Something that we are consistently asked by customers year-round, but especially when we are in the throes of flu-season, is how we sanitize our space and keep it clean.
While I can’t speak for other facilities, I know that keeping our space sparkling clean is a top priority. After all, my own children play there daily-- so I have a personal stake in the effectiveness of our cleaning procedures as well.
So today I’d love to shed some light on how we manage to keep germs at bay the best we can and share tips for other play space owners to do the same.
Since we serve babies and toddlers primarily, there are constantly toys and play food going into the mouths of our littlest guests.
To help prevent these toys going back into rotation after they are “mouthed”, we have “Mouthed Toys” bins throughout our space (one in the kitchen, one in the baby area, and one in our main play space).
These are clearly labeled and we try our best to let customers know where they are and what to use them for.
We try to consistently empty these bins and clean their contents because sometimes children (who are usually below reading age!) see big bins full of toys and think they are there to play with.
By keeping them as empty as possible at all times it helps prevent this issue.
For most of our toys we use either a disinfectant soak or a steam sanitizer to make sure the germs are removed from all the “nooks and crannies” that can exist on these small toys like our pretend baked goods.
Something that took me about a year to learn was that it is MUCH easier to keep our facility cleaned if we have pockets of cleaning supplies EVERYWHERE around our facility instead of in one central “cleaning supplies” cabinet.
For example, if a staff member is tidying the play area or filling bathroom supplies and notices something that needs to be cleaned or wiped down, and they have to walk across the facility to get the supplies they need, it’s likely they’ll get sidetracked.
Even though they may have every intention of going back and cleaning whatever mess they spotted, they may get stopped by a customer or some other distraction and let the mess slip their mind.
This happens especially often during our busy season when it is actually MOST important to stay on top of these messes to make sure our facility is clean at all times.
For this reason, we have small bins filled with cleaning supplies in 8-10 different locations at any given time. That way, employees can tackle the mess IMMEDIATELY before being distracted by something else that needs to be taken care of.
Not only does this save time but it also increases accountability for our team members to tackle messes right away regardless of the circumstances.
Since we encourage parents to accompany their children around our facility including into the bathrooms, we have not had an issue with children “getting into” cleaning supplies.
However, if you DO encourage more independence or serve an older child-base (who can visit the restroom without help) you may want to keep supplies in a locked box to prevent accidents.
Another thing we have all over our facility is hand sanitizing stations. Currently we have 8 but are considering adding more, to ensure guests always have one within a few yards of them.
Remember, parents WANT to keep the space germ-free and they WANT to prevent themselves and their children from getting ill.
I find that as long as we provide them with enough solutions to keep themselves clean, they WILL utilize them and therefore reduce the risk of spreading germs.
While germs WILL get spread when children and parents are in close-proximity and we can’t avoid this entirely, having tools and supplies in convenient areas for people to use throughout their visit is a big step in keeping all visitors safe and healthy.
This is something that we have struggled with in the past and are still adapting. We have a policy that if a child is visibly or audibly ill, they are not to be admitted into the play area.
However, much of this is SO subjective.
If a child is coughing, how can we tell if it’s a sickness versus some water in their throat? If they sneeze and the parent claims they have allergies and are not sick, how can we know to trust or not trust them?
We do our best to enforce this sickness policy but still accept feedback from our visitors and are constantly improving our policy.
Lots of facilities have a “no green boogers” rule but we just try to be very observant and if a child seems to be clearly under-the-weather we have a discussion with the parents and likely ask them to leave.
We will often offer a free pass for the child to come back another time when they are feeling better if the parent is disappointed about losing their open-play admission cost.
However, since we make our policy clear on our waiver, we do not offer refunds, since that parent disregarded that policy.
One way we keep our team members on-task is by having specific cleaning lists that need to be completed at different times of the day.
We have specific opening, mid-shift, and closing task lists.
Not only are employees required to check these tasks off as they get completed, but they are also required to sign their initials to increase the accountability factor.
If a task does not get done, it’s very easy to track that back to a specific team member.
In addition to these cleaning tasks that get completed daily, we also have a “deep clean” list which gets completed whenever there is “extra” time. This list helps to ensure that employees are never standing around unsure of what to do.
This list includes things like cleaning the baseboards, dusting light fixtures, and anything else that needs to get done on a less-frequent basis than the tasks on our daily list.
This list is EXTENSIVE and could never be completed during one shift, so we are confident that our team members know exactly what they need to be doing at any given time.
If you would like access to all of our tasks lists, they are available to all Play Cafe Academy members!
If you are feeling like some of the more time-intensive tasks are too much for your team to accomplish, something we utilize during our busy season is monthly professional deep-cleans.
They do things like sanitize our upholstery and carpets and clean UNDER our foam tiles-- really anything that requires us to be closed for several hours to complete or things that we lack the proper equipment for.
One more thing we are also trying to consistently improve is how we empower customers to help with our cleaning process.
We do currently have “Doc McStuffin” signs everywhere letting parents know that we’d rather have them bring us a broken toy than hide it somewhere for another child to find and possibly injure themselves on (which happens more than you’d think) but we are working on giving parents the tools they need to help keep our space clean as well.
I love how Cafe O’ Play in Ohio has “sanitation” boards where customers can find all the supplies they need to wipe down any toys or structures that may need it.
At first I thought parents would be annoyed by this concept.
However, I have seen more and more that parents WANT to be a part of keeping the facility spotless and are more than willing to play their part in keeping both the children and adults as safe from germs as possible.
In addition to our many sanitizing stations for hands we are looking into adding similar “cleaning stations” to help empower our guests to help us minimize germs during the day.