Short-staffed? Who isn’t? While being shorthanded can lead to food preparation mistakes and safety problems, you can take steps to minimize your risk. On a regular basis, review what tasks are taking the most time and attention from your staff. Consider how to automate and/or simplify them with such helpers as precise ingredient dispensers; pre-measured, -cut and -seasoned ingredients; probes that monitor the functioning of appliances and notify staff of problems; digitized food safety logging; and digitized ordering that prompts guests to alert back-of-house staff to an allergy.
If you’re like most foodservice operators right now, you’re actively trying to recruit staff – and perhaps in even greater numbers than you had to let go at the start of the pandemic. This means you’re likely in the midst of trying to ensure a new, less experienced roster of staff is up to speed about your safety protocols and the day-to-day work of your restaurant. How well you handle the onboarding process plays an important role in an employee’s experience with you: According to research from Modern Restaurant Management, management and communication are two of the factors that impact employee satisfaction the most. To ensure you’re covering the range of methods in which people learn, combine written, digital and on-the-job training tools to communicate policies clearly. For example, you might offer a handbook at the outset that includes your Covid safety protocols, an overview of how your restaurant operates, your restaurant’s values and ethos, guidelines for greeting and interacting with customers, sick leave policies, staff roles and responsibilities, and a review of your technology tools. Complement this with follow-up opportunities for Q&A, job shadowing with an experienced staff member, and digital reviews of training concepts on an ongoing basis. Expect mistakes and create an environment that makes it easy for new staff to admit to them and make adjustments.
At a time when poor guest behavior related to Covid restrictions often makes news, restaurant operators have been placed in the challenging position of trying to take care of staff and provide guests with good service (even if their behavior isn’t the best). A new study reinforces that when operators visibly take care of staff safety, it can have a strong positive spillover effect to guests and build trust with them: Research from Qualtrics found that 30 percent of consumers have moved their purchases in the past 18 months to less-familiar brands because of the stricter safety protocols they use. Further, 22 percent of consumers have avoided businesses that gave guests doubts about their commitment to keeping their people safe.
If, like most foodservice operators, you are struggling to keep your business fully staffed, make sure to assess how your food safety training procedures need to be adjusted for any temporary workers coming on board to fill shifts. Your procedures must also account for changes in how safety tasks are spread out among smaller numbers of staff if that is the case. Since temporary workers are likely less familiar with your food safety measures, they will need more step-by-step guidance to uphold them – ideally in an online, automated form they can review as needed without other staff having to take time out to address questions.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.