Audits, cleaning schedules, SOP's, and a glowing health department inspection are a marketing advantage. Identifying key elements in your operation to keep media recognition positive makes sense. Is there a balance between clean and museum-like? Form and function strike a balance with the right systems, people using tools and brainpower that matter.
“I always look for the place where I would want to eat after I am done doing the inspection,” said “Grace.”
Grace is a department of health inspector in the mid-Atlantic whose identity is being kept concealed for her privacy as well as those locations which she inspects. Grace tells of stories of cockroaches left bobbing in salad dressing, seeing blood dripping from a cook’s open wound into meatball mixture, and “that one time I saw a dishwasher using glass cleaner in the sanitizing sink in place of sanitizer,” amongst others.
Her tales of ill and disgust are numerous. But so are stories of stand-out operations that take customer safety as a guiding light. We know what bad publicity does - ask our friends at Chipotle how the last few years have gone.
Market food safety like any other marketable element of your operation to earn repeat business and shine as a professional establishment.
Violation-Free and Proud!
“I make visits, usually, twice per year. Those are two good opportunities to impress me. If I am there any other time, it is because we have a problem,” said Grace. “A visit outside the two routines [stops] means that somebody has called [the health department] after being sick. That usually isn’t a good day for everybody involved.”
But what about a really good routine visit?
Most municipalities archive health department reports online for anybody to review. Take the A+ report card and make an Instagram post. Celebrate with your team and reward their work, while making that highlight a point of public engagement.
The FDA Food Code stipulates that the most recent health department inspection be available for the visitors to your operation to review.
Have a glowing report? Blow it up and hang it for all to see.
“One of the restaurants in my area posts [my] report in their bathroom stalls with a sign above it: ‘Relax and enjoy a healthy shit - Our food didn’t make you sick!’ While absolutely laughable, it is also a memorable experience that is sure to make its way into a discussion. That’s good marketing.
Audits aren’t Just for the IRS
Self-policing is better than, you know, the actual police, or in this case, an extra visit from the health department.
Dropping an audit tool into standard operating procedures means you never need to get ready for an inspection.
“I can always tell when there is panic in the kitchen when I visit,” said Grace. “You really aren’t hiding anything. There is nothing you can fix when I am walking through the dining room on my way [into the kitchen.] Forget it! Just always be ready.”
Many successful operations either engage a third-party sanitation auditor or use their own auditing tool. Grace says that "the dishwasher company or chemical suppliers often have services included in the cost of leasing a [dish] machine that will conduct cleaning audits.”
An audit tool can be twenty areas, or more, of concentration or concern that is completed in check-box form by, say, a junior member of management.
Why? They learn what to look for and then share the information with the staff. The responsibility can even be passed around so there are always fresh insights.
More advice from Grace? Train the way you fight, fight the way you train. Expect every day to bring a health department visit and there will never be an issue. You owe it to your customers. Taking temperatures of chicken, logging refrigerator temps, and using the right sanitizer concentration should be the habit, not a one-off when there is an official visit.
What is too clean?
Share information about cleaning regimens across social platforms. Post a Boomerang video of deck-mopping the kitchen. No need to show the super gross stuff - like pumping out the grease trap - but put a highlight on your commitment to a clean operation by humanizing the hard work that goes into a solid facility.
No need to make every FaceBook post about cleaning, though. Overload starts to raise red flags, for customers and staff. Standard operating procedures and master cleaning schedules work in concert with daily cleaning routines, front-of-the-house ‘sparkle’ sessions, and regular maintenance. Ask staff for their input on what they feel needs a little extra attention, keeping in mind it is a kitchen, not a museum. There will be errant smudges, splatters, and stains. Commit to a food-safe operation without making the staff neurotic.
Advertise the Occasional Shut-Down
As much as we don’t like it, there are slow days. There is the predictable downturn, say, after New Years and before the Valentine’s Day rush. Make the most of a slouching Monday by advertising a day “Committed to Cleaning.”
You were going to do a deep clean anyhow; take advantage of the time by sharing the news.
“I have seen several places put a sign on the door about being closed for cleaning. They missed an opportunity. They should have said something like, ‘Hey! We are closed today so we can make sure your next visit is great,’ or something like that. Make it look like something they [the restaurant] wanted to do, not had to do.”
When Grace is gone, the next steps are up to you. But she will be back.
Engage staff in a formal, recognized food safety training, provide the right cleaning tools and food safety resources, and then tell the world about your seriously healthy operation. Use your website to share the latest self-audit and explain your food safety commitment.
Either you do or the health department will, but maybe not the way you want.