No restaurant wants to make its patrons sick and most times there are health inspectors and regulations put in place.  The trouble can be had at some quirky places whilst travelling in far-flung countries when there is a lack of refrigeration or when dishes are washed in the gutter through necessity.  In the "civilized" world of food haunts there are just those places in a restaurant that are overlooked or impossible to keep clean 24/7.

A rule to follow especially if there is an open kitchen (or maybe an open back door into an alley) is to check it out before you commit to sitting at one of their restaurant tables.  Yes, you will look a bit odd peering over the serving ledge or when you go wandering down a dark alley tottering in your finest wear to poke your nose in a back door, which is more often than not right beside the industrial waste bins with an odor more akin to the local rubbish dump. The trouble is that the kitchen may be the least of your problems in relation to lurking germs.

If there are cobwebs draped in corners or the floor isn't clean, then you know that the kitchen won't be up to scratch either, let alone the state of the bathrooms.  If corners are being cut in the front of the restaurant, it will be the same in the back.

Where to Find Hovering Germs in Restaurants

You could always order as you sit on your bug-infested seat, "I will have microbes medium rare with a couple of parasites on the side and throw on the plate a pathogen for good measure.  I will skip the entree of bugs, as I am not really into them.  A couple of bacteria rimmed glasses would be great and could you put some E.coli laden lemon wedges in the toilet water that I will drink with my meal please."    

Below are the most icky spots where opening the sanitary wipes might be more prudent than opening your mouth to shovel the food in:

High chairs/booster seats

Little feet (shoes on or off) plus small hands are not the cleanest of body parts at the best of times.  Maybe even a dirty nappy has been happily sitting (and leaking) in that same spot you have just placed your angel of a child.  High chairs are quite often only quickly wiped down before the next use and not always with a sanitary cloth.  If you don't feel like a side dish of E.coli sitting beside you, wipe the highchair down yourself with disinfectant wipes especially the tray, before you attempt to make a picture out of French fries on it for your child.


When you pull up your seat to the table are you inviting bacteria to sit with you?  Think of how many customers have sat in that seat before you and the fact that many restaurants never think to sanitize them.

Where to Find Hovering Germs in Restaurants


Tabletops, unless you are in an establishment of commercially laundered white linen, your tabletop can be loaded with jumping nasty critters.  In fact they may be playing "musical chairs" (aka table party), as they get to move from table to table if the waitperson is using the same wiping cloth for every table.  Table wiping cloths are meant to be soaked in disinfectant after each table, but sadly this isn't always the case. For those that drum their fingers on the table, remember to go and wash your hands before you begin to eat or just keep your hands off the table to start with.


Menus come wrapped in germs from so many jammy hands holding them during the day, the week or however long it is between printing fresh ones, or sanitizing plastic menus.  Think of snotty nosed children, the teenager with his finger up his nose to the knuckle, the gentleman scratching his gonads or the delicate female form pulling the G-string of her undies out from between her rear cheeks.  Fingers and hands get up to a lot prior to entering a restaurant.  Each hand will leave a bit of its day's activities on that menu offering up staph infections or strep throat to name a few additional items on the menu that you had no idea you were ordering.

Make sure you use your hand sanitizer when you give your menu back to the waiter.

Where to Find Hovering Germs in Restaurants

Eating Utensils

Avoid the buffet cutlery bin, as it is the bin of deathly contamination.  Germ donors come in all shapes and forms when a buffet is on offer; in fact the prudent thing to do is to never go near a buffet or smorgasbord meal, no matter how tempting it may be.

If you wish to keep your cutlery as clean as possible - short of eating with pre-packaged plastic utensils - always keep the serviette beneath your cutlery on the table and ask for a second napkin for your lap. 

Rims of Glasses

Wait staff preparing or serving drinks with their fingers on the rim of the glass, should be sacked on the spot.  Failing this you can be a bitchy customer and request a new drink and point out the error of his or her ways.  You could always drink your wine through a straw, if you don't wish to make a scene.

Lemon/Lime Wedges

Pushed into the rim of your glass or muddled into your mojito, lemon/lime wedges quite often have had a long hard day sitting cut up behind the bar.  Bar tenders don't tend to wear disposable gloves, so their hands will be playing with your fruit whether you like it or not.  If he/she is not into washing their hands thoroughly after going to the bathroom, these luscious slices will be tainted with human waste.  Think twice before you throw it into the liquid depths of your drink from the rim of your glass.

Where to Find Hovering Germs in Restaurants

Table Top Condiments

Think along the lines of the salt and pepper shakers, ketchup/soy sauce/chili sauce/vinegar bottles and whatever else you can think of that is passed between numerous hands.  Grab whatever it is you need with a serviette when pouring or better yet, go to a restaurant where you get your own little individual serving. 


The depository for human waste is always a risk factor and short of donning a hazmat suit for the occasion, always take the normal precautions such as using paper towel when touching anything.  Apparently there are 295 bacteria on every square inch of a toilet seat and 3.2 million inside the bowl.  Has that scared your pants off?

Forget about drying your hands with the hand dryer unless you want to spray your clean hands with flying nasty bugs.  This wonderful blowing machine that is the eco-friendly alternative to paper towels, is in fact blasting "toilet plume" such as bacteria found in faecal matter from people flushing toilets without the lids down.  Use the hand paper towel instead or BYO tissues.

So what is the alternative?

For those that are just happy that they don’t have to feed a horde of hungry mouths at home, throw a packet of disinfectant wipes on the table, make a game out of cleaning everything including their own hands. 

If you are without the rug rats or burping teens engrossed in their mobiles, eat seductively in your hands (after you have washed them) and say a little prayer that you were treated to somewhere reputable with linen drapery.

Helpful hint or travellers:  Always carry some Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate or Imodium to treat any after meal explosions of the rear end variety that won't stop.

You might also want to learn How Clean Are Your Airline Seats and what the 7 Dirtiest Areas of Your Hotel Room are.

Gail Palethorpe, a self proclaimed Australian gypsy, is a freelance writer, photographer and eternal traveller. Check out her website Gail Palethorpe Photography and her Shutterstock profile.