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September 14, 2009

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Restaurant gears up to tackle swine flu

A POCKET of Spanish suburbia hardly seems the spot for a new swine flu battlefront, but an eatery in a shopping mall outside Madrid claims to be the world's first restaurant with a specific plan to protect against the disease.

Food servers at Silk & Soya have their temperature taken before starting their shifts, menus are washed after each use, and tables are set a bit further apart than usual.

The rest rooms are rigged so customers don't have to fiddle with doorknobs, faucets or light switches. The door's always open, water starts flowing when you approach the sink, and the lights turn on when you walk in.

The servers never handle plates of food with their bare hands, using cloth napkins instead. And the elevator leading to the rooftop restaurant features a dispenser that squirts a blue disinfectant which evaporates as you wring your hands.

Cipri Quintas, the 43-year-old owner of the Asian-style restaurant overlooking a busy highway just north of Madrid, is aware it all may smack of a publicity stunt.

Counting costs

But he insists the program cost him money - he paid a Spanish consulting firm US$1,500 to design it - and continues to cut into his bottom line. Fewer tables means less revenue.

As Spain joins global efforts to combat a spike in swine flu cases with the onset of colder weather, Quintas said it is hard not to be spooked by the disease, which has killed at least 25 people in Spain and is estimated to be causing more than 10,000 new cases here a week.

"I don't know if it is very bad, or just bad, or only a little bad. But it is bad," he said. "So I thought, 'what would happen if I have a sick person come to work, going from table to table, serving the people who are our bread and butter, and giving them swine flu instead of food?'"

Quintas says he has received dozens of inquiries from restaurant owners and other business people since implementing the program last month, but he seriously doubts anyone comes to his place just because it's squeaky clean.

Fernando Blazquez, son of one of Madrid's most famed restaurateurs, Lucio Blazquez, now plans to implement similar steps at his own watering hole after speaking to Quintas. "Anything in the way of prevention is positive," the younger Blazquez said.


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