COVID-19 Restaurant Resources

Restaurant Cleaning: How to Properly Sanitize Your Restaurant

By Dana Krook

Restaurant employee wiping a table

Restaurant cleaning is more important now than ever.

Picture this: the sun is shining and you’re back on your feet (literally and figuratively), serving a full dining room at your restaurant. You’ve made key changes to create a healthy, safe environment, and now the drinks and the cash are flowing. 

But inevitably, when the good times roll, so do the bad times. With flu season around the corner, you have to be prepared to act quickly if one of your team members gets sick. You need a plan for restaurant cleaning.

In this guide to restaurant cleaning, we’ll dust off the goods, such as:

  • Why cleaning and sanitizing your restaurant should be part of your routine
  • How to do a deep clean, whether you handle it yourself or hire help
  • How to keep your restaurant sparkling, using staff training and checklists
Restaurant Cleaning Checklist
Get Your Free Restaurant Cleaning Checklist

Download our restaurant cleaning checklist for front of house and back of house cleaning.

Download Now

Why a Clean Restaurant Is More Important Now Than Ever

While some of your guests are rushing back through your restaurant’s doors for a change of scenery from home-cooked meals, others are unsure whether it’s safe to return just yet. Even your takeout and delivery regulars are more concerned about hygiene nowadays. 

Just like maintaining a working restaurant HVAC system, cleaning and sanitizing your venue regularly is essential to building trust with your post-COVID customers. Your guests need to know their safety is your top priority. Keeping your restaurant clean and germ-free helps create an atmosphere where they can relax, enjoy themselves, and not have to worry about the public health crisis, because they know you’ve got their back.

Even before the pandemic, 75% of diners would steer clear of a restaurant with bad reviews of its cleanliness. Chances are, that number is higher today. Recent events have shown us that we can’t predict the future, but as a restaurateur, you can control whether your space is shiny or grimy. Don’t let it be the latter!

Waitress at a restaurant wearing a facemask and disinfecting the tables

How to Do a Deep Clean at Your Restaurant

Savvy restaurant owners and managers are likely well aware of the ServSafe guidelines that state you must wash, rinse, and sanitize all surfaces food comes in contact with, every time you use them. Cleaning gets rid of food and other visible germs, for example, when you wipe sauce off a table. Sanitizing is a step up, though, and combats surface-level pathogens like a virus on a utensil that may not be visible to your eye.

A deep clean goes beyond the regular precautions you take to keep your restaurant staff and guests safe, as well as avoid health code violations like cross-contamination.

Even if everyone on your team is as healthy as a horse, it’s still important to do a deep clean once a month. In contrast, if one of your employees does get sick, follow the lead of other restaurants who’ve been in this situation and deep clean your digs, stat!

Now, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and make your restaurant gleam. Here are two options for restaurant cleaning to help you finish the job.

1. Take the DIY Approach

Times have been tough in the restaurant industry, so it’s understandable if you don’t have extra cash to hire a cleaning company. The good news is that with the right restaurant cleaning supplies, you can take matters into your own rubber-gloved hands.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) website has a list of 482 cleaning products that you can use to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in your restaurant. Ingredients are listed beside each product name, as well as a note about how long the solution needs to sit on a surface to disinfect it. Here are a few examples.

  • Clorox Disinfecting Wipes – 30 seconds
  • Oxivir™ Wipes – one minute
  • Ironman Wipes – two minutes
  • Arm & Hammer Essentials™ Disinfecting Wipes – five minutes
  • Scrubbing Bubbles® Disinfectant Bathroom Grime Fighter – five minutes

For restaurateurs north of the border, the Government of Canada’s website also has an approved list of 491 hard-surface disinfectants you can use to keep your restaurant spick and span. It’s similar to the EPA’s list, except it doesn’t mention how long each product needs to sit on a surface to be effective. A good rule of thumb is at least one minute. Products include:

  • Lemon Gard
  • Germal
  • Spray Nine
  • Germxtra
  • Multi San
Restaurant Cleaning Checklist
Get Your Free Restaurant Cleaning Checklist

Download our restaurant cleaning checklist for front of house and back of house cleaning.

Download Now

More Restaurant Cleaning Resources

The National Restaurant Association’s website has a section of hygiene resources and downloads with information on proper handwashing and what you should do if one of your staff or guests shows flu-like symptoms.

The Restaurants Canada website also includes health and food safety information about handwashing, cleaning, disinfecting, and COVID-19 outbreak prevention. The site even covers how to mix your own chlorine-based sanitizing solution.

Female chef working in industrial kitchen and cleaning a knife

2. Hire a Cleaning Company

If you’re less of a DIY fan and would rather bring an extra set of hands into your restaurant to tackle a deep clean, you’re in luck. There are countless restaurant cleaning services you can hire.

However, you shouldn’t simply call a cleaner and wash your hands of the task. Do your homework before you choose a commercial cleaning company. Here’s how.

Get Referrals and Read Reviews

Ask family, friends, or your social media network for recommendations. You’ll gain more insight from them than you will from the marketing messages on a cleaning company’s website. Find out how well the cleaner(s) followed directions, what their level of attention to detail was like, and whether they got the job done in the estimated time.

Look for Experienced, Licensed, and Insured Professionals

Hiring a licensed and insured commercial cleaning company means they’re legally authorized to do the work you need done, and that you won’t be on the hook if something goes wrong in the process that causes damage to your restaurant. Experience is important, too, because you don’t want your deep clean to be their first job.

Ask for Details and a Quote

Find out whether the products used by the company are approved for use against COVID-19. You should also ask for an estimate of how long they think it’ll take to complete the deep clean, and how much it will cost. You don’t want any surprises.

Do a Meet and Greet

Ask someone from the company to stop by your restaurant to help you get a better sense of their approach. This will give them a chance to see the space in person, which will result in a more accurate quote for you and an opportunity to discuss any potential issues prior to your deep clean.

Restaurant Cleaning Checklist
Get Your Free Restaurant Cleaning Checklist

Download our restaurant cleaning checklist for front of house and back of house cleaning.

Download Now

How to Maintain the Clean

We’ve all wished that a freshly scrubbed countertop would stay that way forever. Nothing remains spotless permanently – especially in a kitchen. But with a regular routine and some effort, you can get a few extra miles out of your restaurant’s deep clean.

Here are two key areas to focus on.

1. Staff Training

Everyone on your team should be involved in helping to keep your restaurant clean. Whether you’ve been open again for several weeks or months, or you’re just preparing to welcome guests back, you’ll need to take restaurant cleaning to a new level in today’s post-COVID world.

Let’s break down what this system looks like for you and your employees.

  • Ramp up your handwashing frequency
  • Wear personal protective equipment – for example, a mask – when taking orders
  • Limit your contact with food as much as possible
  • Keep menus, glasses, silverware, and condiments off tables

You may also want to create a “health check” questionnaire for your staff to run through before every shift. This will help reduce the risk of a sick team member stepping on the dining room floor or behind the kitchen line. 

You can also develop a policy that explains what your employees should do if they have cold or flu symptoms. Read up on your local laws to ensure you’re complying with rules around masks and other COVID-19 prevention measures in your region.

ServSafe Food Handler Training

While there’s currently no evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted via food or food packaging, food safety should still be a top priority for restaurateurs. If you’re operational, you need to have a food service license and a food handler’s permit

The ServSafe Food Handler program is recognized in most states, but some locations do require extra credentials. The program is run by the National Restaurant Association, and your staff can take it online or in-person.

Bartender cleaning a bar counter

2. Schedules and Checklists

Proper training is crucial to keeping your restaurant clean. To stay organized and improve your business operations, you can build a restaurant opening and closing checklist. But you also need to implement a structure for your employees to make the most of their new knowledge.

Make restaurant cleaning a regular part of your operations and create a daily, weekly, and monthly cleaning schedule for each section of your restaurant.

Your restaurant cleaning checklist should include the following tasks.


  • Cleaning and disinfecting tables and chairs between seatings
  • Cleaning and disinfecting menus, condiments, and credit card readers after every use (remember, don’t leave anything on tables!)
  • Wiping down the bar multiple times a day
  • Wiping high-touch areas like door handles several times a day, as often as possible
  • Checking restrooms every few hours to ensure they’re clean; if they’re not, clean them immediately and if they are, scrub them thoroughly once a day at minimum
  • Cleaning garnish trays and soda stations at closing time
  • Vacuuming or sweeping/mopping the floor and taking out the trash at closing time


  • Refilling restaurant sanitizer stations near high-traffic areas
  • Flushing keg lines and cleaning coffee machines
  • Wiping down walls and furniture legs
  • Dusting picture frames, window sills, and baseboards

Your kitchen cleaning checklists should be even more comprehensive.


  • Cleaning and sanitizing all food prep areas multiple times a day
  • Cleaning the stovetop and changing the foil lining
  • Cleaning the fryer
  • Washing all tableware
  • Restocking the handwashing station with soap and paper towel
  • Cleaning the sinks
  • Putting kitchen towels and aprons in the laundry, or using a restaurant laundry service
  • Restocking kitchen towels with fresh ones
  • Sweeping fridges and storage rooms
  • Sweeping/mopping the floor and taking out the trash at closing time
  • Disinfecting the food disposal area and trash cans
  • Wiping down kitchen equipment like toasters and microwaves
  • Wiping down walls


  • Cleaning and sanitizing fridges and freezers, including throwing away old ingredients
  • Cleaning ovens and changing fryer oil
  • Cleaning floor drains by flushing them out
  • Washing walls


  • Cleaning grease traps
  • Dusting fridge coils
  • Cleaning and sanitizing the ice machine and freezer
Restaurant Cleaning Checklist
Get Your Free Restaurant Cleaning Checklist

Download our restaurant cleaning checklist for front of house and back of house cleaning.

Download Now

A Cleaner, Safer, More Profitable Restaurant

The past few months have been overwhelming for many restaurateurs. If you’re feeling information overload, you’re not alone. Use the resources in this guide to master restaurant cleaning, and take advantage of technology to streamline and automate your operations wherever possible.

You’re now well prepared to lead your restaurant into its next chapter. We’ve covered why restaurant cleaning is critical to your reputation and your bottom line, how to keep your restaurant clean, and the options available to you whether you’re a DIY fan or a pro delegator. We’ve also shared some tips on how to train your staff to keep cleaning top of mind and stick to a schedule. You’re ready and you’ve got this!

Photo of Dana Krook
by Dana Krook

Dana is the former Content Marketing Manager at TouchBistro, sharing tips for and stories of restaurateurs turning their passion into success. She loves homemade hot sauce, deep fried pickles and finding excuses to consume real maple syrup.

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