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August 16, 2008

Are rodents ever acceptable in a restaurant?



I recently got an e-mail the subject line of which was "Are rodents ever acceptable in a restaurant?"

Uh, no. 

Then yesterday I received a press release from the Center for Science in the Public Interest on its report "Dirty Dining." I kind of like the subhead: "Have reservations? You will now." 

Baltimore was one of the cities studied, and while there are no surprises, it's worth taking a look at the report. The recommendation is for health department letter grades to be posted prominently in restaurant windows. Faithful readers will already know how I feel about that. ...

“The results of our grading system in Los Angeles have been very positive, with improved restaurant sanitary practices, reduced rates of severe food-borne illness, and high consumer confidence in this key public health regulatory system,” said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of public health for Los Angeles County.

As for the e-mail on rodents, here it is:

I have had the repeated experience in the last 12 months of dining in some high-end restaurants (read: hip, local produce, acclaimed chef, organic, etc.) where I witness mice running across the floor of the restaurants.  In all three cases, I notified the management (after the fact, as to not cause a scene during the busy dinner period).  The first restaurant apologized and said they would look into it.  It happened again, at the same restaurant about six months later.  I know the owners of this restaurant and would not want to get them in trouble with the Board of Health.

The third occurrence happened the other night, again in an extremely popular, standing-room-only, hip restaurant.  There were mice actually frolicking near a corner table.  A woman seated nearby put her feet up on a nearby chair, but appeared relatively non-plussed. The owner of the restaurant was sitting approximately 5 tables away. 

I have a miserable phobia of rodents so promptly left the restaurant, leaving my husband to settle up the bill and wait for the coffee I had ordered but would not be drinking.  When my husband explained to the waitress that I left before my coffee arrived because of mice near the table, she more or less shrugged if off.

My husband is actually of the opinion that one should not be surprised when they see mice in a restaurant....that all restaurants have them and there isn't much the management can do to keep them out of the dining area.  I am appalled by this idea and cannot accept that rodents in the general dining area is not a sign of a lack of cleanliness.  I admit my phobia is out of hand, but expecting to see rodents in a restaurant could seriously impact my desire to dine in a restaurant.

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 7:38 AM | | Comments (39)


While I do understand that all restaurants have mice, I certainly don't want to see them, and I DO NOT expect the management/wait staff to have a cavalier attitude towards the fact that they are there.

A mouse ran across the floor when we were out on Valentines Day, and I can certainly say that it was a real mood killer. The waitress said that we should expect it because we were next to the harbour. I DON'T THINK SO!!!!

Wow...I was going to take my wife, Roberta from TBRS, out for brunch to celebrate her birthday, but I've suddenly lost my appetite.

This brings up a discussion that some of us had at work not long ago. The situation is this: you are alone, sitting in the big green La-Z-Boy, watching the Bronco game. You have one big Fritos Scooper chip left (in the entire house...just one)and just enough salsa remains to fill one more Fritos Scooper chip.

Just as you reach for the last Fritos Scooper chip, Champ Bailey intercepts a pass and takes off down the sideline.

In the excitement, you knock the last Fritos Scooper chip on the floor.

Choices: do you pick it up, scoop up the remaining salsa and eat both? Do you eat the last salsa off your index finger? Or do you let the last scoop of salsa go to waste?

That is nasty, rodents in a restaurant. While they all may have them (I really hope not) they shouldn't be allowed to run free.

You'd hope that the restaurant staff would do a much better job of keeping the place clean as well as the dumpster/trash can areas in the back and outside.

Of course, our resident Owl might like them as a snack.

This sounds like a topic for the guys in Beijing.

Which is worse? Finding a spider in your salad, a hair in your soup or a mouse on the floor?

I am all for the letter grades and increased inspection (though I know that is not likely to happen). I have become increasingly less confident in the cleanliness of some of the kitchens in restaurants. I am occasionally catching glimpses of kitchens that do not look up to snuff. Of course I resolve not to return but the thought of how my food may have been mishandled lingers on.

Robert from TBRS,
Remember the five-second rule? I believe it applies here, as long as the floor where the chip fell onto a floor that was, to the naked eye, clean.

Fritos with salsa? You must love salt.

they shouldn't be allowed to run free.

I guess no one read the rules to the mice.

If the owner/staff don't have enough pride in their restaurant to keep it clean and at least make a true attempt to keep it free of Rodentia, then the hell with them, they don't get to have the money I would otherwise like to give to them.

Seriously, I understand Maryland is atrocious when it comes to service and standards in its wait staff, but until know, I thought we could agree to set the bare minimum to being rodent free.

Now I am going to do another segue to a strange dining experience in Lansdowne, by the Rte. 1 Home Depot.
I had heard and read that Gianni's was nice, and that the owners had previously owned a restaurant in Little Italy.
Well, it was like dining at an Italian truck stop.
The atmosphere was strange. They had half decent murals on the walls and a little wine table (I'm not sure why), since they sell beer and wine.
However, they lost points by keeping their white wines in a Coke cooler. They couldn't buy a half-way decent looking plain black cooler?
They played 60's and 70's music, which I like since I grew up then, but I don't want to dine to Steppenwolf's "Born to be Wild" or Jefferson Airplane.
The food was only so-so. My daughter had rubbery chicken parmisiagna. I had an ok penne pasta in a tomato cream sauce, my hubby had a so-so lasgna.
All in all, we would have rather gone to Chef Paolino's.
Oh well, c'est la vie.

I have a mouse problem at home, so I am sadly aware of how difficult it is to get rid of them, especially in an older house that has cracks around gas and water pipes. So I have some sympathy for restaurateurs, especially in older buildings.
But they are certainly a turnoff or worse when dining out. Wait staff or owners who shrug them off are stupid. Why they don't express horror, even if they are helpless, is beyond me.
That said, what do the health authorities say about the disease spreading of mice? Certainly rats and, even worse in my opinion, roaches are disease spreaders.
We have an activist health commissioner in the city. Let's hear what he has to say about this.

You know what I call mice in restaurants? Tapas!

No rodents? None? Impossible! How will I get my hassenpfeffer! Bring me my hassenpfeffer!

Would you feel better if you saw a well fed "house cat" patrolling the premises?

What's worse than finding a spider in your salad? Finding half a spider.

The New Yorker published an article a few years ago on restaurants in China that specialize in serving rats. You can even pick out your own from a cage in the back yard. The method of execution? They pick them up by the tail, toss them high into the air and they land head first on the concrete. Mmmm .... you can taste the freshness.

You have been admonished to not hotlink from

and to the VoR, what I meant (and probably could have worded better) was that mice should not be tolerated to run free.

-Comrade Robert, from the Peoples Republic of Roberts.

I've got no problem with restaurant cats. Heck, I think no building is complete without cats.

They could teach house staff dignity.

Remy aside, I'd perfer no rodents in a restaurant. Many years ago, I saw one run across the floor of a grocery store that shall remain nameless. I figure where there's one small mouse in view, there's plenty more thay I can't see. Needless to say I went to the service counter and told them why I was leaving a half-filled cart.

Admonished? Huh?

Aside from the funny picture of a rabbit in pot, I now am linking to the site and see that it has a hot chick who saves injured owls. All good for me.

Oh... and i was at the giant on york road on the city line and saw a mouse run across the aisle in broad daylight. i didn't scream, but someone else did. i think that next time, i might just let out an almighty shriek!

The rodent thing does make me shudder, but isn't too surprising. I remember going to a pretty well acclaimed restaurant here and seeing one out on the outdoor patio area.

I'm ALL for having the grade posted outside. I love the california system and am much more likely to try different restaurants when I am over there.

Um, when I tended bar long ago at a certain place in the city which is now closed, I had mice running across my cowboy boots behind the bar all night. I was glad to be wearing boots. But it was hard at first not to jump and scream in front of the customers. If you need the money, you can get used to almost anything.

On certain days, we had a bbq buffet, and one time a customer said he saw several mice running under the buffet, and I said with a straight face that I would tell the manager right away. As the mice were running across my boots. I wanted to say, dude, at least they're not running over your feet as you're trying to work!

My boss put down giant sticky traps and then I had to listen to the mice scream stuck to the traps all night, which was worse than them running around on the floor. Then he would throw the sticky traps with 10 live screaming mice into the trash can, where you could still hear them.

We had a pest control service to deal with the mice. In some parts of the city, it's a losing battle, no matter how hard you try.

Fortunately, I've never seen even one critter in the places I frequent; it's anathema to me that any restaurant can tolerate them. If I saw mice "frolicking" in a restaurant, I'd leave immediately and tell the server/manager/whoever that they can expect a check to cover my tab. My two cats are excellent mousers that delight in dispatching the occasional mouse that manages to get into my house; I see no reason to pay a restaurant to see them!

Mice? Rodents? Nothing is worse than roaches crawling out of a salad.

Mice scream? Oh dear ...

While I am still in mourning for our dear departed cat, I guess I should offer thanks that she was a great mouser. Except for the time she decided it would be fun to bring mice INTO the house to play with and one got away from her. It took her 3 or 4 days, but eventually I came home to find the trophy prominently displayed on the kitchen floor. Job done.

...and now we know why she became "Bourbon Girl."

Your story reminded me of my friend Tom's cat. It loved to catch mice outside in the alley and them bring them inside to play with them. Tom would get the mouse away from the cat, and then fling it by tail off his back porch.

Tom lives in Rodgers Forge and his back porch is about 20 feet off the ground, plus he lives on a hill. So its quite the drop. Anyway, one night when I was visiting and this happened. Imagine the sight of a mouse, sihouetted by a far off street light, sailing through the air with arms and legs outstretched.

Rob in PCB FL, maybe this is how Mighty Mouse got his start?

The funniest thing our mouser ever did was to bring a rabbit into the house. My son called me downstairs where I found a rabbit hopping around the dining room, with the cat trying to figure out her next move. It was a young rabbit, but not a baby, and I could never figure out how my 7 lb. cat managed that feat.

You're right Dahlink, how did your cat catch the rabbit and avoid its teeth? I bet it was fun getting the rabbit out of the house too.

Eh, I'm not going to make too much of a fuss about mice in restaurants unless the place is like, overrun. Particularly in "rowhouse" style buildings, there's only so much you can do. If your neighbor has mice, then you probably do as well. Plus they're easier to keep out of the food then bugs are. If I saw a cockroach I'd probably flip.

I was at a restaurant one time where they had a patio section that was right next to a large flowerbed/grassy area. There were a few field mice in the flowerbed, and this woman was LOSING HER MIND about it, even though they were nowhere near her, and there wasn't anything the waiter could do about it, since the flowerbed was technically city property. Meanwhile, it's outside...sometimes rodents and bugs live there. If you can't deal with it, eat indoors.

Rob in PCB FL, we opened the front door and the rabbit was more than happy to beat a hasty retreat. It had cat bite marks on its hip, but it could still skedaddle.

Not unless they tip well.

Dahlink - Why haven't you taught your bully of a cat that it isn't rabbit season? Everyone who watches Bugs Bunny knows it's duck season!

N.B. Rabbits are not rodents. They are lagomorphs (along with hares and pikas). I happen to have had several as pets over the years and they are very sweet - unlike rodents!

I never said that I thought rabbits were rodents--the bunny in the dining room story was a segue from various comments about the virtues of keeping a cat around--and I figured the dining room kept a tenuous link to the subject of this blog.

I have also had a pet rabbit, which is why I cannot eat rabbit to this day.

I know someone who volunteers here.

She swears rabbits make great pets.

Colorado House Rabbit Society

Serving the Rocky Mountain Region

Taken in the context of a food blog, that might not be the best catch phrase.

I didn't mean to imply you were - I was actually responding to Owl Meat German re: hasenfeffer. I don't eat rabbit either, but I hear turtle is mighty tasty. Local pet rabbit info can be obtained at for anyone who is interested.

No they are not.

Thank you for your suggestions.

I thought you might find this article about what is lurking in a restaurant kitchen, interesting.

It is written from a restaurant server's perspective. Ugh.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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