A table with hand sanitizer on it.
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Restaurants can use this time to rethink their quality and risk programs in a way that does more than simply dust off the old model.

The Future of Quality in Restaurants is Being Driven by Technology

How do you pave the way while still meeting the challenges posed by a global pandemic?

COVID-19 changed the perspective on quality and risk in the restaurant industry overnight. Now you must think about viral spread and building customer trust more than ever before, and you must find ways to ensure employees are carrying out new initiatives without traditional means of assessing compliance. This has been a hectic time, with many restaurants implementing new sanitation or curbside pickup procedures on the fly.

Now that we’re six months in, and restaurants have started looking for longer-term solutions, I have seen promising trends in quality management developing. I believe restaurants can use this to rethink their quality and risk programs in a way that does more than simply dust off the old model of quality audits, especially at the location level. This is an opportunity to modernize quality management and, for the restaurants who take it, I see the future of quality emerging from this pandemic.

How do you pave the way for that future while still meeting the challenges posed by a global pandemic? It’s time to embrace technology in your quality management process.

Allow Self-Assessments to Provide Insight

For decades, restaurants (and most companies) have placed heavy emphasis on the results of annual assessments at each location. This made sense in a pre-digital era. Collecting frequent self-assessments was difficult and time consuming.  Sending auditors out to visit every location, every year provided visibility into the health of the business that you couldn’t get any other way.

However, in recent years, I’ve been hearing more from clients telling us the traditional model was unsustainable or difficult to scale. Some had begun to explore different ways to revise their quality model—and then COVID-19 hit. Restaurants were left with no other option than to find a new way to do things, and many are replacing the information they got from annual audits with more frequent self-assessments.

These assessments—anything from your daily checklists to location assessments—are a key component of developing a continuous quality improvement model. The frequency of data collected makes it easier to see trends, wins, or areas of concern that may be otherwise missed with less-frequent audits. And, of course, the faster and more frequently you can get valuable information, the more quickly you can act to repair your programs and bolster your employees.

Find Understanding in the Data

To make the wide-scale implementation of self-assessments meaningful, you have to find a way to handle the newly increased volume of data coming to your quality team. You can’t afford to keep skating by with a free forms tool anymore.

If you want insight instead of just more data, pay attention to reporting and analytics capabilities. Instead of drowning decision-makers in data, you can harness it to provide critical information that will help you steer business decisions during the pandemic. This level of access to your data will also give you a competitive advantage once we move beyond COVID-19.

Solidify Communication

Communication between employees and with customers is at the heart of successful COVID-19 risk mitigation, but it hasn’t always been as strong as it needs to be across the restaurant industry. Digital communication tools are changing that and facilitating a more unified response across an organization.

You cannot rely on a chain of emails from corporate to regional to GMs to employees when it comes to changing health guidance and new processes. Instead, companies with strong communication are using tools that allow them to push messaging out to the whole company or specific regions at once, so every location always has the most up-to-date information or checklists.

Doing this means you don’t have to worry about employees who missed a text or email, which leads to them working off outdated procedures. This is especially important as you work to mitigate COVID-19 risk, but it is also something the most proactive companies will be doing long into the future. You can build continuous quality and outstanding experience by ensuring all employees know and understand current brand standards.

Manage Quality from Vendors

One question mark restaurants have had to deal with during the pandemic is disruptions to the supply chain. Your suppliers—from food ingredients to toilet paper—may not be able to give you what you need when you need it anymore. It’s become more important than ever to have an expanded roster of suppliers to turn to when items become unavailable or prices are far above contract at another key supplier.

Onboarding new vendors used to be a time-consuming process, but onboarding and maintaining suppliers has become more sophisticated with the advancement of electronic tools. You can now vet new suppliers, gather their credentials, and ensure they meet your standards before they become an approved vendor, all without a tedious email back-and-forth.

While none of us would have wished to be in the middle of an industry-changing pandemic, the changes forced by COVID-19 present an opportunity to reimagine what quality and risk management can look like. Better communication, more visibility, and a better understanding of your brand are all byproducts of meeting the challenges presented by the coronavirus. They are also the building blocks of a quality program that will provide continuous improvement and be the competitive differentiator long into the future.

As president of RizePoint, Kari Hensien is championing a new continuous quality initiative. Since travel and interpersonal interactions have been devastated by COVID-19, it’s been challenging for businesses to obtain regular third-party audits, which are integral to access and analyze key data and ensure safety compliance across the enterprise. Kari is facilitating an increased self-assessment auditing model, where businesses and their locations can use RizePoint’s digital platform themselves, resulting in more frequent audits and broader visibility during the pandemic and beyond. For more information or to discuss RizePoint’s solutions, please contact Kari at kari.hensien@rizepoint.com.

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