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Restaurant Health and Safety Dangers Hidden In Plain Sight

Updated: Mar 12, 2021

Have you noticed that just about everyone you have ever met thinks they are an excellent driver? No matter how they drive or what the situation, any horn blast or rude gesture their way was someone else’s fault. I have such a person in my life. I won’t name names but I will retell an experience I had in their car.

As we drove along a busy road a text came in on their phone. Like Pavlov’s dog they immediately turned their attention away from the road and instead focused on the text. With eyes on their phone instead of the road they didn’t notice the stop sign. Suddenly, we heard a horn blaring and looked up just in time to see the nose of another car right in front of us as they began their turn through the intersection. A quick swerve of the wheel and screech of the brakes narrowly avoided a major accident.

“What the hell was that guy thinking?!” my companion shouted. “He came out of nowhere!”

In much the same way we face a similar dilemma in food service. If I have learned one thing in my twenty plus years of restaurant kitchen experience it is this – Everyone thinks they are doing it the right way. And why wouldn’t they think that? Just about everyone strives for a professional, efficient and safe operation that they can be proud of. And more than likely, when you as the top dog in the operation are focused on day to day things everything hums along.

But here is the dirty reality of just about every restaurant kitchen. While you were focusing on increasing foot traffic, updating the website, hiring a new manager, addressing food costs, figuring out how to navigate a pandemic, opening new locations and the other thousand things that require your attention, important things like cleanliness and food safety started to slip. You trained your team well and while you were on top of them day to day the standards were high. But now, one of your guests has become ill and the health department is doing an emergency inspection. Your money, your livelihood, and your reputation are now on the line.

There was a car in the middle of the intersection and you didn’t see it coming.

It may sound like an extreme scenario but trust me, it is a reality I see time and time again. Successful, strong operators ask me to evaluate their team’s operational performance looking for guidance. What starts off as a consultation on how we can improve efficiencies and create consistency instead ends up be a rude awakening to the reality of how their kitchen is being managed. I have seen everything from kitchen teams not washing their hands, coolers running at 55⁰ and even situations where managers don’t even know they are supposed to be using sanitizer. And no matter how big or small the problems we uncover are, one thing remain constant...The operators are always genuinely shocked and surprised.

The cost of failure in this arena is high, more so now than ever. Guests have always held safety as a top priority when choosing where to dine. In this time of Covid and the pandemic, the bar is even higher. It's also important to recognize that we are not just talking about guest safety. Staff safety is extremely important at all times but again, is magnified in the world we live in today. Just imagine the ripple effect if one of your team members tests positive for Covid. Now imagine that they weren’t wearing a mask, washing their hands or using sanitizer. It’s a scenario I have seen come to pass more than once.

“So what do we do? Is all hope lost? Will I ever be able to focus on the big picture instead of the day to day?”

Let’s go back to the driving example. I am not saying that you can never take your eyes off the road. I am saying you need to get a self-driving car. Here is how you do it.

1. Evaluate staff knowledge and training

Even though it is easy to do so, it is important to not assume that your team knows everything they need to about proper cleanliness and food safety. Step back and truly evaluate if the staff needs more training on health and safety standards and practices.

2. Install systems to increase visibility

The biggest danger is that managers you have left in charge take their eye off the environment around them. This can happen because they are focusing on other areas, a general apathy, or simply because things have gradually changed around them over time and lower standards have become the norm. To combat this, a system that requires them to open their eyes and observe the health and safety situation around them should be developed. Just making it a routine for them to stop what they are doing and refocus their attention on safety once or twice a day will change it from being an afterthought to being a habit.

3. Create systems for accountability

“While the cat is away the mice will play” is the saying. Well, these days the cat has email. I definitely do not want to encourage micromanaging but putting in place a system by which location managers are held accountable for completing their daily checks of cleanliness and safety is highly effective.

4. Appointing a Compliance Officer

All the checklists and systems in the world cannot replace actual boots on the ground to work with location managers. Designating someone to ensure that all systems and best practices are being followed goes a long way to making they stick long term.

There are few responsibilities that carry more weight than cleanliness and food safety for a food service operator. The most important thing you can do to manage that responsibility is to keep your eyes open and train your teams to do the same. After all, we don’t want to just think we are the best drivers on the road, we want to know we are.

Not sure where to start with your Health & Safety Programs? Reach out and we can help with a free, no obligation initial consultation.

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