Following reports by the BBC last month that food delivery platforms are undermining public trust by listing operators with poor hygiene ratings, MCA insight director Steve Gotham takes a look at the latest MCA Eating Out Panel data to find out how consumers view the cleanliness of their eating out experiences.

A clean kitchen is of course a safe kitchen – and something we rather take for granted these days. However, there have been a few reminders lately that this basic necessity simply does not happen by itself. Last month the BBC reported that food delivery platforms are undermining public trust by hosting hundreds of outlets with poor hygiene ratings.

Food outlets are graded by local council hygiene inspectors using the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme, which runs from zero to five, with five being very good. The BBC survey examined the Food Standards Agency’s database of hygiene ratings of restaurants and takeaways in three major cities and found both Deliveroo and Just Eat offering food from over 400 takeaways rated as one star – meaning major improvement is necessary. Even more disturbingly, it found 21 takeaways had a zero score – meaning urgent improvement required.

The Food hygiene ratings have been given a more consumer-friendly face with the name: Scores on the Doors. The website includes a quick rating look-up facility for over 530,000 pubs, restaurants and takeaways throughout the UK. Reporting and analysis services are also available for businesses, and this is used by operators including Domino’s, KFC, Greene King and JD Wetherspoon.

MCA’s Eating Out Panel consumer tracking service also collects data on consumer’s views of the cleanliness of their eating out experiences. From this survey I can report how the highest ratings we collected over the year to April 2019* were for Côte and Chiquito. Perhaps not too surprisingly, the list was led by restaurant chains, with Miller & Carter and Wagamama also scoring strongly.

The highest rated pub brand was Chef & Brewer, while in the bakery & sandwich channel, Greggs took the honours and in the generally less strongly scored fast food arena, Subway came out highest. In terms of the strongest year on year growth, here the leader board was led by Chicken Cottage, Chiquito and All Bar One. One operator scoring weakly on both measures was German Doner Kebab, which might be a function of its rapid expansion over recent years. That said, having checked the Score on the Doors website, the majority of its 29 sites achieve a 5 rating, but a handful have just 2 or 3 stars.

Moving on slightly, it is appropriate to note how cleanliness is a hygiene factor that works, of course, on a couple of levels. A hygiene factor is also described as an element in life that does not in itself increase satisfaction, but which can lead to dissatisfaction if it is missing/abused. Similarly, with cleanliness, it would be very difficult to prove that outstanding cleanliness can generate higher sales, but without it, you can bet on sales being eroded.

Certainly, the exposure should see Just Eat and Deliveroo get their houses in better order, but across the entire eating out marketplace, there can be no room for any complacency. Cleanliness might not necessarily be next to godliness for some, but it certainly should not be next to impossible for all.

*N.B. EOP survey data analysed for dinner day-part only and with minimum sample size requirements