Small operational changes can make or break restaurants under guest and employee scrutiny.

A restaurant’s reputation is important during even the best of times, but now, during the global pandemic, it is even more so.

“For restaurants to achieve their business goals, they rely on customers coming back to their facilities and getting repeat customers. There’s a direct correlation between the number of repeat guests a restaurant has and its reputation,” says David Eha, director of national accounts for Restaurant Technologies, Inc.  “And in order to meet your financial goals, you’re going to have to have customers that not only come into a restaurant, but to also be advocates for the restaurant and tell their friends. Reputation has everything to do with long-term success and not being a flash in the pan.”

While food quality and cleanliness are parts of a restaurant’s reputation, so too are other factors that may not be top of mind, like employee safety.

“One of the appealing factors for many consumers when they go to their favorite restaurants is that they get to know the staff and the employees,” Eha says. “Hiring and retaining top talent is the number one issue affecting the industry right now. If you have top talent leaving because they don’t feel like they are in a safe working environment, guests are going to notice and ask what happened to them. If word begins to leak out that those employees are no longer working there because they didn’t feel safe, the guests’ perception of that restaurant will change.”

During these times, with the looming threat of COVID-19 ever present, ensuring restaurants have a safe work environment is even more important. Focusing on food safety and quality are important to a brand’s reputation, but so are employee safety issues, like burn hazards and slips, trips, and falls, Eha notes.

“There are very few severe accidents in restaurants that would draw attention from the media,” Eha says. “But the ones that would draw attention have to do with fire safety. There are, on average, 5,600 restaurant fires a year. If there were any employees injured, let alone any guests, no doubt that will draw the attention of the media, which, in turn, could seriously damage a brand’s reputation.”

Restaurants need to focus on employee safety as much as they focus on food safety and quality. And that focus, he says, starts with management and works its way down.

“It starts with the restaurant manager doing best practices themselves,” Eha says. “Employees are going to watch their managers, and they’ll say, ‘Are they wearing cutting gloves like they tell us we should do.’ If there is a spill on the floor, are the managers making sure to clean it up immediately to prevent slips and falls? It starts with a top-down approach, and a focus on attention to details.”

That attention can have a real impact on the restaurant’s bottom line.

“The average number of workers’ compensation claims per year is four per restaurant,” Eha says. “The average cost per restaurant for those claims is over $45,000. In order to meet those costs, you’d have to sell an additional 3,000 extra meals or 13,000 extra casual-dining meals.”

There are other costs to dealing with workers’ compensation claims, he said, like lost time at work or employees leaving because they don’t feel safe and having to spend money to hire and train replacement employees.

For every $1 a restaurant spends on safety programs, Eha says, it can save between $4 and $6 on workers’ compensation claims. Additionally, communicating with employees about where they think they need training, or where they don’t feel safe is a good place to start.

To learn more about how to keep employees—and a brand’s reputation safe—visit the Restaurant Technologies website.

By Liz Carey

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