Roaches, Restaurants & Redemption

 In Blog

Having the right attitude, honing inspection skills and prescribing the correct treatment options can create a sustainable solution for German cockroaches.

by Tom Dobrinska, Training Director, Anderson Pest Solutions

German cockroaches in restaurants create a significant challenge for the pest management professional (PMP). Twenty years ago, when cockroach gel baits were first made available, cockroach elimination was fairly easy. Now, however, this resilient creature for several reasons is not susceptible to simple inspection and treatment techniques. Additionally, the restaurant environment contains a litany of variables that aid in cockroach harborage and distribution. Restaurant workers, incoming products, voids, cracks and crevices, heat, moisture, organic matter, clutter and a lack of third party enforcement all can contribute to a lack of control. In turn, these infestations now require more intensive inspection techniques and treatment options to identify and eliminate ALL of the possible harborage sites. Having the right attitude, honing our inspection skills and prescribing the correct treatment options can create a sustainable solution for German cockroaches.

‘A’ for Attitude

Perhaps the most significant contributor to German cockroach control failure is PMP attitude. When we approach an account for the first time we have a choice. We can choose to put the onus upon ourselves and solve the problem no matter what, or we can choose to limit our true capabilities with some common excuses.

Sanitation and Structural Hang Ups. In the majority of cases, German cockroach infestations can be solved without the customer addressing sanitation and structural correction. We have all probably encountered accounts with hoarders and severe clutter, or instances where the origin of the infestation could not be accessed, but these are exceptions. With the variety of effective products that are available, a little bit of elbow grease and the desire to solve the problem, we can eliminate the infestation. Addressing sanitation and structural corrections — in addition to treatment — can help eliminate the infestation more efficiently. Additionally, we can address some of the structural and sanitation corrections ourselves. However, placing the blame on the customer for the infestation due to poor sanitation and structural issues may alienate the customer, sabotage control efforts and possibly result in a cancelled account.

Operator Resistance. It appears that whenever an incident of true behavioral German cockroach resistance has been observed or documented, false diagnoses of resistance spread like wildfire. In many cases, having another pair of eyes assess the infestation may prove other factors may be contributing to the infestation. These need to be addressed before we “throw in the mental towel” and limit ourselves from solving the problem.

Pinpointing Applications

Where were we 20 years ago prior to the advent of cockroach baits? A typical PMP focused on treating the cockroach directly to get the best results (much like the approach we currently take with conventional bed bug treatments). We would take motor units apart, move equipment, lift boxes and bags, unlock doors, get into ceiling and wall voids and flush the roaches out if they were inaccessible. When baits became available, they were still applied with direct treatment in mind and sustainable control came fast and furious. Later, we noticed we didn’t have to apply bait directly to harborage sites and we still obtained great results. Complacency set in and many of us relied on baits to work in place of intensive inspection efforts.

Then a funny thing happened — the roaches “wised up.” In many cases, control efforts were not being realized as quickly as before, and in some cases control failures were beginning to rise. By reverting back to the inspections our colleagues conducted 20 years ago, control failures will be less likely.

In addition, rotate your gel baits. You may be surprised to see that some baits are more effective than others. Also, include other formulations in your mix such as dusts, granular baits and liquids.


If we were to depend only on a daily visual inspection we may think an area had no problem when in fact there was a light infestation of cockroaches. Since cockroaches are active mostly at night, insect monitors are critical inspection tools.

In addition to determining cockroach presence early, insect monitors pinpoint harborage points, determine the age of infestation, allow for targeted application (reducing nonessential pesticide use) and help determine the success (or failure) of your program. Placement is critical for insect monitors to do their job. Place them against walls, near corners of shelves, drawers and floors. Avoid placing monitors in the open; place them in static, protected sites where cockroaches are likely to be active in the evening. Samples of conducive areas include:

  • Perishable food storage (food, incoming source)
  • Locker/break area (shelter, incoming source)
  • Areas with a prior history of infestation (pheromones)
  • Beverage dispensers (heat, moisture, food)
  • Water heater (moisture, heat)
  • Compressor/motor units (heat)

Clean and Seal

It is difficult to control cockroaches quickly when sanitation is so poor that food is readily available. Additionally, structural deficiencies such as uncaulked cracks and crevices, and openings around pipes and utility lines, provide additional harborage sites that can potentially make our control efforts work slower. If we are showing the customer that we are willing to get down and remove some of the organic matter while sealing cracks and crevices, we are demonstrating that we are not asking them to do something that we would not do ourselves.

Clean It. Most PMPs use beneficial bacteria with the sole intention of reducing fruit flies and other small flies. However, that notion is far too limiting. Beneficial bacteria is designed to help eliminate the organic matter that may harbor, attract or feed numerous pests whether they are flies, cockroaches, ants, or rodents. Additionally, when the customer sees the bacteria in action, they may indeed want to purchase the product and use it in their master cleaning program.

Seal It. As with the sanitation corrections, one of our goals is to make the environment as hostile as possible to the German cockroaches, without inflicting harm to the environment, people or pets. By sealing small cracks and holes, we are actively forcing the cockroaches into more open areas. Additionally, be certain to apply material into void areas before sealing around conduits and isolating the void from the open area. Every little bit of sealing helps.

Time Management

One of the more difficult challenges we run into is spending the appropriate amount of time at the account to solve the problem. A few thoughts on time management:

Divide and Conquer. Large industrial kitchens and banquet halls are perfect examples of very large conducive accounts that are susceptible to German cockroach control failure due to poor time management. To best handle these accounts, divide the areas into zones.

Identify Critical Areas. Find those spots that provide moisture, shelter, warmth and food. On the first scheduled service, perform the application to the conducive areas in half of the account. Then visually inspect the other half of the account. On the second scheduled service, rotate your inspection and application to the previous conducive areas. By dividing the large account into zones and rotating the application and inspection, the PMP may avoid missing some critical areas.

Early Morning. As mentioned, German roaches are most active at night. Most of the activity we see usually occurs as soon as the client turns on the lights for the first time in the morning, and we see a few nymphs scurry. Additionally, it is difficult and unsafe to put ourselves under active ovens and fryers in the middle of the day. By periodically scheduling ourselves first thing in the morning, we have easier access to the cook line before it is “fired up,” and we are also more likely to see active harborage sites at this time, especially if there has been an ongoing infestation.

The End Game

Solving German cockroach infestations has become a little more difficult over the years; however, we can make it easier by focusing on a couple of aspects. By approaching each and every account with a “can do” attitude, we are increasing our odds of solving the infestation, and making the customer happy. We must dig deep in order to pinpoint the harborage points and treat these areas directly. Use monitors wisely to identify infestations early. Make it a point to address sanitation and structural corrections (assuming the customer will not be addressing these). Lastly, allocate the appropriate time and service frequency to conduct an effective program and charge accordingly.

Tom Dobrinska is training director of Anderson Pest Solutions, Elmhurst, IL, and can be contacted at