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Be a Team Player With Food Safety Education

By Nancy Caldarola

It’s 2014, and it’s looking like restaurants are going to be busy. And while you’ll probably have enough on your plate managing finances, adjusting your menu and possibly considering expansion plans, don’t forget about keeping your employees up to date on food safety education.

Now I am not talking about everyone signing up for a semester-long class, although our local hospitality school and colleges would be very pleased to welcome you to their rosters. I am referring to the many forms of educational offerings that are available today for all levels of hospitality employee. Some of these options are free or very low cost for the knowledge that can be gained.

Ask yourself, “How do I feel after having been away from the restaurant and participating in a workshop at a conference or food show?” What happens when you learn something new? Are you energized when you attend an educational session at the NRA show, or when you participate in a webinar on a subject that impacts your day-to-day business and target market?

If you are like me, you leave the session with a renewed passion for the subject that was covered. You want to get back to work and implement ideas, try new procedures and show that what you heard, saw, and internalized did change your view on the subject. You understand it better, and you know why it is important.

Education for the managers and employees in your foodservice operation can be as simple or as encompassing as you need it to be based upon your specific needs at your business. However, I always like to remember what the late Sy Syms, founder and visionary of the Syms clothing store chain, used to say in their advertisements: “An educated consumer is our best customer, I would like to borrow his statement and change the words a bit for this conversation: “An educated employee is our best customer.”

Why do I say this? Our best customers talk about how great a restaurant you have. They are walking billboards, and we all know that word of mouth and positive social media endorsements are the best marketing you can ever want or get. To get an educated employee, we need to consider what training she or he needs to perform more effectively and efficiently on the job. We need to assess the managerial skills f our supervisory team and consider what developmental programs or tools would help to raise their level of professionalism and performance on the job.

Providing employees with training or professional development opportunities actually infuses the workplace with new ideas and may even lead to creative ways of solving existing or reoccurring problems. Sometimes, just getting your managers and crew out of the day-to-day grind of their everyday work schedule is enough to jump-start new energy and encourage employees to recommit to their jobs and to your restaurant or foodservice location. Most importantly, learning new skills and interacting with new and different people in a focused educational setting has a direct impact on the productivity and development of the work environment.

So what kinds of education will help our managers and our employees? And will it make that much of an impact on the business? There are many forms of education, training and professional development, including instructor-led programs, self-directed online classes, webinars, business book discussion groups, Conference or Expo education workshops or even meeting speakers sponsored by groups like the Georgia Restaurant Association (GRA). Consider the options you have available from the National Restaurant Association Solutions group for education and training:

• The NRA ServSafe® Food Handler training program is an inexpensive course that can be conducted in-house for your hourly employees by an external food safety consultant or your own Certified Food Safety Manager. The two-hour-plus program has class materials, including a Trainer’s script and slides, an inexpensive and easy to understand text in English and Spanish, an exam that the Trainer can administer, and a certificate for each employee completing the session. Not only great for newly hired employees, the program is also an excellent quarterly update or “refresher” for existing crew members.

• Of course we all know the NRA ServSafe® Certified Food Safety Manager program and the requirement that all Georgia food establishments have at least one CFSM on staff at all times. In Georgia, scheduled CFSM classes offered by GRA-approved and NRA-certified instructors are listed at www.garestaurants.org.

• The NRA ManageFirst® program is a series of workshops that covers the necessary knowledge
and management competencies for restaurant and foodservice managers. The series includes 10 managerial topics with exams, and participants can earn certificates in each competency. The GRA plans to offer some of these competency workshops in this upcoming calendar year; watch for announcements.

• The NRA ServSafe® Alcohol: Responsible Alcohol Service program covers the essentials of responsible alcohol service. Protect yourself and your operation from risks and liabilities by ensuring all your bartenders, servers and managers complete this alcohol training and certification.

• ServSafe Allergens online course is the newest NRA educational offering. The number of Americans affected by food allergies has been increasing for the past decade, and studies indicate that half the fatal episodes from food allergens typically occur outside the home. Dining out becomes a serious concern for customers with food allergies, as well as for their family and friends. The 15 million Americans with food allergies want to dine where they feel safe, and they are often unsure which restaurants can safely accommodate them—if at all.

The ServSafe Allergens course covers such topics as identifying allergens, communication with the guest, preventing cross-contact, food labels and how to deal with an allergen crisis in your restaurant. Restaurant personnel at all levels – from owner-operator and manager to every employee involved in food preparation, production and service – need to have this basic information required to ensure everyone takes the steps necessary to keep customers safe. In addition to the online course, look for classroom sessions to be offered this coming year through the GRA.

Although this is only a short list of options from one resource, consider implementing or keeping regular training opportunities in place for employees. Training sessions that are once a week or once a month can be quite productive, giving employees something outside the ordinary work day to look forward to and encouraging a commitment to professional development and skill growth.

Online courses, like the new ServSafe AllergensTM, are a cost-effective educational option that works at all employee levels. There are free webinars for managers available through food distribution companies, manufacturers and supplier organizations. Many have additional downloadable archives that employees can access from their smartphones to continue their learning past the formal session.

While most training programs are designed to give employees the tools they need for their jobs, these learning opportunities also keep employees motivated. Sending seasoned employees to training classes helps them stay current with new ideas, procedures and industry developments, plus it can help burned-out employees get back on track and eliminate bored and unproductive attitudes. Including these learning activities in the normal work week of a manager sends a message that, “You are worth it, and we value you.” This can give employees increased job satisfaction because they feel appreciated by their employers.

Using these resources, you, too, can keep education at part of your restaurant or foodservice operation. Training and professional development can make a difference – in improved employee knowledge and performance, in effectiveness and efficiency on the job, in maintaining a food-safe workplace and in motivating and increasing loyalty to the business. Seek out opportunities for staff education – in the long term it really does make a difference!

Nancy Caldarola, Ph.D., RD, is a consultant to the hospitality industry and an active GRA member. Her group, Concept Associates Inc., offers ServSafe® and ManageFirst® classes as well as operations improvement projects, training programs, food safety audits, HACCP, menu engineering and nutritional analysis, and profitability improvement consulting.

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