Restaurants Are Not Immune from Bed Bugs

Restaurants are Not Immune from Bed Bugs


Although bed bugs in restaurants may not be the focus of media attention, it does not mean that the industry is immune to the problem. Bed bugs can hitch a ride on back packs, purses, coats and briefcases into the office, movie theaters, apartments and restaurants.  Regardless of the type of facility involved, it is important to have a plan in place to deal with bed bugs.  The time to develop that plan is not after they are introduced.  Developing a plan while in “panic mode” can lead to the wrong decisions being made.  In addition, a little preventative planning can help increase staff education on identification of bed bugs and lead to early detection.  Early detection is the second step after prevention.


Bed bugs can come in a variety of sizes as they develop from the egg stage to adult.  Adults are on average, 3/16 of an inch in length and reddish brown in color.  A common description for them is apple seed size and shape.  As adults, they do have the color and tear-drop shape associated with an apple seed.  They will be considerably flatter in width though, especially when they have not fed recently.  Their bodies will “balloon” as they engorge themselves on blood.  It is important to make sure restaurant staff know what a bed bug looks like.  They should be instructed to notify management if any pest is found, including bed bugs.  Early detection is key and educated employees can help with finding those early infestations.  Some pest management firms and pesticide manufacturer’s have bed bug posters available as tools for identifying bed bugs.  One such poster can be found here.

Bed bugs are most likely to come into the facility via clients or employees.  They will hitch-hike on personal belongings such as purses, back packs and coats.  The most common locations for them to first appear in the restaurant are:  employee locker areas, employee break areas,  the dining room or lounge areas.  Bed bugs need from 5-15 minutes of undisturbed feeding and areas where this feeding time can be accomplished is where they will prosper and survive.

Steps to take if bed bugs are found using the ICE method:

  1. Isolate the infested area and or items. So if bed bugs are found on an employee’s back pack, place it in a sealed plastic bag for removal to the employee’s home. If it is in a piece of furniture like a chair in a serving area, bag the chair and remove to a back room. It is important to confine the bed bugs to the infested item, whenever possible. Disposal of infested items is not typically necessary but if items are discarded, they should be marked or damaged so that someone does not pick the item out of the trash and infest another location.
  2. Call the pest management firm for further instructions. The use of a professional pest management firm is advised due to the challenges in controlling this particular pest.
  3. Eliminate the problem. The pest management firm will inspect and make further recommendations for control. It may mean that an individual chair will be treated for bed bugs or a larger area depending on the inspection results. Heat treatments and conventional insecticides sprays are the most common methods used today. Other methods such as vacuuming and steam cleaning are often used to supplement chemical control.

Addressing Employee Concerns

Sometimes employees at sites where bed bugs have been found will be concerned about bringing home bed bugs with them from the work place.  Although even in the pest management industry, it is relatively rare for an employee to bring bed bugs home from work, it makes sense to take precautions.  Currently, there aren’t any repellents available for personal protection against bed bugs.  Products like the mosquito repellents containing DEET do not work for bed bugs.  The best suggestion is for employees to take care in avoiding direct contact with infested items as much as possible.  Perform a check of their clothing and shoe soles after leaving the infested area to make sure they are not carrying any bed bugs with them.   This procedure would be similar to conducting a tick check after hiking in a field or wooded area.  Upon arriving at home, take the clothing they were wearing and immediately place in the clothes dryer for 20-30 minutes on high heat.  If they do not have access to a clothes dryer right away, place clothes in a sealed plastic bag until dry time can be arranged.

Employers should develop a policy and program to respond when employees bring bed bugs to work.  For the larger restaurant chains, they should consult their human resource departments.  Developing this program before hand can be helpful in conducting a smooth response.  Isolating employee infested items should be part of the program.  Some employers will work with their pest management firm to provide bed bug remediation to employees at a reduced cost.  Preventing further introductions should be the goal.

The bed bug problem continues to grow in the United States and the variety of facilities affected is increasing.  Planning and preparation is advised to help reduce the stress of handling these situations should they arise.  Problem awareness and proper response can help in reducing the impact that a bed bug infestation has on a facility.