Whether you bus the tables or manage the entire staff, you and everyone else working in your restaurant has an important PR job that you may not even be aware of.
You work hard to prepare and serve great food in the perfect atmosphere. But you also have to think about your business reputation, about the safety of your customers and about how the two are connected in ways that can absolutely make or break a restaurant like yours.
Example: Nothing will ruin a nice dinner quite like the dreaded Norovirus. Diarrhea and vomiting are not enjoyable post-meal activities, but The New England Journal of Medicine reports that Norovirus infection puts 14,000 people in the hospital each year. It leads to 281,000 emergency room visits, 627,000 outpatient visits and 800 deaths.
Then there’s Salmonella. It may not be on your menu, but if you’re serving it, we here at Learn2Serve guarantee it’ll become the most talked-about special of the day. It’s a not-fun food poisoning threat often related to unsanitary conditions. It causes diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps.
These are the health effects. What about the business consequences? Some estimates put the cost of food-related illnesses in the U.S. between $152 billion and $1.4 trillion annually. And it all starts with an infected employee, someone who might pass along the illness to untold number of patrons without even knowing it.
None of your customers did anything to deserve food poisoning. When they recover, you can be sure they’ll tell everyone they know that your restaurant made them sick. You can kiss all that business goodbye. You may even have to deal with lawsuits. A bad reputation will put a restaurant out of business faster than you can say “Yelp.”
Listen: The entire staff at your restaurant has to understand basic concepts like hand washing and the risks of cross-contamination. They have to know where contaminants are found, how they can taint the food, and what steps they can take to minimize and eliminate these risks. The best way to do this is to get food handler training. Nothing prevents contamination like adequate food safety education, which will teach you the following (and so much more):
- Store potentially hazardous foods at the correct temperature (below 41°F or above 140°F).
- Stay away from food and prep areas if you are sick (especially if you have diarrhea, vomiting or fever).
- Wash your hands twice after going to the bathroom–once in the restroom, again when you come back to the kitchen.
- Wear gloves and use utensils while handling ready-to-eat food.
- Wash, rinse and sanitize all equipment used for food preparation, tabletops, menus and silverware.
- Make sure everyone is washing their hands and drying them with a paper towel—not on their apron or their pants.
- Make sure everyone takes the time needed to do things the safe way. When you get “in the weeds,” every second counts. Whether you’re in the front of the house or the back of the house, this stuff is important.
- Make sure the staff knows the risk and how to manage them. Start with posters that illustrate risk-reduction. These are easy to understand, informative, attention-grabbing and memorable. Foodsafetyinfosheets.org has plenty of them for you to see and print.
Teaching everyone on staff— even the people who don’t handle food—is crucial. Making sure there are consequences for failing to do the right thing is also important. Once everyone on staff has the appropriate certification and training, you can brag about it on your business website, on your menu and in all your promotional efforts. But the biggest benefit will come from the things that aren’t said at all. The online reviews won’t mention getting sick after a meal. The negative word of mouth won’t happen. And the worst-case scenario, getting shut down by the health department, will be a danger for your competitors to worry about, not you.
Take the initiate in creating a culture of food safety at your business. You’ll not only be making your restaurant one of the safest and most successful operations where you live, you’ll be establishing yourself as a trustworthy asset to the community.