Finishing Restaurant Tables

Official rules may override your customer's preference and testing some samples might be a good idea. December 10, 2008

We are making 30 tables for a new Toronto restaurant. All the tables are solid walnut, butcher block style. They want an oiled finish. I have explained to them that this is going to patina and wear, and they say they like this look; that this is what they want. But I have heard that there are laws about finishes on restaurant tables. Does anyone know about this?

Also, what kind of oil do you think I should use, how many coats to put on, and how often is the restaurant going to have to re-oil to keep these in decent shape? My partner and I also proposed a matte catalyzed lacquer for an "invisible" natural looking finish. What do you think about this? Catalyzed lacquer on a restaurant table top?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor A:
I would definitely rule out the oil finish for this application, and yes there are rules in place - the regional health inspector will know. Just last week a friend installed some alder table tops in a restaurant in Calgary. They wanted a rustic look. Well, the food inspector did not like the rustic look of alder and made him close every crack, small knot, etc. So it's not always what they want, but it's what makes sense for the job. As far as what finish, I'm still looking for the best one to use on a table top. Remember, walnut is really not that hard.

From contributor D:
Make up two sample tops, each about 16" square. Finish one the way you are comfortable with - catalyzed, etc, and finish the other with Waterlox (thinned varnish oil mix) or 7-8 coats of pure tung oil, or marine teak oil. Schedule a meet at their place between the lunch and dinner rushes, order a couple of drinks, and put the tables to the test. Leave the samples with them (with your company name prominent on the underside), and go back in a week to see what they think.

From contributor R:
Use a butcher block finish like mineral oil, Good Stuff or Mohawk salad bowl finish. These are all food safe, so there shouldn't be a problem there. The problem is that they will have to periodically re-oil the tops and then let them dry for 24 hours. I would also submit a 2k urethane sample and let them decide.