’m not a snob.  I’ll wax poetic about hot dogs all day, I’ll gladly consume street food of questionable provenance and I don’t sneer when I’m served food on a paper plate.  I don’t expect a restaurant to be as clean as an operating room.  If a restaurant chooses to remain open while under construction, or I get a inattentive waitress who places me at a dirty table, I live with it.  We’re not necessarily talking about health inspection-level offenses, here.  What we’re talking about is the disregard for everyday wear and tear, and that just has to be addressed on a regular basis by any brick and mortar business in order to keep the building clean and the customer’s experience a positive one.

A saying amongst restaurant critics for decades has been that you can tell the cleanliness of the kitchen by the cleanliness of the bathroom.  I don’t know if it’s is fair to judge a mom and pop restaurant by its restroom at 8pm on a Friday night, but in a fine dining establishment, all bets are off.  Don’t you think the loo should be attended on a regular basis if your entrees are over $20 each?  I do.

I want to support local, independent restaurants, and I’m not posting this to disparage any one business in particular.  My concern is that I see Buffalo’s dining scene on the brink of change (and maybe even greatness), and some of these issues must be addressed.  Service and attention to detail are where Buffalo’s restaurant scene is hurting the most.  Perhaps we should ask City Hall to require every eatery to post this list created by Chef Eric Ripert?

So, what do you think?  Does finding an old, withered french fry in the crevice of your chair ruin your meal?  Do you expect the lid and neck of the ketchup bottle to be relatively clean?  Does a tippy table ruin your night?  Have you ever stopped going to a restaurant because of it’s cleanliness level? 

And finally, which Buffalo restaurants do you find to be impeccably clean–always?

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