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Managing Heath and Safety Violations

Human error occurs, and the trick is to responding swiftly and correctly.

By David Kincheloe - October 6, 2017

"Of course we all hope it never happens in one of our restaurants, and we're all food service professionals striving for the cleanest well-run kitchens," says National Restaurant Consultants Vice President, Richard Weil. "But we are also businesses of people, and unfortunately, there can and will be human error."

Perhaps it's a topic that you don't want to consider, because it's easier to assume it "won't happen to you." But, as Weil explains, it's better to have a response plan for a health and safety violation already in place than for an accident to unfold without a response.

"Recently, one of our clients had a 'foreign object' issue," Weil recalled. "The object found its way into prepared food, and a guest bit into. Naturally, the guest was upset--thankfully there wasn't any choking or illness, but we still had to salvage some credibility with the guest and for the restaurant's reputation."

Here is a National Restaurant Consultants plan-of-action for a health or safety violation issue with a guest:
  1. Neutralize the guest. If possible, it is best to have a conversation with your upset customer away from other guests and staff members. It will help to bring the emotional levels down, and you'll keep the other guests from panicking. 
  2. Show empathy, but don't apologize yet. You want your guest to feel safe, understood, and like you're listening. Use key phrases to demonstrate this, such as "I understand what you are saying." But you also want to make sure that you gather a full understanding of the situation before you claim responsibility for anything.
  3. Comp the meal, and offer retribution. Beyond paying for the food and drink in question, trying to heal the relationship with the guest by offering a gift certificate to return. Not only will it reiterate that the mistake was an isolated incident, it will show the customer that you value them and want to make things right. 
  4. Gather information. You need contact information from the guest, and you need a detailed report. Try to avoid taking photographs or video (and, if possible, prevent the staff and guests from doing so also), but do retreive the foreign object.
  5. Inform the staff and get to work. The guest must be taken care of first, but you also need to let your staff know what is going on, and that sorting through the issue is the number one priority, no matter how busy you are. Delegate some of the investigative and reporting issues to trustworthy managers so that you're collecting fresh, recent accounts from all staff members.
"Accidents happen," Weil says, "But have this plan in place. Stay logical, keep emotions away from the situation and from the guests. A neutral response can help a positive outcome become realized."

Wondering if your restaurant is ready to handle an unexpected, emergency situation? Our restaurant consultants are experts in developing staff and policies to ensure that you can adequately handle and recover from a health or safety violation. Contact a restaurant consultant for help today. 

Photo by Michael Browning on Unsplash