Clean Cuisine

We like to give the national restaurant chains a hard time on the Eat Salem blog, but one thing they do really well is keep a clean kitchen and dining room. When you bite into a Baja Burrito, from Baja Fresh, you don't doubt that the grill it was cooked on is scrubbed clean every night. This adds a lot of satisfaction to your meal and makes the drive all the way over to Lancaster worth while. Another place that is really clean is the new Panda Express in West Salem. When I ate there recently, I noticed that the bathroom cleaning schedule, posted on the mens room door, was updated three times before dinner. Baja Fresh seems to have at least one employee dedicated to cleaning tables and mopping floors at all times. Whenever a table is vacant at Baja, it's wiped down immediately for the next customer. Keeping a clean dining room tells me that the managers have a clean kitchen and fresh food that is cleaned properly. Part of the clean effect is in the interior design of these restaurants. The black and white color scheme gives you the feeling of being in a sterilized environment like a hospital room. My wife always says that she doesn't like to go there in the winter because it makes her feel cold. Almost like you're sitting in a refrigerator. I'm not saying that all local restaurants are dirty, but some are or at least they feel like they are. There are some things that the locals can do to achieve a cleaner feeling restaurant. One thing is to not allow tables to sit with dirty dishes on them. I never want to sit down next to a table that has someone's leftover food sitting on dirty dishes that haven't been bussed. Next, everything that a customer will touch like menu's, salt and pepper shakers, condiments, doorknobs and silverware needs to be cleaned regularly with degreaser. It's a small detail but it's one of my pet peeves. Lighting should be a priority. Make sure there are no burned out bulbs in the restaurant or on any signs. Light coming in through windows is fantastic, fluorescent lights are awful. The bathrooms are very important to keep clean. If you haven't installed touch free toilets, sinks and towel dispensers do that right away. Put a waste basket next to the bathroom door so that when I use the paper towel to open the door I can toss it out on my way back to the table. (OK, so I have issues.) We'll leave it at that and take suggestions from our readers.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I like a clean restaurant too, but I don't fool myself into thinking that just because a place is a chain it will be cleaner. Some of the filthiest bathrooms and dining rooms I've seen have been in chain restaurants. I won't eat at Applebee's anymore for example. I think that the cleanliness has more to do with the owner/manager and how well the employees are trained plus how much they care about and have pride in their restaurant.

K & N said...

As a young person, I worked at three different chains. For the most part, the employees did a good job of completing the daily, weekly, monthly cleaning jobs they had been trained to do. Of course, there were always a few who focused more on getting out ASAP at closing. BUT there was nothing like an impending monthly visit from the regional manager or owner to ensure the restaurant was in ship shape condition.
To me, an unbussed dining area is a good reason to turn around and walk out. Why risk your health?

-s said...

One advantage Baja Fresh has is that the owner/manager (Alfredo) is almost always there. It may be a chain restaurant in name and recipes, but it is locally owned and operated, most of their employees have worked there for two or more years, and they treat regulars like family. I miss that place.

Salem Man said...

Alfredo is great, he runs that place like it's his name on the sign.

Anonymous said...

I have learned that if it's dirty on the outside, don't go in.

I'm talking about the parking lot, yes, the parking lot.

And the outside door area. Are there cigarette butts on the ground, bits of paper, or trash?

And the door itself, it glass, and most are, is it clean? Or dirty, and smudged?

If it's dirty outside, I'm not going it!!!

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I meant I'm not going in!!!

Barbara B said...

I just went to the Panda Express in Keizer Station yesterday for takeout and overall, I was pleased. It seemed clean enough (I didn't use the 'facilities' or even sit down to dinner, so I really didn't take a good look around) but the serving area was very clean.

The server behind the counter was nice enough but not very helpful. It was my first time in Panda Express and I didn't understand how the pricing went. I wanted several items to serve "family style" and at first she tried to put too much (in my opinion) in a single container.

In addition, one of the menu items listed on the company website --eggplant and tofu -- wasn't available at this store and they were out of the rangoons as well. I can't blame them of course, but it was disappointing since I had carefully made my selections before going there.

Unfortunately, I waited a day to reheat and serve the meal at home and by then the rice and chow mein were dry. The chicken dish (sweet fire chicken) was okay but nothing special. Again, I think it would have been far better had it been eaten right away. The misxed veggies were VERY fresh and crunchy and were actually my favorite (although not at all "Chinese").

Surprisingly, the entire meal for two people cost only $7! Although they can't compete with Kwans, for a fast food restaurant, they're not bad. I'd probably go again although I can't see myself making it a regular haunt.

Chuck Bradley said...

Baja Fresh...............

Like most chains this one did not wow me! The atmosphere was crisp and clean but a little sterile. The counter person was chipper and friendly. I ordered their new "Fire Grilled Fillet Medallion and Langostino Lobster Taco Combo". $8.59. Fillet medallions, suggests cuts from the tenderloin. This meat had a texture and toughness more in keeping with round steak. The Langostino Lobster (truly not a lobster at all, more closely related to the crab family) was rubbery and flavorless. I suspect my black beans and rice were both nuked. (This is pure speculation. If anyone has evidence to the contrary, please correct this statement.) The condiment bar was very fresh and copiously stocked. The mild salsas were indeed very mild. I recognize the need to appeal to the lowest common denominator of Gringo heat tolerance, but think they under-did it here. I can get a very good lunch at any number of good Mexican restaurants and taco trucks in town for less than 8 and a half bucks, and will continue to do so. I have no regrets though. You don't find out if you don't try 'em.