IHOP Agrees That Workers Shouldn't Scrub Ceiling Tiles Directly Over Your Food

We get fewer gross food stories than you might imagine here at Consumerist, and this one made us cringe. Reader Richard saw a maintenance person scrubbing down some ceiling tiles while standing on a food prep counter… that was in use. Yeah. Ew.

Went to Ihop yesterday, here is the feed back I just sent them through their website.

We went to this location on my birthday. After ordering my wife (sitting across from me was staring into the food prep counter area) asked me “What’s he doing?” I looked, an employee was standing on a ladder scrubbing the acoustic ceiling tiles! I turned back to my wife, who then said “I don’t think I can eat here.” The waitress walked by and asked the person cleaning the ceiling over warming counter/pass through to step down off the counter (he had moved to standing on the counter as he was cleaning) she then brought our food down from the counter above and set it right where he had been standing! The hostess/manager walked into the prep area at time time.

My wife and I got up saying no way would we eat there. The manager who we believe had already been alerted to our conversation by my wife cried out “He wasn’t cleaning!” to which my wife told the manager “Don’t lie to us! We watched him scrubbing it and spraying cleaner over our food and the counter!” The manager then told the cleaning person to move to the other end of the food prep counter to clean the ceiling there! It’s only 20 feet at most and more likely 15 or less so he still would have been endangering dropping dirt, dust, mold, mildew etc. into the food product in addition to all the open bins built into the counter he had doubtless already contaminated.

The manager volunteered to remake our food. I told the manager we would never be eating in her restaurant again. We walked up to the register as we were having this discussion and ask for them to let us pay for our teas so we could leave to which they replied not to worry about it.

I have seen disgusting conditions before, but for the restaurant to create them itself and the manager to outright try to LIE to us was inexcusable! If I hadn’t been so shocked at the time I should have used my wife’s phone to videotape the action and share it with the world! I certainly hope you take a long hard look at that location and the staff employed there.

Richard soon wrote back and shared a handwritten note that the IHOP’s General Manager sent in response to his complaint.

It’s a really nice, really honest response.

As severely stupid as the manager’s mistake was, if we received an apology letter like that, we might actually eat there again. The general manager was obviously as horrified as Richard was!


Edit Your Comment

  1. joeblevins says:

    This was a letter that came across as even more sincern that it was hand written. IHOP GM did good here.

  2. ClayS says:

    Good response by the General Manager.

    I have to wonder, that if something like cleaning around food prep can occur in front of customers, what might be going on in restaurant kitchens that cannot be seen from the dining area?

  3. Moosehawk says:

    #1: Lesson in punctuation.
    “After ordering my wife…” sounds pretty funny
    “After ordering, my wife…” 0 funny, but makes sense

    It’s kind of ridiculous how lazy some restaurants get when it comes to cleaning. It seems like they either never or barely clean, or they try to jam pack it in with cooking food so they can get out of work earlier. Mmmm, ammonia!

  4. MissPeacock says:

    I tip my hat to you, IHOP General Manager. I tip my hat to you.

  5. Dibbler says:

    I was at a Panera Bread Co. restaurant recently and witnessed some kid mopping the floor and when he got near a table he would plop the mop up on the table and clean the table with the mop. To me, that is disgusting.

  6. ninabi says:

    Good response but that was very unsanitary.

    A few months ago my son and I stopped in at Church’s Chicken in Tucson. Some problem (wiring?) was in the ceiling above the ordering counter. Man was standing on it trying to work in the dark space where some ceiling tiles had been removed.

    The store was a mess. Customers line was lengthening.
    The man gets off the counter, applied a bandage to a finger.

    Then he started handling food.

    We walked out. Employees clearly didn’t know and did not care what food handling safety means.

    Cheers to this couple for bringing the problem to the attention of those who can make changes. Not sure if I’d be going back there, though.

  7. BrewMe says:

    Gotta get me one of those videotaping cell phones;-)

  8. SaveMeJeebus says:

    They put pubes where?

  9. Diet-Orange-Soda says:

    @joeblevins: Sincere or not, I would never walk through those doors again. That’s disgusting even beyond the “cook just sneezed and kept going” level.

    What are those acoustic tiles made out of anyway? There’s no way you could “scrub” them without getting tile bits all over the place.

  10. ClayS says:

    “Not sure if I’d be going back there, though.”

    I agree, the restaurant manager probably got reamed and she might hold a grudge.

  11. MissPeacock says:

    @Dibbler: I hope you reported this. That kind of makes me want to throw up.

  12. mgy says:

    Sounds like a satisfactory resolution – I mean, he even offers to “pop in” more often!

    At least he didn’t expect you to come back.

  13. Antediluvian says:

    I am constantly dumbfounded by the apparent lack of safe food handling skills exhibited by most lower-wage restaurant employees, especially concerning gloves.

    They seem to think the gloves are to protect their hands from getting messy, not to keep the food safe.

    I’ve witnessed gloved employees
    – smoking (outside) (MAYBE they would change them once inside, but who knows) (Dunkin Donuts)
    – shake hands with a bare-handed friend, then go back immediately to food prep (dessert station at Vegas casino)
    – washing up counters and other areas with a dirty cleanser-soaked rag, then go to food handling (burrito assembly line)

    It’s funny, but a call to the various inspection bodies usually results in a VERY quick change in behavior. Nothing like being shut down for a few days (or the threat of it) to make management take employee training seriously. CityofBoston.gov has an online, anonymous restaurant reporting page, and it WORKS.

    But _WE_ have to speak up when we see these things. I spoke to managers or inspectors in each of those situations (in the case of the burrito, I asked the employee to change her gloves before making my food).

    I’m glad the OP both left AND told the manager. I think he should have ordered his wife to speak with the local Board of Health or Inspectional Services Department too, but one step at a time.

  14. Caprica Six says:

    yea, a handwritten letter seems so much impactful…

  15. On the plus side, it was the healthiest thing in the food…

  16. arch05 says:

    @Diet-Orange-Soda: Compressed fiber-board.

  17. B says:

    You people are unreasonable. How else are they going to get the syrup off the ceiling?

  18. brent_w says:

    @Dibbler: Thats actually extremely common with a lot of places.

  19. Diet-Orange-Soda says:

    @Antediluvian: Back home, there’s a Quizno’s right next to a Gamestop. I would always see the same guy from Quizno’s playing the demo Xbox with gloves on. I always questioned if he *ever* took them off.

  20. ARPRINCE says:

    @brent_w: Yeah…..like your house maybe?

  21. trillium says:

    And now I’ll never wonder where all the iHops went

  22. chemmy says:

    Nice that they got a personal, handwritten letter and not some canned response.

  23. Nighthawke says:

    @Moosehawk: “Yeah, i’ll have the twin black-haired sisters special please.”

    On a more serious note, that is a gross violation off food handing laws, Ill wager. A quick call to the city or county’s health department would easily get bucket loads of citations and fines delivered to IHOP’s front doorstep, with the press in tow.

  24. SkokieGuy says:

    Ben, I’m so sorry the Consumerist doesn’t receive more food handling horror stories. May I add my two contributions?

    A few year back, at a suburban Chicago Duncan Donuts, the woman behind the counter reached inside her uniform pants to scratch her privates. Nauseating on all levels, including the lack of shame to at least go into the back, out of view of the public.

    After her itch was aparently satisfied, she resumed working. No, she did not wash her hands, or put on gloves before continue to make beverage, handle donuts and hand change to customers.

    And when I was in college, I was hired by a deli to make ‘party trays’. The brunch trays included lox, which was to be rolled into tubes (to look larger). When I dropped a piece of lox on the floor and couldn’t locate garbage can, I asked where to throw out the dropped piece. My boss looked at me like I was insane and explained ‘we don’t throw out lox’.

  25. apotheosis says:

    That’s really seriously gross.

    Good letter, tho.

  26. sirwired says:

    At a local Waffle House, when it was time to scrub the ceiling tiles, the guy there was very careful to close/cover all the food bins, and then scrubbed the counter down with a clean rag after he was done.

    If you’ve ever eaten in a Waffle House, you can see why they would need to scrub grease off the ceiling… But they do make some mighty-fine Hash Browns.


  27. Antediluvian says:

    @Diet-Orange-Soda: Ewww.
    I think restaurant management in general (primarily, but not exclusively, of the lower-quality joints) doesn’t get it. So they don’t / can’t pass along the idea of safe food handling to the staff. But it’s also hard to explain some of these concepts to teens and students working these places, and to get them to care about the customers.

    If you can, ask the inspectors where _they_ eat — it’ll be a shorter list than where to avoid.

  28. unklegwar says:

    Please please please tell us WHICH IHOP.

  29. Wargonzola says:

    ClayS, the kinds of things that happen in closed kitchens are the reason that I try *hard* to only work in open kitchens. I was once instructed to not bother with the evening cleanup because service had dragged on too long and the owner was paying us to cook, not to clean. This was in the same place that clean rags (essential to both cleanup and hot pan handling) were in such short supply that the dishwasher felt he had to come in on delivery day to steal and hide a dozen (about half of the delivery) every week. He had them hidden everywhere, but he was the only one who didn’t either bring in their own or (@#$%ing gross, this) use dirty ones for hot-cloths. Closed kitchens, especially ones with an average bill per customer under $10 terrify me.

    Antidiluvian: we call that “Magic Glove” syndrome. For some reason people automatically assume that since the glove keeps their hands clean, they also keep the food clean. Anyone who doesn’t teach their employees about cross contamination and proper food handling deserves a lawsuit.

    Seriously though, I’d kill for some magic gloves. It’d be nice to go home without a rash from the antibacterial soap (or the eventual bloody eczema).

  30. Jaysyn was banned for: https://consumerist.com/5032912/the-subprime-meltdown-will-be-nothing-compared-to-the-prime-meltdown#c7042646 says:

    @Dibbler: Yeah, that would be something you should let a GM know about. They’d have a fit.

  31. sleepydumbdude says:

    Damn I’ve never got a hand written response before. I’ve gotten a phone call or two from a district manager though. Once at IHOP had a waitress bring my drinks and it tasted like soap. She went “well no one else’s taste like soap” and walked off. Then my girlfriend and I heard laughing and chatter with the word “asshole”. She came back and I said check please for just the drinks. She was really pissed then since we had all ready ordered. She brought my receipt out with the food still on it. I whipped out 4 in cash and threw it on the table and just left. This happened at 2 am or so I woke up and went in at 10ish and asked to speak to the manager. Told him her name and what happened and his response was just “okay”.
    So I called the only other IHOP in town and asked to speak to their manager and got info on how to contact the district manager. He was really helpful, I got three contact numbers and an email. Went home told the story in email and then called and left a voice mail with my name and the fact I left a email complaint. Not even an hour later I got a call from him that he was going to handle it. Offered me a gift card and I declined saying that I didn’t want to go back since the manager was a jerk. He told me that I would be able to use it at any IHOP. The card arrived in two days FEDex and it ended up having 50 on it instead of the 25 he told me on the phone.

  32. RubiksPube says:

    A few years ago my mom & brother went to IHOP for a quick bite to eat…my brother cut into his eggs with a fork and found a wad of black hair. From then on, we’ve called it IHOPH: International House of Pancakes and Hair.

  33. Anonymous says:

    Icky time….Dunkin’ Donuts, (ever notice that coffee is never mentioned in their name?), in Eastern Massachusetts. Woman working counter sneezes into her bare hand, looks at what she sneezed up into her hand, wipes her hand on the lovely polyester pant suit they wear, and proceeds to put the lid on my coffee cup. Needless to say I refused coffee. Note that I said I refused coffee, never said I would not pay, was just that I didn’t want that cup of coffee or anything until counter person washed hands. She freaks out, calls manager over, I try to explain, manager couldn’t care about hygiene issue-wants the $1.89. Big line forming behind me, not wanting to hold line up any longer I pay for the cup of tainted coffee and leave it on counter. Have no idea what happened to coffee or if the counter person ever washed hands. Don’t really care. Have never set foot in a DD since-over two years now.
    Sent an e-mail to the regional office explaining what happened. Received from DD the usual blah-blah letter and some free coupons for coffee and other crap. I sent the coupons back with the explanation that I will never set foot in their stores again and I will be sure to tell my story whenever the opportunity comes up.

    That’s all.

  34. Tortfeasor28 says:

    My local chicago Dunkin Donuts had similar issues the other day.

    They had workers in dismantiling their menu board and installing a new one. The menu board is located directly above the open bins that contain all of their donuts, bagels, etc. They covered the bins with lose fitting plastic tarps with large slits in them so that they could reach in to grab the items.

    The workers were using power tools, kicking up dust in the air, it was gross. And the tarps were so open that in reality they could not protect the food items from being contaminated. I turned around a left, but was amazed to still see people ordering.

  35. jeff303 says:

    @Antediluvian: “I am constantly dumbfounded by the apparent lack of safe food handling skills exhibited by most lower-wage restaurant employees…”

    I’m not.

  36. Yardtown says:

    Ahh, but did they leave a tip?

  37. topgun says:

    OK here’s my gross story. At a fast food restaurant I once had an employee hold the plastic lid in her mouth while filling my drink cup.

  38. RobinB says:

    The worst I’ve seen was at a now-closed KFC. While we watched, a young employee opened the big silver chicken oven and sneezed into it. We left.

  39. greensmurf says:

    Pretty Professional letter they sent, not only are they in violation of health codes but they have never heard of using a computer or at least a typewriter(if those are still around) to create a clearly ledgible letter.
    THis all adds up to a big fat LOOSSEERRR {aka IHOP}!!
    The OP should have taken video then sent it in to the health dept, this story is sick…

  40. soulman901 says:

    The General Manager is taking this very “seriously”

  41. VA_White says:

    @Dibbler said: I was at a Panera Bread Co. restaurant recently and witnessed some kid mopping the floor and when he got near a table he would plop the mop up on the table and clean the table with the mop. To me, that is disgusting.

    This is NOT acceptable food safety practice. You are supposed to use completely separate sets of cleaning tools for the floor and the table tops. You cannot even bend down to wipe up a spill off the floor with a towel or sponge used to wipe food-prep surfaces.

  42. FangDoc says:

    Here’s one of my many gross restaurant stories:

    We were in a Wendy’s in Allentown, PA when a customer changed her baby’s poopy diaper on one of the tables. Slack-jawed employees stood by silently, and after the customer left, no one made any move to even go clean off the table.

    I can almost understand the (low-level, teenage) employees not necessarily wanting to confront the customer — although I sure as hell would have — but it would have made the rest of us feel a whole lot more comfortable to see them falling all over themselves to erect the hazmat barriers — or at least deploy the spray bottle and rag.

    Needless to say, last trip to that Wendy’s, and that was in about 1991.

  43. forgottenpassword says:

    I have had personal experience in dealing with IHOP cust. service after using Ihop’s website complaint form with a complaint about a bad experience at one Ihop I had frequented (where I was given grief at using a coupon by some lower management shift worker). Recieved a personal phone call from said cust.serv. rep & was assured that I was correct & that it would NEVER happen again. Was very impressed with the response. And never had a problem thereafter.

    As for the maint guy cleaning the ceiling tiles in the article…. I wonder if this was one of those Ihops that was open 24 hours? Still they should have done this when there was a definate lull in business & with dropclothes & other precautions in place. Sounds nasty!

  44. irid3sc3nt says:

    Why didn’t you say anything to her while you were there?
    When I’m not at my crappy retail job, I feel way more empowered as a citizen to complain about other people.
    Ugh, retail is awful. You’re supposed to grin and bear every stinking thing that’s said and/or thrown at you. That’s why I’m moving out of it.

  45. snclfe says:

    Handwritten?!?! I’m dumbfounded!

    But I fear the GM will be fired for admitting wrongdoing and not using some corporate-approved double-speak official response.

  46. tamoko says:

    @arch05: Hey, why criticize iHop for trying the to increase everyones daily intake of fiber!? They’re just looking out for our health.

  47. tvmitch says:

    The GM of the restaurant should be angry – if the reader had taken pictures and taken the story to the right authorities in their city/state, that IHOP would have been shut down faster than you think.

    Having worked in food, I’d be bending over backwards to make sure that the customer was happy.

    And the reason the letter is handwritten is because there’s probably no computer or printer for the manager to use at that restaurant…

  48. ldnyc says:

    Am I the only one bothered by the fact that the OP chose IHOP for his BIRTHDAY????

  49. timsgm1418 says:

    I doubt you would really want to know…sometimes ignorance is bliss@ClayS:

  50. timsgm1418 says:

    @Antediluvian: I went to a local Taco Bell and a lady took the order in front of mine, and then mine, handling the money. After she took my money she immediately went back to handling the tacos with her bare hands. The lady in front of me took her food, but when the employee brought me mine I said “can you have someone make my food that wasn’t just handling money?” She looked at me like I was insane, I said “you took our orders, handled the money and prepared food, you didn’t wash your hands first” She just gives me the “uh huh” look and I told her to give me my money back. I wrote down her name and called corporate. They told me the standard procedure was to wash and sanitize their hands before handling food. So I thought ok they’ll fix it, I went back to the same Taco Bell several weeks later and the employee was now a manager! WTF? Naturally I called corporate again, don’t know if I had anything to do with it, but she’s not at that store anymore. Yes, I had to go back several times because I wanted to make sure. Come on, money is nasty. I don’t want my food handled by somebody that just touched money that could have been anywhere, really anywhere.

  51. Thomas Palmer says:

    Hand-Written Note FTW!     That shows real time and concern than something typed.

  52. Tank says:

    @snclfe: my thoughts exactly. saying “i woulda said something if i worked there” – you were a CUSTOMER, with probably more right to bitch than an employee – thats a load of crap. (sorry) sounds like a screen door punk, i say.

  53. maddiesdad says:

    @ldnyc: No.
    I was once treated to the pleasure of having a McDonalds employee duck down under my table and begin scraping away chewing gum from literally between my legs. Fine if you’re a Govenor type, a little unsettling when your trying to eat.

  54. timsgm1418 says:

    me either. There is supposed to be someone that has taken a food safety class at every restaraunt (I just can’t spell that word) when my daughter worked at a popular pizza place with a red roof on it…nobody there had a food safety certificate. She was the first to get one, because she needed it for the culinary degree she was working on. It’s amazing how little thought is given to food prep. I do have to say when my son worked at McDonalds he said they were very clean, however whenever I went there he always made my food so I’d be even more comfortable. This was when it was locally owned. It’s now a corporate store and it sucks..Nobody speaks English (even as a second language it seems) and they don’t seem to realize what special orders mean, and haven’t figured out why the fryers have timers on them. The fries are barely cooked…I’ll take BK over McD anyday@jeff303:

  55. jimda says:

    i will not eat at IHOP, the big surprise here is that cleaning was going on in an IHOP. i must say though, the general manager did a good job, and he should look for a job in a better restaurant, his talents are being wasted at IHOP.

  56. el_smurfo says:

    Last time I was in a Subway (8-10 years ago), just when I get to the counter, they call over the obviously retarded dude mopping the floor to make my sandwich. Without gloves or washing his hands, the dude smashes the bread flat, drags his dull knife through it, then slowly peels the stuck, flattened halves apart. I wish I had walked out, but you can’t complain about a retarded dude without the PC police scheduling you for re-education camp, so I completed the order, paid and enjoyed a dissatisfying lunch of chips and soda.

    Subway…eat gross.

  57. AcidReign says:

        I ate at an IHOP in Pigeon Forge in January, and it was delicious. Maybe the crud on the bottom of shoes is a secret ingredient?

        When I used to work in food service, they’d occasionally make us stay all night, to scrub walls and ceilings. While the place was closed, of course! Methinks the store manager was trying to save on the overtime…

  58. elislider says:

    saw something very similar at the food court in a local mall. the lights that are above the food display/warming trays (the lights for illuminating the signs) were REALLY dirty, covered in dangling grime and dirt and junk. So i witnessed a staff guy set up a ladder, climb up, and proceed to use some sort of brush/vaccuum/blower thing to clean off the lights, DIRECTLY above the food below. the food employees were simply standing to the side and watching. gross

  59. sarahandthecity says:

    @ldnyc: seriously! maybe the wait was too long at applebee’s?

  60. trujunglist says:


    Man, why’d you have to ruin the delicious honey biscuits for me? Now when I go back to visit I’ll make sure to never have those again.

  61. I was coaxed into going with a group of friends to a Dennys in Columbia, SC on NYE about 6 years ago (one of the only places open) and there was a roach on the wall that was at least 3.5 inches long. We called the manager over and he was like, ‘Yeah, it’s not really that big though…’ We were like ‘WHAT??? It’s a roach, it doesn’t matter how big it is!’

    He really, really didn’t care. We just left without paying, it was disgusting.

  62. trujunglist says:


    I love Waffle House and miss them dearly (none here in SD). Yeah, it’s probably not all that healthy, considering the insides of most look worse than a truck stop bathroom, but those goddamn hash browns and texas melts are way way too good to pass on. And the people are usually really cool.

  63. Brad2723 says:

    I was in an IHOP once and had the pleasure of sitting at a table directly across from where a retarded lady and her “handler” were sitting. At one point during their dinner, the handler went off to the bathroom and the retard was sitting there all by herself. That was when she decided she was going to just start drinking directly from one of the syrup containers. It was one of the funniest things I ever saw. Fortunately the waitress had the decency to pour out the unused syrup and send the container back to the kitchen to be washed and sanitized.

  64. vermontwriter says:

    @wiretapstudios – I still remember a story my mom told me. First day of school – she and her friends/neighbors went out to breakfast to celebrate. This was a tradition they started. One year, they went to a local diner. Their breakfasts came and one of the women took her first piece of toast to put jam on it. There was a cockroach – guts smeared into the buttered piece of bread. She ran for the bathroom to throw up. The manager came over and told them they were making a big deal out of a minor incident.

    They walked out with the manager chasing after them yelling that they needed to pay the bill.

    My hats off to the IHOP district manager for being professional.

  65. OsiUmenyiora says:

    A long time ago I was a busboy at two different somewhat expensive restaurants in Brooklyn, NY. My, the things I’ve seen. There was the kitchen-wide roach infestation that almost led to one place being temporarily closed. There was the time a waiter dropped a steak on the floor and accidentally stepped on it before an assistant chef washed it off, put it back in the broiler for a minute and then served it all over again. The bread on the tables was cut up at the filthy busboy station by busboys who had been handling dirty dishes all day long. I saw a waiter cut a birthday cake in the kitchen while dropping ashes from his cigarette all over it and just flicking the ashes off with his hand. Etc.

    I still eat out a lot. I just try not to think about that stuff.

  66. MBZ321 says:

    Note: A lot of times it is the management who is at fault for ordering things cleaned at ridiculous times. I’m a teenager and do basic maintenance work at a very upscale grocery chain…one time, management made me dust these (indoor) metal awnings and remove old staples from underneath them, as customers were sitting under at the coffee shop or waiting in like for hoagies to me made. Not as disguising as the story, but usually management are not the sharpest tools in the shed either.

  67. WEGGLES90 says:

    the GM seems legitimately sorry, and the hand written letter is much better than an email, as it is all to easy to send off a form letter
    “Dear [first name] [last name],
    I am terribly sorry to hear about [bad customer experience], and I assure you we are taking it very seriously”

    I’m also glad they caught it, as it would’ve been worse if they didn’t notice and ate contaminated food.

  68. ClankBoomSteam says:

    @Brad2723: Wow Brad, you’re kind of an asshole. I hope one of your children turns out to be a “retard”; then YOU can be their “handler”. See how funny you think it is then, douche.

  69. bostonmike says:

    It’s possible Brad would learn a lesson then, but it would be tragic for that child to be stuck with Brad as a parent. Sorry, “handler”.

  70. nardo218 says:

    @Antediluvian: I hate when fast food places are understaffed and the cashier, who handles the money, also put the fries and sandwich in your bag. Usually she has gloves on too, the better to call attention to the germs being shared.

    When I worked at a resturant, there was always one guy who’d forget to take off his apron before he went to the bathroom. Ugh, let’s share the airborne fecal matter! I wouldn’t let anyone in my kitchen leave before they’d taken off their apron and gloves.

  71. riverstyxxx says:

    @el_smurfo: I remember at Subway, they had left out a sign that said “Always use the least amount of Tomato/Lettuce/Peppers/Etc. Until the customer requests more. Do not ask them”

  72. riverstyxxx says:

    I used to work for IHOP when I was 18. Long story short: Run by extremely rude people from another country. Didn’t even tell me my hourly wage. I had to work from 10pm-6am as a dishwasher, never got a break and after they eventually replaced me, it took more than a month to finally get a check. This was somewhere outside of Houston, Texas. God, I hope that place got shut down.