The manager or owner stood behind the counter during the slow time around 3 to 4 PM in the new eatery opened only a few months ago. The empty eatery spotless, efficient, and healthy faire set out in buffet style behind the glass-covered counter sported all types of vegetables, beans, grains, cheese, and ethnic faire, a delightful site, except for one knee-jerk error. The food server worked on automatic pilot, not thinking perhaps of hygiene, maybe behaving as he did at home, perhaps imitating what relatives did.
What went wrong? With all the flowing water, sinks, and wet paper napkins or sponges all around him, habitually, the food server (in this case the manager or owner) popped his fingers into his mouth to wet his digits before he donned his plastic gloves to pick up the tortilla and prepare the burrito from the equisite row of beans, greens, vegetables, rice, cheese, and sour cream. Then disaster struck–just on the part of the customer.
"You put your fingers in your mouth," said the customer. "I can’t eat in a restaurant where the food server puts his hands in his mouth before he even picks up the burrito to fill. Why couldn’t you just have wet your fingers under the running water or on a wet cloth or sponge? You have sinks with running water right in front of you."
The food server waved the customer away, "Bye, bye." He smiled with his mouth, not with his eyes.
The customer turned and left the restaurant. "I’m sorry," explained the customer, just before walking out the door. "I can’t eat in a place where fingers go in the mouth just before handling the food. Don’t you realize that when you put on your plastic gloves, the spit gets all over the outside of the gloves? I don’t understand it. You’re standing right in front of a faucet with running water."
And so the customer left, never to return to that eatery again. Too bad. The customer had been a patron of the restaurant owned by several former owners during the past decade. Now the eatery has a new owner. But it wasn’t the usual lunch-hour food servers that resorted to blind habit–fingers in the mouth–to open plastic gloves in order to put on the gloves. It was the manager or owner, the only server in the place in the middle of the afternoon, before the dinner crowd arrived. Too bad.
Putting fingers in the mouth to wet them before opening plastic gloves or bags has gotten way out of hand. It isn’t any longer limited to restaurants. It’s the food handlers also at check-out counters in supermarkets that do this. No matter how many little wet sponges the employer places on the counter, just too many food baggers habitually pop their fingers into their mouths to grab dollar bills when they give change, to open plastic bags, or to handle other routine work focused around packaging food or giving change.
Stop the fingers in the mouth habit. You learned this at home. No parent has corrected a child enough times to remind the person that you don’t put fingers in the mouth to open plastic bags, separate sides of plastic gloves to put them on before serving or preparing food, or count out and separate paper dollars to give change. Use a wet cloth, sponge, or paper.
If you go shopping in a supermarket, don’t pop your fingers in your mouth to open the plastic bag and then handle the vegetables on the counter. Bring along a small wet paper towel or cloth sealed in a plastic bag. Use it to dampen your finger tips before you open a plastic bag in a store, serve food, or give change. If you have webbed fingers and can’t wear plastic gloves, tell the customer. Then wash your hands with soap before you handle the food.
Next time, somebody out there is going to wear a video or still camera when you pop your fingers in your mouth before putting on plastic gloves to prepare food. And they are going to turn the video or photo over to your boss. If it’s the boss pitching in when food servers are on break-time in late afternoon, surely there’s someone supervising your restaurant hygiene practices and inspections. But in the case of the new eatery that customer entered with enthusiasm about the great food on the buffet behind the glass counter, it probably was the boss or manager serving the food, rather than the food handlers there earlier in the lunch hour.
Don’t you wish food handlers had continuous video taping of how they served food on tape that could be viewed by those watching the watchers–for the purpose of keeping food handling sanitary?
And what about the food server who sticks his/her ungloved thumb into those just washed tiny side dish/vegetable plates before adding a serving spoon full of cole slaw or green beans to the small, round dish? Why hasn’t someone asked the server to place the thumb under the dish, not into it while serving food?
That point of whether the boss/owner/manager or a food server popped fingers in mouth before picking up plastic gloves to pry open is unknown at the present. Maybe gloves should come with little inserts that make it easier to open without first having to wet fingers.
For now, the only way to open plastic gloves is to wet fingers. The problem is some people by unthinking habit reach for their tongue to wet their fingers instead of a wet cloth or opening the water faucet.
No, the restaurant will never be mentioned. It’s new, has great food, and deserves all the business it can get. The point made here is for somebody to tell the food servers to make sure they have enough little wet hygienic cloths on hand or running water to wet their fingers enough to open those plastic gloves or bags before they pick up the bread or tortillas and then plop on the rest of the beans, vegetables, rice, and cheese stuffing. Sure, the food tastes great, but not when the servers are first putting fingers in mouths right in front of the customer by blind habit, without realizing it.
The purpose of this article is just to bring to the attention of the servers and their managers or restaurant/eatery owners as well as supermarket check-out clerks that wet their fingers on their tongues before giving change. Make sure your staff is told where to wet their fingers. Behind the customer’s back, no one really knows where the finger goes, reads the familiar adage. Thanks for keeping the food cleaner, guys and gals.