The pandemic has heightened consumer consciousness of the origins of restaurant food, as well as the safety practices used to protect it. If you’re among the growing number of operators running a ghost kitchen or similar space that keeps your back-of-house operations behind the scenes, it’s all the more important to find ways to be transparent about your food sourcing and safety practices. Your website and social media channels are the virtual windows overlooking your kitchen. Update them with lists of local suppliers, allergy information, health inspection grades, news about digital tools you adopt to monitor food safety, and photos of your safety practices in action.
Want to improve your safety? Focus on improving your transparency. By having an operation that is open with vendors, suppliers and customers about your safety practices, you’re creating the conditions for improved safety. There are a number of actions you can take to improve your transparency: Trace (and minimize) your menu’s links in the food supply chain so you can tell a less complicated story about how you’re sourcing your menu. Be open with nutritional information and allergens on your menu – One Dine suggests offering a QR code on your menu that links to detailed information about menu items. Make your kitchen more visible – if you physically remove the barriers between staff and guest, you build trust and also reinforce your commitment to operating safely and efficiently. Finally, admit to mistakes when they happen – that could mean responding honestly and professionally to a negative review, or acknowledging steps you’re taking proactively to improve your operation’s safety based on audits or self-assessments.
The pandemic has been a two-year practice in adjusting to new recommended safety practices – and it’s demonstrated the need for restaurant operators to be able to get information out to staff in real time. In other words, posting flyers on employee bulletin boards has officially become obsolete. Do you have tech tools in place that enable you to push safety alerts and other information out to employees instantaneously via their smartphone? In addition to helping protect food safety and ensure your team is on the same page about vaccine-related regulations in your area, it could also help you empower your team to take greater responsibility and initiative in upholding health and safety protocols in your business.
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.