How We Can Make Restaurants Safer for Employees
Asking the Right Questions
I have worked in many different restaurants. One day, I had become tired and annoyed about how the business I was in charge of ran. I had to face this simple truth. I did the same thing day in and day out. I had mastered all the different stations, completing tasks at speeds that can only be considered superhuman, wearing my body down. I started doing things like flipping cups around and catching them to entertain myself. I created a better way to stuff French-fry boxes and learned to handle fry baskets one-handed. Even these gave way to boredom and my mind once again started to wander. My mind was always struggling to find the next new thing. I began to look around my job, and my brain commenced to ask questions, “How do I stop stray lids from falling back behind the drink station? How do I keep napkins, straws, and stray cups from being kicked under the counter?
Creative Ideas Using What's Around You
I would look around like some Fast Food "MacGyver" and then grab something within reach to solve the problem. We had some extra clear plastic coverings that would go in front of our (P.O.P.) trans-lites in the drive-thru. Trans-lites are the thin pieces of plastic that our merchandising is printed on and to what we adhere our price stickers. They were going to be thrown out, so I appropriated one, cut it to size, and shoved it behind the drink station. It being plastic I curved it against the wall so that any lids that fell back there would slide to the bottom, but would sit there well within reach. Now, a couple of months after, our dispenser was traded out for a new Automatic Beverage System (ABS). It was a behemoth and took up the whole wall, so the problem of losing lids behind it was rendered moot. I was still proud that I was able to address the issue at hand, if only for a short while.
Consider the Employee
I have quite a few ideas that you can apply as solutions to many of the problems in the restaurant industry. Altogether, we need a full-on revolution in the service industry. Let us face it. It is hard, honest work. Many aspects of it are too hard in my opinion and honestly do not make any sense. Worse yet are all of the bosses who come down on us service people trying to make us move faster, faster, and more efficiently without actually making any changes to facilitate it. The way that stores are set up shows that designers are just throwing plans together. There is not enough thought to the human aspect of the infrastructure. Honestly, if I were a restaurant owner, I would be highly peeved. Owner/Operators, you have all been robbed. Your businesses are not even working even to a fifth of your potential. Moreover, worst of all, you have been hurting your employees. Consider the following new options for your restaurant, and your crew will love you for it.
How to Make Restaurants Safer for Employees
- Take care of employees' backs.
- Create a barrier for dirt.
- Don't make employees walk too much.
- Putting down impact resistant mats.
- Place things in convenient places.
- Put safety over profits.
1. Take Care of Employees' Backs.
I have often liken the amount of effort that is used in working Fast Food to Construction work. Consider all of the repetitive movements that have to be done in the day. Think of the wire in a bread tie. If you bend it back and forth repeatedly, eventually the wire will break. The same thing applies to employees.
Consider putting in refrigerators that are not low to the floor. Food service is backbreaking work enough without having to reach down for products, having to reach back, and over-extending oneself. Look at putting in the taller, closet style refrigerators with moveable racks. These are easier to get in and out of, and you can organize the products to make the best use of the space.
2. Create a Barrier for Dirt.
Create a barrier for dirt and other nasty items from under the front counter by sealing off the bottoms with tile or putting up wooden baseboards to stop trash flying under the equipment. You will find that cleaning up your floors become a lot easier, and less smelly if food and drink stay blocked from under these places. I have worked in several restaurants where cleaning for an inspection meant that one had to crawl under the spaces where disgusting wet trash hides. I had to scrub and dry these areas by hand weekly, and it is one of the more unsanitary of experiences. A better design could help employees easily avoid these terrible situations.
3. Don't Make Employees Walk Too Much.
When building a new restaurant, especially with a drive-thru, design your space where the crew does not have to do so much running or walking back and forth. It makes no sense to put a new kind of drink that is only available on the front counter if the drive-thru needs it as well. Foot and ankles injuries are some of the most common issues the hard-working, fast food employee faces today. Eliminate or reduce the number of steps is the best solution. Making these simple changes will also increase productivity in these areas as well.
4. Putting Down Impact Resistant Mats.
In addition to reducing steps, please consider putting down impact resistant mats in high traffic areas will help lessen the damage done to feet. We often forget how many hours these people are on their toes. These mats will take quite a beating, so keep this in mind when the traffic starts tearing them up. Also consider putting in anti-slip mats in high traffic areas where the floor is typically greasy or wet. This will help prevent bad injuries from slips and falls. Finally, anti-slip mats are a must in both the walk-in refrigerator and and freezers. You can not compromise on this. I have seen many an employee (and manager) sent to the ER for broken elbow and tailbones in restaurants that did not utilize these mats.
5. Place Things in Convenient Places.
Think about the placement of equipment as well. Machines should be placed near where the employees are typically positioned. If you have two different flavored ice cream machines and they are on different sides of the line, it does not make much sense. I know that logistics often define where things have to go, but consider cutting out something and moving it somewhere else to put things where they demand to go.
6. Put Safety Over Profits.
The most important thing to consider is the safety of your employees, not profits. Remember, most restaurants are slammed pack full of stainless steel. Many of these pieces of equipment have sharp edges, spurs, slivers, and many other arrays of dangers that employees can and have will receive painful cuts from these. We make our employees use and clean these items every day. We need to take time to inspect our equipment and observe them in the capacity that our crew uses them. These issues can easily be shaved down or enclosed in some a protective casing to ensure that our employees are safe. Some ideas include duct tape, which comes in a wide variety of colors and patterns or pipe insulation. Pipe insulation can be cut and fitted to provide a preventative barrier against an employees contact with their skin. Even a slight graze across a protruding shard of metal can cause a nasty gash.
These are just a few ideas that are not ideally being carried out through every restaurant. As a General Manager or shift manager, it is your responsibility to bring the attention of these issues to your GM or district manager so that they can be taken care of in a timely manner before someone gets hurt. Imagine how many injuries you could prevent in the future by taking these steps to circumvent them.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2012 Matt Leo