A Gallup poll found that as of last year, engaged, enthusiastic employees comprised about 30-35 percent of the workforce, while disengaged employees comprised about 15 percent. That left 50-55 percent of employees feeling indifferent to their jobs. In other words, the majority of employees felt so-so, at best, about their work. In foodservice, that means that employees’ attention to doing their jobs well, including maintaining safety standards, is likely suffering as a result. A Food Safety Magazine report advises foodservice operators to first focus on employee well-being before more tactical training when building a food safety culture. That involves asking whether staff have a manageable workload, with sufficient time away to recharge. It also requires operators to find ways to make work meaningful – to demonstrate why even seemingly mundane food safety tasks matter. Finally, in cases where results aren’t where they need to be, the team needs to be led differently, with new approaches that invite them to tap into new skills or improve existing ones.
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.
The likelihood of lingering COVID-19 infections, along with other seasonal illnesses, could make staffing more challenging this winter. To help ensure you’re doing all you can to minimize the spread of infection on your team and help your employees feel safe coming to work, consider how you can adjust your procedures to make employee-guest interactions safer and more efficient. Encourage guests to review your menu, order and pay via QR code. Consider adopting tableside technology that allows a guest to push a button if they need help so your staff can visit tables only when needed. Adjust your procedures for delivering and clearing dishes so your staff aren’t having to stand close to each person in a party. Where possible, stagger seating throughout your indoor and outdoor dining areas to minimize congestion. Finally, listen to employees who have concerns about sickness this winter and encourage the team to share possible solutions – making them feel heard can go a long way in making them feel safe.
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.
In your restaurant, is there a stark division between food preparation areas and the areas where staff store and access their personal belongings? These items can introduce pathogens to your food preparation areas. To minimize contamination risk, make sure all personal electronics, clothing, and even items used on the job, such as uniforms, are stored in a room away from food. Employees should access these items on breaks only, and with thorough handwashing afterwards.