Approximately 32 million Americans, including 5.6 million children under age 18, have food allergies, according to Food Allergy Research & Education. That amounts to two children in every classroom. Those numbers put pressure on restaurants to manage food allergies effectively – but on the flip side, they also present an opportunity for restaurants to generate an especially loyal and valuable following: McKinsey research found that consumers looking to avoid certain allergens are especially loyal to brands and also willing to spend more money in an effort to avoid an allergen. The quality of your communication plays a major role in your success. When your staff is informed of a food allergy by a customer, they should repeat it clearly to confirm it, then involve a minimum of team members to carry out an order to avoid a game of telephone in which details are misconstrued. That may mean passing all orders for allergic guests on to one manager, who oversees the order from the preparation stage through delivery to the customer
New safety standards are in the pipeline that could impact your procedures and the frequency of inspections for back-of-house workers exposed to dangerous heat. In response to increased episodes of record-breaking outdoor temperatures in recent months, the Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) is drafting new standards for restaurant kitchens in an effort to encourage practices like having cold water readily accessible, providing breaks to allow workers to cool off, and helping new workers to gradually build a tolerance to heat, Restaurant Business reports. While the final rules won’t become regulations for a number of months, expect an increase in inspections that cover these practices in the meantime.
As flu season dovetails with the Covid-19 delta variant in the coming months, you can expect a rise in employee illnesses and even just false alarms that nonetheless require you to exercise extra caution when serving guests. The reservations platform Resy recently announced it is offering a free way for restaurants to track employees’ proof of Covid-19 vaccination, test results and other details used to track symptoms of illness. Restaurant Business reports that Resy has partnered with Clear to offer Clear’s Health Pass technology through 2022 to restaurants using Resy.
Restaurant workers are expected to be helpful, caring and upbeat – but that can be a tall order at a time when restaurants are under great stress and many customers are behaving badly. Taking steps to protect the mental and physical health of your team can help you retain your existing staff and attract new people to your restaurant. First, provide a supportive environment where your team can acknowledge mental health challenges and feel it’s acceptable to talk about them with a manager and ask for time away from work to manage them. If you can, seek out discounts to local gyms, yoga studios or other facilities that can help your staff blow off steam – or offer to host a group fitness class for your team on a regular basis. You can also turn to help from apps designed with hospitality professionals in mind. Two are Sanvello, which provides support for a range of mental health concerns, and Ben’s Friends, a substance abuse support network for people in the industry.
Delivering food safety training and staying on top of hazards was challenging enough for foodservice businesses before the pandemic. Now that these businesses are short-staffed and trying to stay ahead of worker turnover, it’s even more difficult – and has accelerated efforts to use technology to ensure food safety. That has been the case for Wendy’s, which has been working with NSF International to use their EyeSucceed smart glasses to protect food safety. Nation’s Restaurant News says the augmented reality glasses allow real-time, two-way, hands-free communication used for inspections, approvals, trainings and demonstrations for one person or many at once. Could you outsource any of your food safety training to tech?
At a time when restaurant operators are concerned about demonstrating their cleanliness practices to guests, they may also benefit from demonstrating them to employees. Modern Restaurant Management reports that a recent survey of U.S. and Canadian workers found that 60 percent of respondents would leave their current role for a lower-paying, healthier work environment. It’s a good time to review your health and hygiene protocols to ensure you’re communicating them clearly to existing staff and staff candidates – particularly as flu season threatens to collide with the delta variant in the coming weeks and months.
It looks like outdoor dining is here to stay for a while – particularly as many restaurants around the U.S. are closing or limiting their indoor seating due to the spread of the Delta variant. If you plan to serve guests outdoors in the months ahead, ensure the safety of your outdoor service capabilities. Have yours evolved past the temporary measures you may have had in place over the past year? Create permanent and well-stocked outdoor service stations to minimize your staff’s trips around your facility. Check that footpaths are flat and clear of obstructions. Ensure that awnings and all covered outdoor spaces are structurally secure and don’t pose safety risks.
At a time when so many restaurants are short-staffed, it’s especially important for your food safety practices to be infused in your operation’s daily dialogue. Restaurant leadership should weave food safety into their communications – with their messages cascading to employees frequently and via a range of written and verbal communication channels. Managers should model the food safety practices they expect from their staff. Reminders of key safety practices should be posted around your facility – and be a regular topic in meetings and conversations. Consider how you can reinforce safety messages through staff contests, quizzes and shift checklists.
Would your staff know at what temperature food falls into the temperature danger zone? Could they explain how they ensure food that needs to be discarded is removed at the proper time? Chances are your staff roster has seen some drastic changes in recent months – and you may have had to compromise on the skillsets of the newer people you have hired. As you onboard new staff, it’s important for them to understand and be able to correctly answer questions about your food safety program. Make food safety education an ongoing part of your training and conduct surprise mock inspections on a regular basis so the official ones aren’t a challenge to pass (and don’t create the need for additional formal inspections throughout the year).
Standing water – whether inside or outside of your facility – spells trouble. Outdoors, it is a breeding ground for pests. Indoors, it harbors pathogens and can release aerosols that contaminate your food preparation areas. In a recent report from Total Food Service, hospitality and food safety specialist Dhruv Kishore Bole advises operators to ensure food waste and water doesn’t accumulate in drains – and to cover all drain and food intersections so there is less opportunity for debris to collect and attract pests.