There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has been monumentally disruptive for the restaurant industry, but has it forever changed the way restaurants do business? I believe that it has permanently altered certain aspects of our industry, including the need for transparency, a more collaborative culture, the technology that we need to do our jobs, and the way we evaluate safety and quality.
Here are four things that have changed forever:
Before the pandemic, restaurant operators were primarily focused on maintaining health and safety standards regarding food safety alone. With the advent of the pandemic, customers have become much more conscious of safety standards and restaurants’ practices. Customers are now keenly aware of how often employees are washing hands, using gloves, wiping surfaces, etc. During COVID spikes, they want to see employees wearing masks, hand sanitizers readily available, and tables spread out for proper social distancing. Employees, too, want reassurance that their restaurants are doing everything possible to keep them safe in our new normal. Beyond COVID protocols, organizations are increasing data transparency to identify and mitigate risks and track compliance to keep their guests, employees, and brands safer and healthier. This way, they can identify and remediate risks immediately—before a small problem becomes a huge liability. Data transparency also helps leaders streamline operations, boost efficiency, cut costs, and make more informed operational decisions—all positive outcomes.
Historically, restaurants have relied heavily on third-party auditors to evaluate their operations. These independent auditors often had different objectives than the restaurants’ operators, had no vested interest in the businesses they were inspecting, and didn’t help teams correct areas of non-compliance. Instead of producing a healthy culture of growth, these audits often felt very punitive, leaving employees feeling disconnected, devalued, and deflated. Now, thankfully, the food industry’s culture is evolving from punitive to collaborative.
Savvy restaurant brands are investing in corporate quality, helping their teams succeed by conducting more frequent audits, identifying (and fixing) risks, and elevating safety and quality protocols. This new collaborative model relies on staff participation, making employees feel invested in safety and quality efforts. Not only do these efforts improve quality, but they also help build a collaborative, supportive culture. Employees feel engaged and empowered—like they’re responsible for their restaurants’ successes rather than being blamed for its mistakes. When brands treat employees well, with a supportive, collaborative culture, it boosts employee satisfaction, loyalty, and retention—which is paramount among the ongoing staffing shortages. As an added bonus, this can also attract investors, who are looking to support brands with collaborative models.
Restaurants and food businesses have long relied on manual systems to track information. That is changing, as brands are increasingly relying on digital tools to provide more comprehensive, accurate, real-time views. Tech solutions allow owners and managers to easily review and analyze data by location or companywide. This means they can easily spot trends and resolve potential issues quickly. Digital solutions allow businesses to improve safety and quality management, manage (or cut) costs, and improve inventory, scheduling, and ordering. Additionally, digital inspections and line checks are much faster, easier, and more accurate for employees vs. manual processes. After the difficulties we’ve faced with COVID, we’ll never go back to antiquated manual systems again.
Remote audits are one of the most exciting things to come out of the pandemic to protect food safety and quality. Since traditional audits only provide a point-in-time compliance snapshot, adding self-inspections and virtual audits provides cost-effective ways to continuously monitor quality. This increased frequency provides greater oversight and data collection, providing more visibility across a business. Remote audits allow employees to interact with auditors, allowing them to ask questions and get immediate feedback. As a result, employees feel more engaged, knowledgeable, and empowered to solve problems and look for issues during self-assessments (and during their daily shifts). Making employees responsible for conducting self-assessments can help them take more pride and ownership of safety and quality efforts, taking the initiative to look for (and correct) areas of non-compliance.
Many of the changes we’ve experienced due to COVID have not been ideal, with disrupted supply chains, rising prices, and staffing shortages. But some of the changes—like the ones outlined above—are positive. Evolving to a more collaborative culture, embracing new ways of auditing, boosting transparency, and utilizing digital tools are all terrific changes that will help our industry stay safer for the long term. Restaurants showed resiliency during a very difficult time, and these four permanent changes are all very good for our industry moving forward.
Dallas Henderson, a 25-year veteran of the service industry, is an Account Manager at RizePoint. RizePoint is disrupting traditional market software with their innovative, new product platform Ignite™ Supplier Certification Management, which helps small to medium sized businesses simplify the supplier certification and maintenance process. To discuss RizePoint’s solutions, please contact Dallas at firstname.lastname@example.org.