Every restaurant needs to be, at the most basic level, a healthy, safe environment for employees and diners alike. They help you avoid food-borne illness and preserve your reputation.
Health inspections were designed to bring in an outside third party who can objectively measure whether your restaurant is successfully meeting agreed-upon industry standards for cleanliness and safety.
While they are not the most fun aspect of being a manager, health inspections are crucial to running a successful business. Below are five tips to help you better prepare for your next health inspection.
1. Train All Employees
It’s impossible to pass your restaurant inspection if your employees aren’t properly trained. They need to be fully aware of expectations and priorities when it comes to food safety, cleanliness and kitchen procedures.
Many cities and states, like New York, even require someone to be on hand at all times who holds a “food protection certificate.” If that is the case in your area, make sure that an adequate amount of your staffers are trained so that it is possible to always have someone on hand who meets this criteria.
Educate employees about local health codes including proper handling of beef and beef blood, chicken, etc. Certain categories must never cross paths during preparation and/or storage. You may want to use ServSafe, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation's certificate program that teaches employees the basics of proper food handling.
Finally, you should continually remind employees about the importance of hand washing, which is perhaps the most important basic requirement. You should post signs by kitchen sinks and in employee restrooms to ensure that no one forgets.
2. Act Like an Inspector Yourself
It may also be helpful for you to do a bit of role-playing in your restaurants and try to see things through the inspector’s eyes. You or your local store managers should conduct weekly self-assessments with a checklist identical (or at least very similar) to your state health inspector's.
To do it right, you should enter the restaurant from the outside. Try to pretend like you are seeing the restaurant from a neutral perspective, as someone who does not work there every day.
You should carefully inspect outside and inside appearances, kitchen cleanliness, employee behavior, food temperatures, storage procedures and more. Take notes about any potential violations or misunderstandings on behalf of your employees so that they can be corrected before the next “real” inspection takes place.
You can get more information on how to do this properly here.
3. Do Your Homework
It’s also important to do your homework thoroughly before an inspection. To start, you should review the results of previous inspections and ensure necessary steps have been taken to correct any issues.
Being able to show that you’ve made progress is the key to avoiding citations or repeated health inspections from inspectors who do not trust that your restaurant is taking safety precautions seriously.
If you’ll be managing the inspection yourself, prepare ahead of time. If one of your managers will be doing it in your stead, then make sure they are prepared. You may want to review key points ahead of time to ensure that everyone is on the same page.
It’s also a good idea to regularly review your local health code to ensure that you are adhering to any special requirements that may not be uniform at the regional or state level, as is sometimes the case.
4. Use Technology to Your Benefit
One change in your workflow that can make the entire health inspection prep process much simpler is to implement technology such as digital reporting tools. These can help you make sure that you are tracking all important health safety measures on a regular basis.
For example, you could create a checklist that hews closely to that of the health inspector. Ask your local health department to share which regulations and forms they rely on, enter that into your digital reporting tool and ask your managers to run the list on a daily or weekly basis.
Using a tool like Squadle, you as a district manager will be able to check and make sure that the right steps are being taken on a regular basis, even if you aren’t able to visit each store daily.
A major source of health inspection citations comes from food being stored improperly, including at the wrong temperature. To combat this, install digital thermometers in your refrigerator so that you’ll always know exactly what temperature they are and be able to spot problems long before they become an issue during a health inspection.
5. Walk Along
Finally, one great way to ensure a positive and successful outcome is to accompany the inspector during the actual inspection. This way, you can see things through his or her eyes. You may even be able to spot problems before they do and nudge employees to correct them.
Far from annoying the health inspector, this allows you to demonstrate that you care about the state of your restaurants and that you are committed to correcting any errors that may arise. You can also ask the health inspector any necessary clarifying questions and even dispute citations as needed.
While it’s not completely necessary for you as a district manager to be present at every health inspection, either you or a trusted manager should oversee the process and represent your restaurant’s interests.
Taking Preparation Seriously
Health inspections may not be the most “fun” aspect of managing restaurants, but they are absolutely vital to running a successful business. A failed health inspection can have serious consequences for your business. But the more you know and understand about the process, the better position you will be in to prepare ahead of time, perform well and avoid repercussions. The better your restaurant performs, the less often you’ll have to go through inspections and the quicker you can get back to what’s really important: delighting your customers.