New Technology Raises Sanitizing Concerns 

This article first appeared in Restaurant Business Daily, a Winsight publication. Employee at the counter running a credit card through touch-screen monitor.

With each new kiosk, tabletop and handheld touchscreen device introduced in a restaurant, the opportunities for contamination have multiplied. Yet these hi-tech tools often fail to get the same sanitation attention as other equipment and surfaces.
Many of these surfaces are customer-facing: kiosks, mobile pagers, tablets and pay-at-the-table credit card processors covered with noticeable fingerprints, food and beverage spills and other signs of neglect are big turnoffs. And with each transaction, employees who share the POS, kitchen and other touchscreens are transferring potentially harmful germs and bacteria across the restaurant.

A few proactive steps, a well-structured sanitizing protocol, and proper tools can help combat either scenario.

Kiosks: As more restaurants have adopted self-serve ordering kiosks, sensational headlines like “Poo found on every McDonald’s touch screen tested” have tempered customers’ enthusiasm for actually ordering that way. The alarmist article, which ran on the website of Metro, a UK tabloid, created a lot of pushback from experts who criticized its exaggerated nature—some germs are unavoidable, after all—but the public perception is that touchscreens are a minefield to be avoided whenever possible, and not just in restaurants.

One potential solution: post a hand sanitizer or sanitizing wipe dispenser adjacent to kiosks. Families with small children will likely appreciate the gesture even more than the average customer.

At regular intervals throughout the day, an employee should be designated to wipe down these screens with sanitizers and wipes specially designed for that purpose to help avoid scratches. And remember, not all sanitizers are registered to both clean and sanitize. For best results, you may consider using a closed-system dispenser with an appropriate sanitizer to help ensure proper sanitizing. 
Tablet menus: It’s difficult to monitor who’s been handling these, and they’re sitting on tables where food and drink are potential contaminants. Some tablets double as game centers, so the chance is high that youngsters are touching them, too, along with anything else they can reach. Best practice: clean and sanitize every time the table is cleared.

Cell phone: The statistics on cell phone germs (10 times worse than a toilet seat) are familiar by now. Any operator should understand that, for a variety of reasons, cell usage and food preparation and handling do not mix. If it’s not already, ban employee cell phone use except during breaks, ask employees to thoroughly clean their personal electronics regularly and insist on handwashing immediately afterward. 

POS: These workhorse units get touched by any number of employees, doing any number of tasks, so they need special care. Quick cleaning and sanitizing should be part of a regular schedule that anyone can handle; a popup screen reminder and a handy supply of appropriate products to handle the task can help ensure it gets done.

Pagers and remote payment processors: Dirty pagers, which patrons hold onto or put into a pocket or purse, can create a “yuck” factor that might turn off guests before they’ve even sat down. To avoid this, part of the host’s job should be to wipe each one down as soon as it is returned. And payment processing units are probably the last thing a patron will touch before leaving the restaurant, so those need to be kept spotless, as well.

Keeping sensitive, often costly and heavily used digital tools clean and free of germs is a challenge—and an important step in maintaining a restaurant’s image.