The after-hours cleaning crew: The Pizza Chef
By Diana Cline
One of my column readers asked whether an overnight cleaning service was worth the investment. Let’s review some options to clarify what type of service we could be looking at.
First, there is the daily cleaning of your kitchens: walls wiped down; counters and make line cleaned, wiped and sanitized; walk-in cooler swept and mopped; equipment wiped clean; dishes washed, rinsed and sanitized; your three-compartment and all hand-wash sinks, taps and faucets scrubbed clean; and finally, your floors swept and mopped. When you clean the splashed sauce off of a wall or container the same day, it’s easier to clean than if you leave it there for a week.
Second, there is the weekly cleaning of your kitchens: things like clearing off shelves, wiping them down, wiping down the items on the shelves, and then reorganizing the items neatly. Be sure to include the shelves in your walk-in cooler. This is where you inspect your highly used equipment and set aside anything needing repair. Throw out anything beyond repair.
Next, there is the monthly cleaning: this is where you pull equipment away from walls to clean behind it. You inspect the equipment. Check that your fan blades aren’t gummed up full of debris. Check your compressor vents. Anything that has a buildup of dirt and debris should be thoroughly cleaned. Your equipment has to work twice as hard to pull air through filthy vents, and that can easily cause the compressor motor to overheat and burn out. That kind of a fix is a lot more expensive than cleaning dirty vents. It’s not just the cost of a cooler or a freezer, but also the downtime and the spoilage of the product inside. This cleaning list crosses over into some equipment maintenance, which if done properly will save you a lot of money in the long run. Well-maintained equipment will outlast and outperform poorly maintained equipment every day of the week.
Finally, there is your once- or twice-a-year cleaning schedule. This is typically a specialized service since it includes things like power washing your hood exhaust, and if you’re smart, a full servicing of your ovens and dough mixer. At least once a year a skilled technician should take apart, clean, lubricate and reassemble the components of your dough mixer and ovens. Those are primary pieces of equipment, and if they go down, the whole pizzeria shuts down too. This is also a good time to clean and inspect the gaskets on your refrigeration doors to keep your units operating at peak performance.
That’s quite the extensive list. So, what’s it worth? Let’s do the math. How long and how many staff does it take to clean your kitchen on an average night? Is the after-hours cleaning crew an actual company with rates comparable to your in-house rates? Or is it a mixed bag of your crew members who are willing and able to come in to clean with extra attention to the details? Will they do restaurant kitchen cleaning as outlined above, or are they mainly an office space janitorial company? Are there some things they don’t do? Do you have a system for cleanup, or is it left willy-nilly, resulting in things having to be redone?
Daily cleaning is something that should be handled in house by your staff. Staff members who clean and maintain a clean workplace take pride in the cleanliness of the pizzeria. Staff members who never wash dishes or sweep or mop aren’t terribly motivated to keep things clean and often will contribute to a greater mess.
Weekly and monthly cleaning is also handled in store at my pizzeria. We’ve found that staff members who help maintain equipment are also more likely to notice when a piece of equipment isn’t working properly. Staff members who don’t help clean and maintain equipment are typically oblivious to any problems and ignorant of solutions. A cooler that is warming up above 4 C may simply be unplugged or have blown a breaker, but team members who aren’t familiar with equipment may not see the signs and simply say “I thought it was a little warm” only after all the product inside has spoiled.
The big part of this equation involves operations and your staff. Do you have one or two key staff members who seem to work the majority of closes and therefore handle an inordinate amount of the cleaning at close? Are they the ones asking for the overnight cleaning crew? If that’s the case, perhaps the best solution is to implement an “after-supper cleanup checklist” where the store is given a thorough cleanup after your supper rush. Sweep off those counters, wash all the dishes, organize the store and give the floor a good sweep. That way, all your staff on that shift pitch in to help clean up, and because no one gets to go home until the “after-supper cleanup checklist” is completed, everyone is motivated to get it done. Also, now your closing staff members won’t have to clean up after the entire shift – just the last few hours of it.
Diana Cline is a two-time Canadian Pizza magazine Chef of the Year, three-time winner of “Canada’s Best Pizza Chef” at international pizza competitions, a judge for international pizza culinary competitions in Las Vegas, Italy and France, and a partner with Diana’s Cucina & Lounge in Winnipeg. In addition to creating award-winning recipes, Diana is a consultant to other pizzeria owner/operators in menu development, creating systems to run a pizzeria on autopilot, along with marketing and positioning to help operators grow their business effectively and strategically. She is available for consulting on a limited basis. For more details, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org