Consumers are monitoring your adherence to new safety precautions. Increasingly, so are cameras. Last year, Domino’s launched a back-of-house camera system called Dragontail to help assess basic quality control measures, like whether pizzas were the proper shape. But as Spoon reports, Dragontail is now launching an AI-powered camera that can also help monitor kitchen safety – detecting whether gloves and masks are being worn and how often a workspace is sanitized, for example. Expect more of this to come as restaurants embrace technology and face increased scrutiny of their health and safety practices. #foodsafety
Amid the spread of COVID-19, it’s only natural to be more concerned about the health of other people and whether you or your team could inadvertently be spreading infection. Just make sure that when hiring new staff and monitoring your team’s health, you comply with regulations and understand where existing and new regulations overlap. The National Restaurant Association reports that, for example, while the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Rehabilitation Act rules continue to apply in the current pandemic, they do not prevent you from following the COVID-19 guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention or state and local public health authorities. So during a pandemic, you can ask staff about disabilities or require medical exams of employees who don’t have symptoms, since it is a means of identifying people at higher risk for complications. You may also take a person’s temperature and ask about potential exposure during a person’s travels. Just remember privacy and confidentiality requirements under the ADA and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
Your updated health and safety practices are only as good as the efforts of employees carrying them out. Now that protective equipment like gloves and masks have become the norm in restaurants, make sure your employees aren’t just wearing these items but are using them properly. This New York Times report about the new experience of dining out scrutinized some employee behaviors that didn’t reflect their parent company’s COVID-19 practices – such as a server not wearing gloves when delivering food to guests and another wearing a face mask below her nose. Does your training address how to place face masks and how they should fit on a person’s face? Does it detail who must wear gloves, when they must be worn and changed, and what your team must do when changing gloves to ensure they don’t contaminate food or surfaces around your establishment? Make sure your team is prepared to walk your talk when it comes to protecting safety.
While it’s critical to keep food preparation surfaces clean and sanitized, more is not better when it comes to sanitizer. As a Wake County Environmental Services report indicates, high concentrations of sanitizer can corrode equipment and make it more difficult to clean. They can also leave behind an odor or leave a bad taste on surfaces. Make sure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions and use chemical test strips to ensure proper concentration levels.
In the space of just a few months, hygiene has taken on a much-elevated role in hospitality. Zagat’s newly released Future of Dining Study found that nearly 75 percent of the 6,500 diners surveyed said health and safety were overwhelmingly the most important factors influencing their decision to dine at restaurants in the months ahead. And much like the guest opinions about your service and food that appeared on Yelp and Tripadvisor a few months ago, you can now expect consumers to scrutinize (and comment online about) the cleanliness of their experience with you, whether good or bad. Any additional checks you can put in place to protect your new health and safety policies may help you to both address health risks quickly and manage your online presence. Further, supplementary health and safety checks could become more prevalent in states where virus infections have spiked. For example, the Texas Restaurant Association and the customer feedback firm A Closer Look have partnered with Dallas College to develop a training, inspection and certification program for restaurants. Pyments.com reports that the program includes a mystery shopper-type component that allows a person to answer a three-question survey about the health practices they see at the restaurant. The information is then relayed in real time to the restaurant’s corporate offices – and may at the same time help give consumers the outlet they need to share a negative experience.
When Chipotle had to manage an E. coli outbreak in 2015, its actions paved the way for 2020. To earn customers’ trust, it overhauled its food preparation practices – and in the process created a solid foundation to operate during the challenging climate that is 2020. The protocols introduced, which Fortune said included washing hands between tasks, placing hand sanitizer at the door and changing air filtration systems, sound like a list of COVID-19 reopening guidelines. While the brand has made other operational changes during the pandemic, those changes have focused on paid sick leave, employee compensation and delivery tracking – while other brands have had to implement more sweeping changes. Could your restaurant’s longtime safety record help you create a better blueprint for safety now?
How do your employees get to work? Much is said about how to properly use public transport to minimize the spread of infection, but even if your staff travels to work by car, it’s important for them to take safety precautions – particularly as many states are having to tighten their safety procedures in light of rising COVID-19 infection rates. The CDC advises people to clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces of personal vehicles (e.g. steering wheel, door handles, gear shift and seat belt buckles). When using parking meters and fuel nozzles, disinfect surfaces with alcohol wipes or use a hand sanitizer afterwards. Travel with open windows or at least avoid using the recirculated air setting in a car. Finally, consider limiting the number of people in the car to only those who are necessary.
“Safety is like the new hospitality.” That’s what Bob Duprey, founder of RestaurantPlaybook.com, recently told Restaurant Dive. Even before you consider the quality of your menu or your service right now, focus on your cleanliness and safety. According to new research shared during this Datassential webinar (https://bit.ly/2C2pgCq), 76 percent of consumers say a restaurant’s cleanliness and food safety procedures will always matter more to them now than they did before. Among those surveyed, cleanliness ranked more highly than everything from the taste of the food to the value of menu items. Drilling down further, the survey respondents’ top safety concerns were overwhelmingly about touching items that others had touched and being too close to other customers. In your communications with customers and social media posts, make sure you’re clear about how you have reconfigured your operation to protect updated safety procedures.
If you’re new to delivery or are using existing staff to help accommodate deliveries right now, make sure your delivery protocol keeps your staff, customers and food safe. Statefoodsafety.com advises you take some steps to safeguard your practices. First, make sure the delivery vehicle is kept clean and won’t attract pests. Package food securely and keep raw or allergenic foods separate. Use coolers or thermal blankets to keep food at proper temperatures en route. Finally, maintain social distancing when dropping off food to not only protect safety but to demonstrate your commitment to it.
Compliance with updated, COVID-19-specific health and safety procedures will be critical for operators in the coming months, not only to protect the safety of your staff and guests but to prepare for unplanned compliance checks by regulatory authorities that are likely coming down the pipeline. This is especially true in states where cases of the virus continue to rise. What systems do you have in place to ensure your new protocols are enforced consistently across shifts and locations? Digital checklists and other automated tools can help take stock of tasks, and regular training will continue to be important. But foundationally, the quality of your relationships with managers and their relationships with staff are critical – if you show you value them, their health and their contributions, they will care about protecting the business. As you adapt your business to its new procedures, also incorporate actions that can help you stay connected with your team.