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.
You are likely hiring more staff as we emerge from the pandemic – and you may feel that having vaccinated employees may make patrons more comfortable about dining with you. So can you require vaccination of new hires? In general, yes, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). For example, as a recent Q&A from the National Law Review indicates, an employer can ask if a candidate has been vaccinated and require proof of that vaccination. What could pose difficulty under the Americans with Disabilities act is asking an unvaccinated person why he or she hasn’t been vaccinated, which could elicit information about a disability. https://www.natlawreview.com/article/eeoc-says-employers-may-mandate-covid-19-vaccinations-subject-to-limitations
When one of your employees is sick, do they feel there will be negative consequences if they report it to you? To be sure, restaurants are shouldering existential challenges right now and need to be able to rely on their teams. But make sure you prioritize safety – even if it means being temporarily short-staffed. The Centers for Disease Control have been emphasizing employee self-reporting of symptoms during the pandemic – and encouraging transparency with your team may help you avoid a larger safety problem. You can help by keeping up with daily health screenings for all employees, along with regular training to reinforce that you value the safety of your people and want everyone to be healthy – but won’t take punitive action if they aren’t.
This year has asked so much of restaurant operators – as innovators, entrepreneurs, managers and neighbors. While it’s natural for people in the service profession to look for ways to serve guests well, taking care of staff – and themselves – can take a backseat. But the well-being of a restaurant’s entire team trickles down through your business and impacts all of your relationships. The slower period this winter may be a time to refocus on strengthening your team from the inside out. Mental health in restaurants was a central theme of the recent Chefs’ Congress in Lisbon. According to this report in Forbes, the event incorporated videos, workshops and techniques designed to allow owners, chefs, cooks and workers to better understand how to manage teams, partner with human resources, and increase awareness of workers' rights and risk factors. It even offered anonymous therapy sessions for restaurant professionals. As awareness of these issues grows, such events can provide teaching tools and other resources for operators regardless of where they do business.