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Tips to Keep Rodents Out of Restaurants

By Jennifer Brumfield, PhD, BCE

As temperatures rise and strict pandemic regulations begin to lift, you may notice an uptick in foot traffic entering your restaurant. During these times, customers may not be the only visitors scurrying in for a good meal. The same elements that bring in customers can also, unintentionally, invite in unwelcome guests. If you’re not careful, your restaurant can easily become a dining destination for pests.

These tormentors reproduce rapidly, and small populations become full-blown infestations in very little time. Rat feeding habits are destructive, and through their gnawing, defecation, and nesting behaviors, the structure of infested buildings can be compromised. Your customers may also be harmed, because rodents are responsible for the transmission of many diseases. That is why it’s important to have an expert complete regular inspection of all areas of your restaurant; however, there are also steps you can implement to help prevent infestation and maintain a rodent-free restaurant

Being proactive with your pest control measures can save you a lot of headaches and money.

Food storage. Food for humans is also food for rodents, so it’s important to store your goods so that rodents cannot easily access them. Dry goods should be kept in sealed metal or glass containers to prevent contamination. Fruits and vegetables should be stored in refrigerators; if they are in a walk-in refrigerator, they should be at least six inches off the ground and at least 12 inches away from walls to allow easy inspection for rodent evidence and effective placement of rodent control devices. Ensure proper ventilation in your food storage spaces to keep moisture down, which discourages pest activity as well.

Dispose of cardboard. Remove these objects from your kitchen area. The material attracts rodents, which tend to chew them up and use the shredded pieces in their nests.

Seal openings. Due to their body shape, rodents are capable of squeezing through spaces that appear to be much too small for them: Rats can fit through holes the size of a quarter, and mice can fit through ones the size of a dime. All holes should be sealed to help prevent entry and reentry of rodents.

Keep garbage cans and dumpsters clean and secure. Waste from the restaurant is most likely what is attracting rodents. Once they discover food outside, they will go inside to search for more. It is essential to cover trashcans and dumpsters with tight-fitting lids to avoid piquing their appetites. Accessible trash also nourishes a rodent population, allowing their numbers to grow and increasing foraging activity around your building. Keeping trash areas clean is also crucial to keeping any type of exterior bait programs successful.

Maintain a clean workspace. Any scraps, crumbs, or odors will attract unwanted rodent attention. A clean environment minimizes temptation and reduces the risk of disease. Cleaning up clutter will help prevent pest harborage areas. Rodents look for places to nest and breed, and can multiply rapidly when sufficient food, water, and shelter are available. Do not overlook storage areas and closets where clutter can gather, and clean out boxes, papers, and unused items regularly.

Take care of your landscaping. Regular upkeep, such as mowing and trimming around your restaurant, can help make the outside less inviting to rodents. Remove tall weeds, grass, and ground cover such as ivy, juniper, and liriope from around the exterior to keep rodents from hiding or burrowing near the building, lying in wait to sneak in.

Unfortunately, many times restaurant owners do not realize there is a problem until it is too late. These tricky pests often go unnoticed as they penetrate packaging by either chewing or squeezing through weak points and gaps. Aside from compromising your restaurant’s image and reputation, these visitors can contaminate food products. Additionally, these pests can transmit diseases such as E. coliSalmonella, and Trichinae. Infestations can rapidly spread to different products, eventually harming the customer and your business. It is best to get ahead of a rodent infestation if you can. Being proactive with your pest control measures can save you a lot of headaches and money.


Here are seven signs that indicate you have an existing rodent issue:

  1. Droppings: Rodents leave behind a lot of droppings. Seeing these capsule-like pellets around your business should raise a red flag. Rodent droppings are not only unsanitary; they can transmit diseases. Make sure your employees take the appropriate precautions by wearing gloves and an OSHA-approved respirator during the removal process and disinfecting the area with disinfectant spray.
  2. Nests: Rats and mice build nests from shredded material, like paper, cloth, and cardboard. They are usually found in dark areas like crawl spaces, between walls, and in garbage dumps.
  3. Burrows: While some rodents prefer to scurry along the roof, others take refuge underground. If that is the case, their nests may be hidden in burrows. Rats and mice can create elaborate underground tunnels or excavated holes.
  4. Grease marks: Rodents are so dirty that their bodies leave behind grease marks as they travel along walls. Darker grease stains generally indicate heavier activity in that area. Take note of grease marks and inform your pest control professional, who can strategically place rodent traps along frequently traveled paths.
  5. Gnaw marks: With teeth that never stop growing, rodents can literally take a bite out of your business by causing expensive structural damage. Look for chew marks in walls, insulation, wires, flooring, pallets, and products.
  6. Noises: Keep an ear out for any scratching, nibbling, or squeaking inside walls, under floorboards, and behind appliances or furniture. Rodents are generally more active at night than during the day, so this is the best time to listen for any noises.
  7. Ammonia smell: Rodents urinate as they travel, rather than in isolated puddles. This means the routes they frequent can smell extremely unpleasant. The strong scent, which is “ammonia-like,” tends to hang around even after the rodents have been removed. Also, the closer you are to the infestation, the more pronounced the smell will be.


When it comes to keeping rodents out of your restaurant, monitoring and regular sanitation should be part of your maintenance routines. Additionally, educating yourself and your staff on pest management best practices will help with the overall business in the long run. Remain steadfast in monitoring for new or increased pest activity to help keep rodents out and customers in.

Food sitting on shelves for longer periods of time has left many restaurants vulnerable to heightened pest activity, especially rodents. Stored products such as flour, spices, and other dry ingredients provide easy for these pests to access, which opens up the potential for thousands of dollars of damage to goods and threatens inspection compliance. Be sure to rotate all food products on a “first in, first out” schedule to ensure that each stock spends as little time on the shelves as possible, and no one stock is sitting on the shelf longer than others of the same item.


Because food products can be an open invitation for unwanted visitors such as mice and rats, it is important to have a pest control expert develop a long-term rodent control plan for you.

This plan should include:

Site inspection. Know where your restaurant stands by ordering a comprehensive inspection of your business. During this stage, experts will be able to identify rodent activity, potential entry points, and attractants.

Sanitation. An expert is professionally trained to offer detailed guidelines and recommendations to help eliminate attractants and maintain a clean environment.

Ongoing monitoring and maintenance. A pest control company will monitor your property on a regular basis and inspect all treatment products to ensure effectiveness and make adjustments as needed.

Baits and traps. If necessary, a combination of traps and select baits can be used to monitor and help control rodent populations.

Do not wait until you already have a rodent infestation. Taking a preventive approach and educating yourself on the best management plan for your restaurant are keys to maintaining a pest-free environment.

Dr. Brumfield is a technical specialist and board-certified entomologist with Western Pest Services, a New Jersey-based pest management company serving businesses in major Northeastern markets. Reach her at jbrumfield@westernpest.com.