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Are You Ready For Flu Season?

Incorporate Anti-Flu Policies Into Your Food Safety ProgramPersonally, if I never hear another story about H1N1 (swine) flu again, I’ll die a happy man.  Unfortunately, the grim reality is everyone is going to have to take steps to combat the spread of flu this winter, and restaurants are no exception.  Organizations like the National Restaurant Association are already educating restaurants about ways to inhibit the spread of viruses, and the food service industry as a whole is taking this flu season very seriously.

For restaurants, preventing the spread of viruses comes down to removing two things: sick employees from the building and any potential contaminant from employee’s hands.

Staff that is exhibiting flu-like symptoms should be sent home immediately and told to return one full day after recovering from the worst part of the sickness.  From a management standpoint, make sure multiple people in the restaurant are responsible for identifying staff with symptoms so that nobody slips through the cracks.  Also make sure you communicate clearly with your staff about the importance of staying home while they’re sick.  Finally, it’s important to have a plan in place in case multiple people are sick at once so that you don’t miss a beat during the rush.  This is where time spent on cross-training will pay you back handsomely.

Handwashing is a much more straightforward proposition.  Review proper handwashing techniques with your employees and step up the enforcement of your standard procedures on when to wash hands.  Many restaurants have also started introducing disposable gloves for kitchen staff that directly contact food during preparation; if you haven’t added this to your food safety program yet, now is the time to consider it seriously.

Besides technique and enforcement, the other key to ensuring your employees have clean hands is good equipment.  The problem is that the very viruses you’re trying to contain tend to collect around communal areas with a lot of moisture, like sinks and faucets.

Investing in some good hand sink equipment can go a long way towards improving your restaurant’s food safety.  Some key elements to a good hand sink include:This Hand Sink Has It All: Soap, Towels & Knee Pedal

Easily accessible towel and soap dispensers.  Dispensers make sure your employees actually use the soap and the towels and limit the number of surfaces they touch after cleaning their hands.

Knee or foot pedals.  A pedal allows staff washing their hands to turn the water off and one without having to use their freshly cleaned hands.  Pedals also tend to use less water because they automatically shut off, which mean lower utility bills for you.  These pedals can also be retrofitted on existing hand sinks.

Wrist blade faucet handles.  Wrist blade handles are the same ones you see in doctor’s offices.  Their shape allows you to use your forearm or wrist to turn off the water instead of your hands, which helps prevent re-contamination.  Use wrist blade faucet handles if you don’t have a knee or foot pedal.

Stainless steel sinks.  Stainless is easy to clean and doesn’t offer a friendly surface for pathogens to hang out.  Almost all new hand sinks are stainless, and if your staff is still using an older sink, now is a great time to upgrade.

The food service industry is taking the spread of flu this season very seriously for a very important reason: it’s good for business.  Widespread sickness doesn’t make people want to go out and eat, and after the beating the industry has taken over the past year, an outbreak connected with a restaurant would be disastrous.

For all we know, an outbreak might be inevitable.  Having the right combination of standard procedures, managerial enforcement, and equipment is the best you can do to protect your business against infection.

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Restaurant Management: Use Creative Compensation Strategies

Use compensation strategies that improve service and make employees happyAs if you didn’t have enough on your plate trying to keep your restaurant’s head above water this year, some in the food service industry are starting to talk more and more about changing some basic assumptions about employee compensation.

The traditional model has been to pay your kitchen by the hour depending on what they do, let waitstaff earn their living on tips, and maybe pay a hostess by the hour as well if you get too busy.  But as we’ve discussed here before, high turnover rates are a constant problem in restaurants.  You’re always going to have young people who are just “passing through” the restaurant industry as they look for the right time to start their careers, but in general managing and dealing with staff turnover takes up a lot of time and resources.

The worst part about turnover is that service suffers. And as any restaurateur will tell you, service probably suffers before that employee walks out the door.  Having employees who are not engaged in the long term interest of any company causes service and productivity to decline.

For these reasons some restaurants have begun to rethink their compensation plans. The best kind of compensation is the kind that motivates the employee to bring their priorities in line with the priorities and goals of the restaurant.  These strategies are different depending on whether you’re talking about Front of House or Back of House employees:

Front of House: Salary your waitstaff. Tips are so ingrained into the psyche of the restaurant industry that it feels weird to even suggest another compensation model.  And the initial knee-jerk reaction is to wonder how in the world a restaurant could afford the payroll for a salaried staff.  European restaurants have run with salaried servers for years.

The interesting thing about salaried servers is that their priorities completely change. When you are paid on tips, your two primary goals are to upsell customers to raise check averages and to turn tables over as quickly as possible.  Those two goals don’t really jibe with the restaurant’s goal of providing top-notch service every time that focuses on customer experience.

Salaried servers, on the other hand, feel no such pressure to turn and burn.  They are free to focus on maximizing customer experience every time, which means your pool of loyal, repeat customers will grow.  Typically a flat rate service charge is added to the bill that goes directly into payroll.  A smart restaurant owner would also include bonuses and incentives for salaried servers who are top sellers.

The best part about the salary method is that you enable and encourage career servers.  Turnover is almost non-existent because you provide a stable income for your employees.  The savings on new staff training and the ability to maintain a consistently high level of service can offset increased payroll costs.

Back of House: Share Profits. As you already know, the name of the game in your kitchen is efficiency.  The ideal kitchen doesn’t waste any food, uses minimal energy to prepare meals, and accomplishes all this so quickly that customers are never waiting.

In reality, that’s an almost impossible ideal to reach.  Your kitchen staff is paid an hourly wage, and they’re going to be paid that hourly wage whether they ruin an entire stock pot of the soup special or not.  Often their primary incentive isn’t the wage itself, which is probably nothing special, but the fear of losing their job.  Fear is a terrible incentive when it comes to encouraging maximum productivity and efficiency.

An excellent incentive to promote productivity and efficiency is profit sharing. Kitchen staff accumulate shares depending on how long they’ve worked for your restaurant.  Every quarter, a portion of the profits is divvied up among the kitchen staff depending upon how many shares they have.

I can imagine what you’re thinking: “First you want me to send my payroll costs through the roof with salaried servers and then you want me to share profits with my dishwashers????”Share profits and increase efficiency

Imagine the same scenario I brought up above: an employee accidentally ruins an entire stock pot of the daily soup special.  All the employees in your kitchen are paid by the hour.  They shrug their shoulders and start making another batch, which costs you time (paying staff to do the same work twice), resources (all those ingredients will have to be reordered sooner), and efficiency (the gas/electricity needed to prepare the soup all over again and the lost work the staff doing the work over again could have spent doing something else).

In a profit-sharing kitchen, the sous chef who’s been working in this kitchen for 10 years and makes a couple grand every time the profit sharing checks go out takes it upon himself to show the kid who makes the soup how to do it right the first time.  It’s in his interest to cut food costs whenever possible.  Line cooks turn off half the range during slow periods to save on utilities and everybody uses portion scales to make sure there’s no waste.

You’ll probably find that even after you pay out the kitchen staff, your profits still rise because of all the savings a truly efficient, well-trained kitchen produces.  And your turnover rate will plummet, saving you training time and quality control issues with inexperienced staff.  Who doesn’t want a job that pays out a bonus check 3 or 4 times a year?

Do you think these incentive programs will make your restaurant a more successful business?  Leave a comment below and let us know what you think!

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Restaurant Management: No Training Budget? Spend Nothing But Time And Succeed

According to a new study by the Council of Hotel And Restaurant Trainers (CHART), 53% of the restaurants surveyed had cut back on their employee training budgets.  Only 19% increased their budget, with the rest remaining the same.  The study covered a wide variety of restaurants, from small independents to large national chains, with the largest number of respondents falling into the small to mid-sized regional category.

These numbers obviously reflect the lean economic reality in which everybody in the food service industry is operating presently.  Cuts are inevitable as revenues fall.  But how much is too much?  Where is the line between trimming back and damaging a key pillar in your business: professional, experienced service?

New employees get some pretty good training for the first 90 days after hire, according to the respondents to this survey.  After that, wait and kitchen staff receive very little or no training, while management tends to receive more.  No matter what the size of your restaurant is, ongoing training should be a cornerstone of your overall strategy.  Research shows that employees who are given regular career training and whose company philosophy revolves around a reputation for service are much more likely to stay longer and perform better, which attacks the biggest monster in restaurant staff: high employee turnover.

Okay, you say, I get it, employee training is important.  But I can’t afford it right now, so what should I do?  Well, as long as you are willing to take the time, staff training doesn’t necessarily have to cost a lot of money.  Sure, supplemental training materials and videos are more efficient, but when you need to cut back, canning expenses on training materials doesn’t have to spell the death of your training program.

Some ideas for training on the cheap:

Role play with employees.  Don’t take it the wrong way (and at least one person on your staff is going to snigger in the back every time you bring this up) but role playing customer service situations with your employees is a very effective way to train.  If you hold regular role playing sessions, the awkwardness will eventually wear off and very positive employee interactions will develop.

Start a mentoring program.  Assign your top servers and kitchen staff to one new employee each.  Have the new employee do nothing more than follow the more experienced members of your staff around for a shift a month.  Not only will the new employees learn by example, they will form relationships with your best employees, which encourages retention and improves performance.

Cross train employees.  Train servers how to be hosts, hosts how to be servers, line cooks how to expo, etc.  The benefits of cross training are twofold: your staff will be able to fill gaps on busy nights or when you have no shows, and they will better understand how the restaurant operates as a whole, which usually means they will work better as a team.

Whether money’s tight or pouring in, simple, effective training techniques usually translate into one simple principle: taking time out and spending it with your employees.  There is a cost associated with taking time, but the benefits far outweigh this costs.  Done right, interactive training will form the solid backbone of your business and position you to succeed no matter what the economic climate is like.

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