Restaurants in the U.S. grapple with a range of unique risks each day. These risks can be heavily impacted by implementing best practices within their recruiting, screening, onboarding, and training of new team members. The following is a review of daily exposures restaurant operators face and best practices to follow to reduce risk.

Fire Hazards

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, 30 percent of nonresidential building fires start in the kitchen. The nature of the restaurant business makes fire hazards a top peril as the need for a heating element is essential for cooking food. Fryers, wood burning pizza ovens, and electrical heating elements all contribute to this hazard.

The following measures help restaurant owners to mitigate fire risk related to heating elements:

  • Turn on hoods and cooking areas upon arrival to remove exhaust fumes and replace with make-up air.
  • Clean grease from hoods daily and make sure they are professionally serviced to manufacturers’ specifications.
  • Keep hood filters clear of grease buildup.
  • Schedule a UL-300 inspection twice a year.
  • Clean fryers daily.
  • Ensure all kitchen rags are kept in a fireproof metal container daily.
  • Check fire extinguishers on a regular schedule and make sure they are fully charged.
  • Practice the P-A-S-S Method (pull pin, aim, squeeze, and sweep from side to side) 
  • Keep outside dumpsters, trash receptacles, and smoking areas away from the restaurant.


Slip and Falls

Avoidable slip and fall accidents continue to take place in the restaurant business. Accidents typically will happen at the entrance of a building or structure due to walking surfaces in need of repair, wet floor surfaces, electrical cords, and dimly lit areas.

To avoid injury, make sure to degrease kitchen floors as needed so that the grease doesn’t track into the restaurant by way of employee shoes. Have team members remove obstructions, clean up spills (with wet floor signs posted at all entrances to the area), and continuously monitor the overall housekeeping of the restaurant. Closed-toe, nonslip shoes should be mandatory for all employees.

Food Safety

For restaurants, food safety is critical, and it starts with how operators receive, package, and store fresh food. Additionally, personal hygiene has seen an elevated importance due to COVID-19, which impacts cross contamination and the spread of foodborne illness.

The following steps help reduce the risks associated with food safety:

  • Refrigeration needs to be working properly by holding food at or below an internal temp of 41 degrees.
  • There should be at least two hanging thermometers in walk-in refrigerators, and all food should be stored at least 6 inches off the floor.
  • Label, date, and rotate all food in coolers.
  • Ensure all food is cooked to the proper temperature.
  • Display food safety warnings on menus where relevant, such as language for fish, seafood, and allergies.


Workplace Injuries

Typical workplace injuries include strains, sprains, cuts, and burns. Here are steps restaurant operators can implement today to mitigate employee injury:

  • Keep cut-resistant gloves near knife storage and prep areas.
  • Stack heavy boxes waist high in walk-in and dry storage.
  • Continuously practice good housekeeping.
  • Have a fully stocked restaurant-specific first-aid kit handy.


These practices will mitigate the majority of known workplace accidents that restaurant operators face in the course of normal business. However, there are other risks that must be considered and addressed.

Emerging Risks

COVID-19 has had a painful and lasting impact on the restaurant industry. It has been gut-wrenching to witness the closing of restaurants in communities across the country. On the flip side, the absolute fortitude of entrepreneurs and the opportunities provided have been amazing to witness.

Food delivery is nothing new to the restaurant industry as pizza has been arriving at our front doors for decades. Once shelter-in-place protocols went into effect, the number of restaurants delivering food skyrocketed. For these restaurants, being selective about who delivers the food became vitally important to mitigate risk. A good rule of thumb for owners is: if you wouldn’t let them drive your car, don’t let them drive for your business.

Insurance companies often implement specific driver requirements, which may include a minimum age, relatively clean motor vehicle record (MVR), car safety check (for worn-out tires, damaged bumper, working blinkers, etc.), personal auto insurance, and GPS. It is advised that restaurant operators have hired and non-owned auto insurance in the event that an employee gets in an auto accident while delivering food.

Restaurants can proactively mitigate risk in almost every area of exposure by focusing on implementing best practices in four key areas: pre-hire, post-offer, pre-claim, and post-claim.

Recruiting & Screening

Hiring the right employees is a significant challenge for restaurants given the amount of competition in the industry. In fact, 51 percent of restaurant operators cite staffing as a top challenge to success. Restaurant owners know the chaos that the wrong employee can have on a business. With an average 78 percent turnover rate in the hospitality industry, a lot of bad actors are still making their way in. In a perfect world, every applicant who walks through the door would share the same work ethic and values as the owner or operator.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case, so restaurant operators must focus on a few tweaks to the process such as incorporating integrity testing, having two managers interview applicants, and checking references. An effective process for evaluating experience, skills, and personality for the ideal fit is to use the restaurant’s best employees as a benchmark.

According to the National Restaurant Association, the restaurant industry is expected to grow from 15.6 million people to 17.2 million by 2030. This will only amplify the need for higher-quality hiring practices to improve employee engagement, increase profitability, and reduce risk.


Onboarding programs can help develop more productive and engaged employees. In fact, onboarding is when teams set the workplace cultural tone for each new employee, whether this is done intentionally or not. The most effective programs position new employees for success by orienting them on the restaurant’s day-to-day operations, policies, and culture. Employees are more likely to be engaged if expectations are set at the start, making the onboarding process a crucial tool when it comes to retention and early risk reduction. Incorporate a human resources information system (HRIS) to ensure the hiring process is automated and documented utilizing technology.


Training is another key area where restaurants can reduce risk and workplace injuries. Programs should educate employees on how to best handle necessary day-to-day tasks such as food safety, equipment handling, policies, safety procedures, and customer service. Investing in ongoing training programs ensures employees keep these issues consistently top of mind, which not only educates them on safe practices but also reduces risk through increased engagement.

Pairing training programs with supportive materials, such as manuals and handbooks, gives employees additional resources to reference as needed. There is a greater expense in turnover than there is for ongoing training. Having a properly trained and engaged employee leads to decreased claims, decreased insurance premiums, and increased profitability.


Inevitably, claims are going to happen, and the way a restaurant’s team and insurance relationship responds will have a lasting impact on the employee, customer, and community that is affected. Some questions to think about are:

Do you know what to do in the event of a claim?

Does your manager know what to do when a claim arises? 

If the answer to either of the above questions is maybe, probably not, or I’ll figure it out, then there is work to do. A restaurant operator should implement a claims management program that takes care of its team members, gets them the care they need, and facilitates their return to work as soon as possible. After the injury occurs, an accident investigation should be conducted. If warranted, retraining of all employees on what has occurred should be implemented.

Restaurants that continue to grow and excel in the toughest environments have a higher level of employee engagement than that of their peers. Focusing on engagement in these areas will protect employees, customers, and the communities served today and every day so restaurant operators can continue to weather the storms and have profitable establishments.

Joel Willis Jr. serves as vice president of the National Hospitality and Real Estate Group at Insurance Office of America. He also serves as an IOA risk services board member, chairman of First Tee Golden Isles, Pappy Cup chairman, and chairman emeritus for First Tee Greater Charleston. He has been quoted in numerous national publications, including The Economist, Risk & Insurance, and Golf Business. Joel has a BBA in risk management and insurance from the University of Georgia.

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