Consumers still care a lot about restaurant safety – and according to a new Deloitte survey of 1,000 consumers who had eaten in a restaurant in recent months, they want to see it in action. More than half of the respondents (55 percent) said they would be willing to pay 10-15 percent more at a restaurant if they were told about the safety and cleanliness measures the business was taking to protect their food during transport and preparation. Further, consumers are noticing both traditional cleaning measures and more recent Covid-safety measures more acutely right now. Find ways to make your safety efforts more visible – in cleaning surfaces around your facility, preparing food or protecting employees and guests, and even with signage that explains all you’re doing to protect the people you’re serving and employing
The pandemic has ushered in a new era in food safety – and made employees and consumers more aware of the practices restaurants use to protect health. Ongoing training is key to making food safety processes take hold, along with using multiple approaches for workers who learn in a range of ways. For example, Panda Express, which is a 2021 winner of the Fast Casual/Steritech Excellence in Food Safety Award, uses a training process that includes auditory, visual and tactile instruction, paired with hands-on learning. Kenny Chuang, executive director of Food Safety and Quality Assurance for the brand, told Fast Casual that this approach has helped cement comprehension of food safety terms, equipment and procedures across the business.
Has your restaurant ever faced a food safety spillover? According to new research, when a competitor or a nearby restaurant experiences a food safety outbreak, consumers tend to make assumptions about the safety of your supply as a result. The research, published in the International Journal of Hospitality Management, found that a theoretical E. Coli crisis at one restaurant made people hesitate to eat at other restaurants serving similar foods even though they were not involved in the outbreak. It’s all the more reason to enforce a top-down food safety culture within your restaurant – and communicate promptly with staff about outbreaks connected to the types of food you serve. It will not only help protect the safety of the items on your menu, but it will also build your team’s ability to communicate more confidently about it with guests if and when outbreaks occur.
Cleaning was once something restaurant employees tried to keep hidden behind the scenes. But now, your guests take comfort in knowing what you do to keep your facility clean and limit the spread of illness. What’s more, they are more likely to be watching what your team does to maintain safety between guests and during the course of a busy shift. Make your cleaning procedures a continuous part of your training and empower employees to take responsibility for safety within your business, knowing they have your backing. Wherever possible, employ digital tools to keep track of cleaning tasks that might be overlooked during a busy period and to provide regular alerts to staff about tasks that need to be completed.
At the start of the pandemic, many restaurant industry experts noted that “safety has become the new hospitality.” Nearly two years later, that continues to be true, and the beneficiaries of this hospitality are not only customers but also employees. In fact, at a time when hospitality employee turnover has hit record highs, FSR Magazine suggests operators make a concerted effort to market their employee safety. This is especially important as we approach the winter months. Think about it: If people are eager to get out of the house for a meal in the midst of flu season, they want to be extra sure that their server isn’t working while under the weather – or that they aren’t taking unnecessary risks by going out to enjoy a meal. Your employees (and prospective employees) also want some assurance that you are doing all you can to keep them healthy at work, while also respecting their need to miss a shift if they do become ill. Recent research found that the especially high turnover rate in the hospitality industry in recent months is due, in part, to employee concerns about getting sick while on the job. Consider what you can do to incentivize employee health – vaccination bonuses are just one example – and then promote your policy on your website and social media.
There is a difference between knowing a food handling procedure is safe or unsafe and having a food safety culture. In the latter scenario, food safety is something your team lives and breathes. It flows from the top down, so managers understand and model it for the rest of the team every day, which is critical if staff turnover is high and you have new workers joining you frequently. When there is an inspection on the horizon, an operation with a strong food safety culture doesn’t require a crash course in food safety. When you look at your operation, where do you see room to make adjustments that can model a strong food safety culture on a daily basis for the rest of your team?
Research from the National Restaurant Association found that 78 percent of restaurant operators are experiencing a decline in customer demand for indoor, on-premises dining because of the delta variant spike. While there are still some weeks remaining when outdoor dining is a comfortable option for guests, consider how you will fortify your business for the winter when it comes to Covid safety. If you are taking steps to purify the air in your dining room, encourage ventilation, enhance your procedures for cleaning and sanitizing high-contact areas throughout your facility, or winterize your outdoor seating area, share your plans with guests on your website, mailing list and social media so guests know you’re a safe bet when they need a restaurant food fix in the months ahead.
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.
Is your team always inspection-ready? If not, having interim inspections can help your team develop the procedures it needs to form better habits – and make the actual inspection not such a big deal. Get an up-to-date copy of your local health inspector’s evaluation criteria and use it to fine-tune your existing procedures and division of tasks during each shift. If you’re in the midst of onboarding new staff and concerned about having tasks fall through the cracks as you get everyone up to speed, it can also help to use task management software to generate lists of tasks for employees to carry out. This can keep people on track regardless of how long they have been with you and who is around to assign tasks.
Let’s face it: The optics of food safety have become much more important since the pandemic started. Food safety is not only important to protecting your business behind the scenes. It’s also become something to showcase to guests so they trust you’re committed to protecting them – and it can also help you attract business from competitors who don’t make their safety practices clear. If you haven’t already, consider making your food safety commitment a key part of your marketing. The National Restaurant Association’s ServeSafe Dining Commitment, for example, enables restaurants to place the SSDC logo on their front door, website, menu and other materials to show guests you’re doing your part to protect their safety.