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Everyone has a Letter Grade in Their Window Now

If you haven’t heard yet, Yelp is now displaying health inspection scores on your restaurant page. Which means, every restaurant in the country could have a health inspection letter grade in their online window. Make sure you read the whole blog as I put together a list of things all restaurant operators should start doing in regards to this move by Yelp.

There is a great Forbes Article entitled Yelp To Display Health Inspection Ratings On Restaurant Pages Nationwide that I encourage you to read. To save you a little time I will summarize the big bullets from the article below:

  1. Yelp will be posting your Health Inspection Score on your business page.
  2. They plan to have 750,000 health inspection scores posted by the end of the year. There are about 1.1 million food service establishments in the US.
  3. They are getting the data from local governments and a startup named HDScores.
  4. HDScores has 1.2 million scores in 42 states
  5. Yelp gets 30,000,000 unique mobile visits a month, 50% of those are restaurant searches.
  6. “A Harvard Business School study, in collaboration with Yelp and the City of San Francisco, found that displaying restaurant hygiene scores on Yelp led to a 12% decrease in purchase intentions for restaurants with poor scores compared with those with higher scores.” – Forbes Article

What does all this mean to restauranteurs? It means that you have to actually take Yelp and your restaurant’s cleanliness more seriously than ever before because not doing so could affect your revenues and profits.

A lot of operators have scoffed at Yelp reviewers and Yelp the company for years. Thinking that every bad review was a competitor trying to steal your business or some snobby know-it-all that thinks they are a professional restaurant critic.  In addition, Yelp hasn’t always been the best corporate partner, accusations of review placement manipulation and strong-arm advertising tactics have been lofted at the site.

The fact is this, by posting health inspection scores, Yelp just made itself more relevant for restaurant patrons than it ever was before. With Yelp displaying health inspection scores, right next to customer reviews, pertinent data about the business, links to making reservations, and links to the menu. Most savvy customers are going to look at Yelp before they even visit the restaurant’s website.  Because the restaurant’s website isn’t going to advertise that they got 70% on their last health inspection, but it will be right there for the Yelp customer who is reviewing your Yelp page.

At first glance, Mr. Mike’s 3 stars and captioned reviews would not stop me from trying this restaurant, Their 58 out of 100 health score would. 

One thing restauranteurs have to acknowledge is that patrons have always cared about restaurant cleanliness, they want to eat in clean restaurants that serve safe and delicious food.  In the past, there was never an easy way for them to add health inspection scores into their decision-making process because it wasn’t easy to get them.

Now that this information is available, look at bullet point 6 above – a 12% decrease in purchase intent for low hygiene scores, you better believe that it will enter into their decision-making process. If you have a low Yelp star rating and a bad health inspection score, you could be in real trouble.

Another thing to consider with Yelp posting health inspection scores, it’s going to be a flawed process. HDscores and Yelp are dependent on county health departments to provide them with the inspection data. Each county is staffed differently and they all have different procedures for handling health inspections, critical violations, scoring, reinspections, etc..

In some cases, a restaurant might get a bad health inspection score with a lot of critical issues but they might correct all critical violations while the inspector is on site. They have a low score but have fixed their issues and are technically safe for business, it won’t matter because the low score is what is going to be recorded by the health department.

Another nightmare scenario for restaurant owners, you get a bad health inspection score and can’t get reinspected for 90 days because the county is backed up. Who knows how many times HDScores or Yelp query the health department databases to update their info or how quickly the health departments get their data updated from their inspectors? All of these time lags could affect how long a bad score stays up on Yelp’s website.

Normal people outside of the food service industry don’t understand the nuances of health inspections and they don’t care. Click here to see a summary of the health inspections for Mr. Mike’s above, I got to this page by clicking on the Health Score link right next to their health score on their Yelp page. The general public isn’t sanitarians and won’t know why bumpy surfaces on walls or the lack of a thermometer could be huge issues.

The general public assumes that all health inspections are equal, they are fair, and that they happen in a timely manner. They trust that the health inspector is looking out for their best interest and they are willing to believe them. My point is this, you aren’t going to be able to educate the general public on the in’s and out’s of health inspections and defend a bad score, they could care less about all the injustices in this system, they are just not going to eat at your restaurant.

The only way to make sure that these health inspection scores don’t hurt your business is to get A health inspection scores every time. The only way to do that is to implement basic sanitation and food safety programs in your restaurants and hold your teams accountable on a shift-by-shift basis to following those procedures so you are 100% ready for every health inspection.

For years, we at OpsAnalitica have been preaching for an increased emphasis on food safety, restaurant cleanliness, and increased hygiene. To be honest, this messaging has never worked for us. Restaurant Operators haven’t been reaching out to us saying, help make me safer so I can protect my customers and my brand. The reason why is because, before this move by Yelp, a bad health inspection score didn’t affect most restaurants in the country. You got inspected maybe twice a year and probably corrected most issues while the inspector was on-site. The score wasn’t posted anywhere that your customers could easily find, only a few jurisdictions post letter grades in the window, so a bad score didn’t affect customers perceptions of the restaurant. That has changed.

Here are some steps that restaurant operators need to take immediately to ensure that their restaurants aren’t negatively affected by their Yelp Rating and Health Inspection Score.

Yelp:

  1. Claim your Yelp page. An unclaimed page makes it seem that management is disengaged from its customers.
  2. Respond to good reviews by thanking the customer for their patronage.
  3. Try to contact customers that wrote bad reviews and handle customer complaints that show up on the site within 24 hours. This shows that management cares about its customers. Offer restitution for angry customers in exchange for getting them to remove or amend their reviews to show that you addressed their issues. Some people will abuse this, but in the long run, it is better to not focus on the negative scammers but to focus on wowing every guest that comes to your restaurant and to protecting your Yelp Reputation.
  4. Flood Yelp with good reviews of your own. Incent customers to review your restaurant on Yelp to ensure that you get a high star rating. Hand out cards with a shortened URL to your Yelp page or send an email with a link for a review. Offer a free dessert and have an iPad in the store, have them check-in and give you a good review and then buy them a piece of pie or cake. Every Yelp star is worth a potential 5 to 6% increase in sales. My guess is that sales stat is lower for chain and franchise restaurants but now that Yelp is showing health inspection scores, I will bet that those restaurants will start getting searched more.
  5. Accept that Yelp is a necessary evil and that it adds value to you and your customers. They provide guests with a way to learn about your business and communicate with you about their experiences in a more open way than you typically get from a one-on-one interaction or a guest satisfaction survey. In addition, they provide you with a free business web page that is on one of the most searched websites in the world. Search your restaurant and I guarantee that your Yelp page will be prominently featured on page 1 of your search results.  According to the Forbes article, Yelp is the 25th most visited website in the US. I’ve said this before many times, I was a traveling consultant for years, I used Yelp all the time to find restaurants in the cities I was visiting, I’ve never had a bad experience at a 5 star rated restaurant that I found on Yelp.

Better Health Inspection Scores:

  1. The only way to ensure that you are going to get A’s on your health inspections is to run an A restaurant every day.  It’s not hard to do and it is what you should be doing.
  2. There are two major components to running A restaurants. Proper Procedures and Execution. Most chain restaurants have food safety procedures in place and that doesn’t guarantee that they will get an A.  Procedures aren’t enough you have to hold your team accountable to executing on those procedures every shift.
  3. If you have procedures in place focus on execution. Focus on getting your teams to follow your procedures every shift in every location. It is better to focus on high compliance for a couple of critical checklists than to try to get low compliance on a lot of checklists and procedures. High compliance on critical checks!!!
  4. If you don’t have procedures in place at this time, take critical items first approach.  Look at your local health inspections, identify the critical violations, and build procedures that check those violations every shift. If you just focus on critical violations, you will run better restaurants and you will ensure that you are not going to get dinged on an inspection.
  5. Ditch the paper. Most companies still use paper checklists, you can’t get any accountability on paper checklists. You don’t have any visibility into whether or not your procedures are getting completed if your teams are doing them accurately, or that they are identifying critical violations.  Running restaurants using paper checklists is harder than it needs to be for managers at all levels of the operation. Using a digital checklist platform, like OpsAnalitica, can provide you with effortless accountability, real-time notifications, and digital record keeping of your safety procedures.
  6. One more note on ditching the paper, digital record keeping is coming to restaurants. It has already been mandated for food manufacturers and everyone is expecting that it will be implemented by the government in the next 1 to 3 years. If you are looking to focus on execution, run better restaurants, get an A on your next health inspection, and be ready for the future, you should look at moving from paper to OpsAnalitica, a digital record keeping and shift readiness platform.

Yelp has made itself more relevant than ever by posting health inspection scores on their site. I predict that this is going to change how people decide which restaurants they are going to visit by putting more emphasis on food safety, which is good for consumers and ultimately good for the industry. For restaurants to be competitive and to not have their health inspection score affect their sales, they are going to have to focus on cleanliness and food safety as core values of their operations because if they don’t their failure is going to be on their Yelp profile.

One of the core values of the OpsAnalitica Way, our guide to multi-unit operations, is control what you can control. Restaurant operators need to realize that they are in complete control of what happens in their four walls. Food safety and clean restaurants aren’t just under their control they are their responsibility to their customers and their brands.

We know that this is going to be an imperfect process and a lot of restaurants are going to get hurt in the short term as they get bad health inspection scores and those scores stay on their Yelp profile longer than they should due to inefficiencies between all the parties involved.  This is going to sound like a jerk thing to say, I don’t care. I don’t care one bit. Don’t have dirty restaurants, that is what we should be focusing on.  Focus on being great and doing what you are supposed to do and this change will not affect you at all and may even help increase your sales.

One last prediction, I bet that Yelp will see an increase in monthly restaurant traffic over the next 6 to 12 months because of showing Health Inspection Scores.

If you want to learn more about the OpsAnalitica Shift Readiness and Digital Record Keeping platform, please go to OpsAnalitica.com.

Good luck

 

 

Common Mobile Ordering App Mistakes

I’m one of those people who like to order ahead on an app and pick stuff up and bring it home. I’ve got two very frustrating stories of trying to do this recently and one great experience. In this blog I will outline what I was doing and the things in those experiences that were frustrating so you can avoid setting up a system that does the same things.

Story 1:

I wanted to order some breakfast and bring it home because I had a call starting shortly and I knew I was 5 minutes from the restaurant, so I thought I would order real quick then drive over to the restaurant and pick up my eggs and then run back home. I knew I would be cutting it close, but I also knew that if this all worked as intended that I could pull it off.

1st I went to a growing micro-chains website and went through the whole process of trying to order on their website. I got to the payment page, and you can’t order on their website unless you create an account.

Mistake # 1: Allow guest checkout. Not everyone wants to join your loyalty club or create an account. Plus you can still get their email so you can send them a receipt, so them not creating an account doesn’t hurt you from future marketing.

So then I created an account and all that entails. I had to enter my info, address, password, etc. There was an issue with their website, and it said gift card vs. credit card and I didn’t have a gift card, so I wasn’t able to order through the website.

Mistake # 2: Make sure your mobile ordering works as intended and don’t just test it with an account. Your test cases should include setting up a new account and then ordering and other use cases that a new customer might encounter.

Mistake # 3: Don’t make people fill out all their information when they are ordering from a mobile device. It is hard to type on mobile devices so just capture the bare minimum of data needed to complete the order and then use a follow-up campaign and incentive to get them to give you the rest of their information. A coupon for when you complete your registration is a perfect example of that.

I must admit that the idea for this blog was born on this day so instead of just bailing and going through the McDonald’s drive-through, which is right across the street, I decided to persevere and try using their app.

I downloaded their app, and it required me to register to order. I assumed that the account I created on their website would work on their app. WRONG.

Their website and app don’t sync, and they don’t make that clear. So I spent a couple of minutes trying to log into their app with my website credentials that I had just created before I realized this isn’t going to work and registered on the app where I re-entered all of my info into the account.

Mistake # 4: Have your stuff sync!!!!!!! Common really? I just went through and filled out all this info on your website, and it doesn’t work with your app.

The chain is probably using two different platforms for their website ordering and their app. They may even have a nightly sync set-up or something else. Sharing this kind of data isn’t hard and should be done on a real-time basis. Also, don’t have two different ways to order online, just have one, or use an integrated platform. Problem solved.

Finally, I got my eggs ordered, and I picked them up and ate them, and they were delicious. As I said earlier, I stuck this out because I wanted to see what the deal was but I wonder how many people would have bailed and done something else. I have also eaten at this restaurant several times since then and haven’t used their app since.

Story 2:

I was with my family, and we were up in the Colorado mountains and going to rent a pontoon boat for a 2-hour cruise around a lake. There was a national sub-franchise restaurant down the road, and I decided that we would order online and then pick up the subs and eat them before our boat ride.

I went on to their mobile ordering site and started to get everyone’s suborder, customizing each sandwich and getting drinks and chips, etc..

The website worked great until checkout. Then they wanted me to log in and create an account. So I did.

For some reason, once you create your account the system logs you out and you have to log back in. Well, it wouldn’t take my stupid password.

As a quick side note. Setting passwords on your mobile devices is way harder to do than on a computer because your phone auto corrects and most computers don’t. People think they typed one thing and the phone changes it to another and you have no clue what your password is because it is hidden for security reasons. I see this all the time with our app and new clients.

Mistake # 1: Provide a Show Password option, Amazon does this on their Audible app. It is really easy to do and helps you battle autocorrect.

Mistake # 2: Don’t have the website log you out and make you log back in after you create an account. The proper workflow would be to return you to your shopping cart to complete your order.

Returning you to your shopping cart is completely doable, and it shows that the developers of this online ordering platform have lost touch with what the customer is trying to do. They are trying to order sandwiches not trying to register an account. Who has time to go around and register themselves on different websites? Prisoners do, and that is it.

If you are purchasing this software for your restaurants, keep that in mind, your potential customers are trying to order, and anything that slows that down or gets in the way of that is very bad for your business.

I had to create two accounts before I could get the password to work. This also took me trying to reset the original password several times and not being able to log into the site to complete my order and pay for my food.

One positive thing about this experience. Is that I had multiple browser tabs open and when I finally got logged in my shopping cart was still there, and I didn’t lose everyone’s order. That would have been the straw that broke the camels back.

I finally placed my order; this took 20 minutes.

Then I drive to the restaurant, and when I get to the restaurant the tickets have been printed, and they are sitting next to the register. They aren’t on the line getting made. The time it took me to drive to the restaurants was probably 5 minutes.

I almost lost my shit, but I have a very strict don’t mess with the people who are making your food policy unless you aren’t planning on eating the food.

So when I walk-in and I have to tell the cashier that those are my orders and then she puts them on the line to get made I was pretty livid because I was on a clock and nothing about pre-ordering was helping me beat that clock.

Mistake # 2: The system told me when to expect my order, when mobile orders come in that are ASAP then you make them now. They have already been paid for so what the hell are you waiting for?

I got my order finally and got back and was late to my boat rental but the food was good, and everyone was happy.

Now for a good story. In full disclosure, Mici Italian, a micro-chain in Denver Colorado is a client of ours, but they also have a restaurant 5 minutes from my house. They have a great online ordering experience.

The app and their website are synced to each other. They remember your previous orders and from the app or the website you can one-click re-order a previous order. Their system just works.

They use hungerrush.com as their platform, and I have told them that their online experience is amazing. I have also recommended them to several of my neighbors, partly because their online experience is so good.

To sum these stories up. Your mobile ordering experience is an extension of your brand and your level of service. If ordering on your mobile website or app is frustrating that is equivalent to having a bad customer service experience.

It can even be worse than having a bad service experience in a restaurant because you may not even know about the issue and have no way of saving the experience. I believe that most people would not have completed these purchases.

I have said this in other blogs, but everyone in the industry is selling mobile ordering and delivery as these magic bullets that can rescue falling same-store sales numbers. At a 30,000 foot level, they make sense.

What no one wants to talk about is the new levels of complexity that get added to your business. It’s not just another order coming in; it requires IT, and technology skills, additional management training, and a whole new set of potential fail points both from a technology and customer service perspective.

What I would say is don’t rush into these platforms and services but to do a lot of competitive research and see what you like and what you don’t like and bring people into your organization that knows how to execute this stuff at a high level.

New sales channels can help grow your business but if the complexity of executing those sales channels creates bad customer interactions those sales get negated quickly.

Wayne Humphrey COO of Larkburger – Ready for Growth

This week we interview Wayne Humphrey, COO of Larkburger. Wayne speaks about how Larkburger is ready to start growing out of the state of Colorado. Wayne also speaks about food consistency across the industry and why it is so hit or miss. If you live in Colorado or Overland Park KS shortly, please check out Larkburger’s open interviews on Walk-in Wednesdays, Wednesday afternoons in each of their restaurants from 2 to 5pm.

Diagnosing Falling or Stagnant Sales

Falling Sales Image

Too many restaurant operators mistake marketing problems for operations problems.  They look at falling or stagnant sales, and they think I’ve got to increase marketing spend to get my sales back up.  How do you know if your falling sales are a marketing problem or operations problem?  Here are a couple of questions you can ask yourself to help you determine the cause.

  • Have I recently changed my marketing spend?
  • Have I recently changed how I’m marketing?
  • How are my online reviews? Are they getting better or worse?
  • Have I recently increased my prices?
  • Is there a new competitor in your area that is affecting your business?
    • Be careful in just blaming competition, it is very rare that a competitor can put you out of business overnight; people want to blame outside forces vs. taking responsibility for their issues.
    • Having said that if a newer better mall or dining area opens up and you are in the old one, that can be an issue, and you may need to consider moving, opening a second location, or asking for some rent relief.
    • If it is a competitor, then you have to focus on beating them in the marketplace with service and value.
  • Have you recently lost a key team member?
  • Are my comps going up?
  • Are my complaints going up?
  • Does your food taste as good as it did six months ago?
  • Am I experiencing higher than normal staff turnover?
  • What was your most recent health inspection score; was it higher or lower than your previous score?

If you have made major changes to your marketing program, that may be the cause of your sales stagnation.  If you have recently stopped couponing or changed/stopped advertising then you may truly have a marketing problem.  The easiest solution, if you made a change, is to go back to the old way of doing things if that was working for you.

If you can’t go back to what was working before than solving a marketing problem takes patience, and it takes a plan.  Don’t just spend money to spend money that doesn’t work.  You may need to make a change in your marketing channel, change in ad’s, or an increase in marketing spend.  You should always be looking for an ROI in every dollar that you spend on marketing.  In theory, marketing should pay for itself so increasing effective marketing spend should pay for itself with sales increases.

If you have determined that your issue isn’t marketing, then you may have an operations problem.  Operations problems are good and bad.  The good part of an operations problems is that running better operations are completely within your control.  The bad part of operations problems is that fixing them can be hard and take patience and consistency.

The first thing you need to do is figure out who or what is the cause of your issues.  In restaurant’s most of your operations problems come from a team member(s) who is either doing something wrong or who has a bad attitude.  It’s not like there is a restaurant machine and it can go on the fritz, we are a people business, and almost everything that we do involves people.

If it’s a training issue, that is easy to fix with a little training.  If it’s a people issue, those are harder to deal with quickly.  I’m not an hr expert, but I can tell you this.  You need to decisively, and legally, deal with any people issues quickly.  One bad team member can wreck an entire operation, they are like little cancers and must be dealt with swiftly and decisively.  Start a 3 step process of coaching them up, if they resist or don’t change, then they need to go before they do more damage to your business.

Every bad guest review on Yelp can cost your restaurant 30, potential customers.  In my experience, I have coached several employees back from the brink but the 80/20 rule is in full effect and for every two employees that I coached up, eight employees ended up firing themselves.  There is something about people when they make up their mind, and either consciously or unconsciously they fire themselves.

Ultimately when you identify that you have an operational problem, you need to get back to basics and fix it as quickly as possible.  Once it is fixed, it can be a long slog to get back to growing sales.  It goes back to being an experience by experience battle.  Every good experience earns you back a little goodwill, and every bad one erodes it.

One of the best ways to drive operational consistency is to put in systems and hold your team accountable to following them every shift.  Management by checklists with follow-up is one of the fastest, cheapest, and easiest systems to implement.  Checklists drive consistency shift-to-shift and better operations.

To see a list of the checklists that every restaurant should be doing, I invite you to check out this other blog post.

If you are interested in seeing OpsAnalitica in action, click here to watch a recorded demo video.

The Only Way to Sustainably Grow Your Restaurant’s Sales is through Better Operations

Screenshot 2016-04-12 14.52.05

It’s time to return to basics and focus on what works for long-term sustainable sales growth, which is better operations.  Nobody wants to hear better operations because they are either delusional about the current state of their operations, or they don’t want to put in the hard work and discipline of focusing on running better operations.

Nothing that you will do, no new system (delivery or take out), no new technology like a better POS or better website, is going to do more for your business than having delicious food, in clean well-managed restaurants, with great customer service.  NOTHING!!!!  If you didn’t want to be an operator and focus on being excellent, then this isn’t the business for you.

I was the dining room floor manager of a busy restaurant in 2001 we added $80,000 a week to revenue over a ten month period.  That is right 80K a week, not a month, and we didn’t spend an extra dollar in marketing nor did we add any new sales channel.  You know how we did it:

  • Moved the servers from 5 tables to 4 table stations- which all the servers hated at first.
  • We started using checklists to ensure that we were ready in the FOH for each shift, this included pre-shift meetings with the team.
  • We actively managed the dining room each shift focusing on service and turning tables.

You see we had latent demand that before we focused on operations we weren’t getting because our service was slow and quite frankly not that good.  When we made the sections smaller, brought in more servers, invested in training those servers on the menu, customer service, upselling, etc.  They had more time to do a better job servicing guests.  When we focused each shift on making sure that the restaurant and the team were ready, it was easier to wow guests.  I’m not telling you anything that you don’t already know; better operations, focusing on the little things, and providing an excellent experience is your best marketing initiative and the quickest way to grow sales.

Here is some information that provides more evidence to the better operations theory:

  • A 1-star increase on Yelp leads to 5 to 9% revenue increase.  Entrepreneur.com
  • One negative review on Yelp can cost you, 30 customers.  Entrepreneur.com
  • An A grade in your window, for those restaurants that have to contend with health inspection letter grades, can lead to a 5.7% bump in sales.  (Based on California Sales Tax Data for LA County)
  • Only 16% of Yelp reviews are fraudulent so don’t assume that every bad review you have is just a competitor out to get you – respond quickly and appropriately.  Entrepreneur.com
  • According to a recent study by AlixPartners, a global business consulting firm, “28 percent of diners surveyed say they would never eat at a chain affected by a food-safety outbreak, regardless of the geographic location of the outbreak.”  Tennessean
  • Olive Garden same-store sales are up 6.8%. This is what their CEO had to say:

“We’re just running better restaurants today,” Lee said during the company’s earnings call Tuesday. “I don’t think we should discount the importance of ensuring we’re properly staffed, our teams are properly motivated, simplifying the operation, reducing the size of the menu, processes and procedures.  NRN

“One of the things we’re focused on now is trying to keep things simple,” Lee said. “Simple is hard. Doing simple things every day is really hard. That’s what’s given us the biggest lift at Olive Garden. We’re not relying on promotional activity to drive business.”  NRN

Look at your experience in restaurants. The restaurants that serve delicious food with great service that are clean and well managed on average are much busier than their competitors who fall down in any of those areas.

There are so many outside factors affecting your restaurants every day, from minimum wages, weather, street construction, commodity prices, competition, shifting dining trends, government regulations, cook shortages, and social media to name few.  It can feel overwhelming.  How do you manage all of those outside factors and run your restaurant?  The answer is to control what you can control and react as best you can to outside forces.

If you know that you aren’t doing all that you could be doing in your business to run better operations, make a plan and start focusing 100% on your most critical issues and check them off the list one at a time.  

The quickest and most effective way to run better operations is also one of the easiest systems to implement:  checklists with follow-up.  Checklists focus your managers on those most important items each shift that have to be done to operate at your best.  They are self-documenting and easy to use.  By executing checklists every day in the same order, they build a routine and drive consistency shift to shift.  Checklists work, we asked 107 restaurant managers and owners recently if they thought that managing by checklist would help them run safer and better operating restaurants, and 107 of them said yes.

Most restaurants today have checklists in place, but they are conducted on paper, paper checklists make it impossible to hold your team accountable.  We recently conducted a survey and 94% of restaurant owners, and managers believed that their teams weren’t completing their checklists accurately.  94% of paper checklists are being pencil whipped and therefore the restaurant isn’t getting any of the benefits of safer and better operations because people aren’t conducting the checklist.

The key to getting the benefits of your checklists is to use a system like OpsAnalitica that can hold your managers accountable and make pencil whipping a thing of the past.  By simply moving your checklists to a tablet we can track start and end times, duration, and make the data available on any device from anywhere.  You will always know if your team is doing what they are supposed to be doing.

Better operations can increase your sales anywhere from 5 to 9%.  Checklists can play a major part in running better operations on a shift basis.  It is consistent daily execution that will yield the highest returns and generate those positive reviews and word of mouth recommendations that will grow sales organically and in a sustainable manner.

I invite you to check out OpsAnalitica by clicking here.  To see a list of the checklists that every restaurant should be doing, I invite you to check out this other blog post.

If you are interested in seeing OpsAnalitica in action click here to watch a recorded demo video.

Alerting, Forced Comments, and Task Management in Checklists

Thermometer

A lot of our prospective clients ask us if we can force comments, create alerts or tasks when there are safety violations on their checklists.  We don’t offer these features, not for technical reasons, but for liability and management reasons.  I’m going to use this blog to explain our thinking on this subject.

Alerts and tasks sound great on paper, the reality is that they open you up for additional unnecessary liability and work.  It has a lot to do with how and when restaurants conduct checklists and the nature of our business.  Let’s start from the beginning.

An alert is a way of drawing attention to an issue, but it doesn’t require that you take any action.  Because it doesn’t require you to take action, it is often ignored.  Also, and this is a theme throughout this topic, there is a limitation in computer logic that may create false alerts.

Let’s discuss false alerts quickly by using the example of 50-degree mayonnaise on your line.  If this mayonnaise had been in a cooler all night, and you took it’s temperature, and it was 50 degrees this is a critical violation and probably a sign that your cooler is broken and everything that goes along with a broken cooler.

There is also another example where 50-degree mayonnaise is not a critical violation.  Some mayonnaise is shelf stable and can sit at room temperature indefinitely until opened. At that point, it needs to be refrigerated, and you have 4 hours to get that mayonnaise down to a safe temperature.  If you were out of mayo and opened a new container and stocked up your line, then this would not be a critical violation until that Mayo had been in the danger zone for 4 hours or more.

How would a computer know this?  It can’t know that the Mayo was safe or not safe it can only look at the temperature and create an alert based on whether or not that temperature is in or out of range.  But in this case, the alert is a false alert, it is busy work that requires a person to look at something that isn’t an issue.  This is one question out of possibly 50 to 150 questions.  We have several clients with 150+ item line checks.  How many real vs. false alerts could be generated on a 100 question line check per shift?

Think of yourself in this situation, how many false alerts would you look at before you stopped looking?  Look at your cell phone and your app badges, those little numbers that tell you that there is something in the app that requires your attention.  How often to you see those and think, I need to do something about this?

In our opinion alerts are useless because: they don’t drive accountability at the user level.  Also, the lack of context that the systems have and the dynamic conditions that exist in a professional kitchen make it hard to reduce false alerts.

Forcing Comments when a temperature is out of range, or a safety violation is discovered is another thing that feels like a good idea but when it is done has some potentially negative consequences.  Forcing a comment is extra work for the person conducting the checklist.  It is extra work that is only incurred on questions when there is something wrong.

When I type in a 42-degree temperature, I have to do this extra work but when I type in a 39-degree temperature I don’t.  Have you ever heard of the Hawthorne Effect; it posits that people act differently when they know they are being observed.  Have you heard of the Lazy Ass effect; where people are lazy and if they don’t understand the importance of what they are doing might be tempted to alter answers to not have to do as much work, such as lower temps by a degree or two to not have to enter a comment.  Have you heard of the I Don’t Want to Get in Trouble Effect; where a person doesn’t want to be the person who answered the question that was obviously wrong so much so that the app forced me to explain what was happening?

All of these effects are real and happen.  Look at how many people pencil whip their paper checklists today because they know, no one can catch them.  Our concern is that by forcing comments, we are reinforcing a negative and incentivizing people to take the easy way out and not to give us accurate data.  Data accuracy is of paramount importance to completing checklists, especially when they have to do with safety.

In our platform, we allow people to enter whatever temperature they recorded with a thermometer without any prompting for a comment or the creation of an alert.  When they submit their checklist, the score of the checklist may be altered based on optional scoring rules but that is for each client to decide.  We encourage our client’s to train their teams to enter comments explaining why a temperature was out of range, but it is not mandated.  Training to enter a comment is a small but important difference between mandating and managing to this standard.

It is a lot like the reverse psychology I have to use to on my 3-year-old.  If I want her to stop doing whatever she is doing that is going to cause me to spend thousands of dollars at the urgent care. I can tell her to stop, she won’t listen to me and will continue doing it or modify her behavior just enough to have me move on.  This in my mind is like the mandating the comment because I’m forcing it to happen and it is a negative interaction, one that she would like to avoid.

If I go to her and say “hey, we aren’t going to watch Princess Sophia if you keep jumping on the bed.” She will stop jumping immediately because she made the decision herself and because she wanted something and she sees it as a positive interaction.  That is what we want from the person completing the checklist.  We want them to identify unsafe conditions an let us know what actions they took to fix those issues voluntarily and with praise from management.

There is also value to the organization in seeing which of your manager’s are following through on these types of issues.  It provides insight into your managers work performance and provides opportunities for training and coaching.

If you are going to use tasks to measure your compliance and to prove that you are addressing all safety issues, then you can’t do it halfway.  It’s an all or nothing proposition.  It becomes a standard at which you have to manage to, 100% or nothing.  Here is a scenario that could happen when using tasks.

Most line checks and temp logs are conducted right before service starts for a shift. We often see line checks being completed up to 10 minutes after a restaurant is open for business.  It is a common occurrence that a restaurant could get slammed right as it opens and that the manager who just conducted the line check might not have time to complete and close all tasks before they are called away to run their shift.

You now have a situation where you identified a potential food safety issue, notified a manager, but did not address it before the food was served to customers.  In reality, that manager may not have time to get back to their computer or tablet and close those tasks until the restaurant has slowed down several hours later.  You know, and I know that the restaurant may have fixed that issue before service or that the food wasn’t in the danger zone or any other reason that a restaurant professional would know.

How would that look to the media or a lawyer who is trying to sue you for getting their client sick?  I think that it would be used against you.  Tasks work great for knowledge workers who are at their desks and computers for their entire shift and can quickly get tasks resolved and close them.  Restaurant managers are in constant motion during their shift and are wrong if they are in the office during service; their job is to be managing out in the restaurant.  Tasks for restaurant managers that are time sensitive could pose issues for a company from a liability perspective.

Another weakness of tasks in the restaurant industry has to do with a number of questions and locations.  Let’s say you want tasks to go to your district/area managers when restaurants have a critical temp issue.  If I’m an area manager with 50 locations, our area managers back at Quiznos had 50 or more locations.  You conduct 4 to 5 temp logs a day; you get one temp task per temp log, and you could be looking at 250 tasks a day that needs to be addressed and closed.  It isn’t uncommon to have a 1 item that is in the danger zone on a 20 or 30 question temp log or line check.

Once again you have to close these tasks if you are managing by tasks.  There is no halfway; you can’t not close tasks if that is how you are tracking compliance.  Managing the resolution and closing of all these tasks becomes untenable for larger organizations.

At OpsAnalitica, we replace alerting, forced comments, and tasks with summary reports. Summary reports allow our inspectors to conduct inspections quickly and then in the background we group like issues together and email them to area managers on a schedule.  These reports allow the area managers to look at the issues and the comments and use their judgment on how they are following up with their restaurants without overwhelming them with communication.

Ultimately the goal of using an automated checklist app is to collect great operations data and to run safer restaurants.  You don’t want to do anything that is going to take away from those goals or puts you or your organization into a situation where you were trying to do the right thing, but you increased your liability.

 

E-coli, Norovirus, Food Safety, and Checklist Resources

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Part of our responsibility is to provide you with content and tools to help you run your business. This blog post will contain links to other resources that we have found on E-coli, Norovirus, and General Food Safety issues.  If you know of some other great tools, please add them in the comments and we’ll update our list.

As you look at these different resources you might be asking yourself how can checklists and checklist platforms like OpsAnalitica help me run safer restaurants?

Operations checklists play a huge part in running safer restaurants because they focus managers on what is important on a shift by shift basis.  Whether your checklist is having a manager check temperatures or sanitizer concentrations.  Or they are using checklists for sanitizing or cross contamination prevention.  Manager’s who use checklists diligently run better operations than those who don’t.  The checklist keeps them focused and reminds them of all the steps that they need to complete a task and to run safer operations.

Situational Checklists can also guide managers on how to properly address situations that might not happen very often.  Checklists on how to manage a foodborne illness outbreak at their restaurant, or a cleaning checklist that they use if they send an employee home who is sick.  These kinds of checklists ensure that every “i” is dotted and “t” is crossed in an efficient manner.

A platform like OpsAnalitica takes checklists to the next level because we provide visibility and accountability at all levels of the organization.  We can see if a manager is following the checklists or pencil whipping them.  We can provide visibility from the CEO down to the manager of a unit.  Plus our system is self-documenting and organizing.  When you complete a checklist on our system it is filed and stored in the cloud accessible from any connected device.  No more scrambling to find all of your old temp logs or wasting time filing and organizing, they are just there when you need them.

Here are some resources I found that I thought were good and not too long.

Resources:

One common denominator in food service safety from HACCP to SQF, to the CIFOR response plan is checklists and documentation.  Checklists are not a nice to have they are a must have in running safe restaurants.  Check out the OpsAnalitica Inspector and see how we can help you run better, safer, and more profitable restaurants.

 

7 Tips for Faster Better Line Checks

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Pre-shift line checks are a requirement for running a successful restaurant.  Line checks provide management the ability to inspect their restaurant before the meal period to:

  • Ensure that they are stocked properly, Pars
  • The right food is on the line, FIFO
  • That everything is safe to serve, Temperature Control
  • The correct serving ladles and spoons are being used, Portion Control
  • That all food is fresh and tastes correct, Food Comp Reduction
  • Basic food safety and cleanliness practices are being met, Sanitation

If you are not conducting line checks every meal period, from my experience, you don’t even know what you don’t know about what is going on in your kitchen.  My guess is that if you started doing line checks  you would be very surprised at what you find.

Here are some tips to make your line checks faster and more effective:

  1. Thorough is Better:  Look at every item that you are going to be serving that shift.  Don’t assume that because it was checked on the last shift that it is still good to serve.
  2. Make a line check kit:  It doesn’t have to be fancy but you should grab a full pan and load it up with the things you are going to need to conduct your line check and then bring the kit with you to each station in the restaurant.  A good kit should contain:
    1. Sanitizer bucket with 1 wet towel for cleaning off thermometer probes
    2. 1 dry towel
    3. Sanitizer test strips
    4. Dishwasher test strips if different
    5. 1 bucket with clean spoons for tasting (figure out how many spoons you will need to taste every item and bring that many)
    6. 1 bucket for dirty spoons
    7. Thermometer(s)
    8. Fryer oil test kit if you use one
    9. Post-its and a pen – for leaving notes for crew
  3. Write SMART Questions:  For any food item you should:
    1. Temp the item
    2. Taste the item when appropriate
    3. Ensure it is labeled correctly with expiration date
    4. Check that it is in the correct container size
    5. Has the correct portion control in place (spoodle, ladle, measuring cup, check weight of random item, etc..)
  4. Use Multiple Thermometers:  The average probe thermometer takes 1 to 5 seconds to register a temp.  If you are going to be temping your entire line you are adding unnecessary time to your line check if you only use 1 thermometer.  Use at least two or four at a time.  By the time you place the 4th thermometer the 1st one has probably registered the temp.  This will speed up your line checks
  5. Check for critical violations:  You should take this opportunity to be looking for other critical violations in your restaurant:
    1. Sanitizer buckets: proper concentration, towels, temperature
    2. Dishwasher: water temperature, sanitizer concentrations, etc..
    3. Improper food storage:  look in dry storage and refrigerator units for proper shelves, cool down procedures, covers, and labels
    4. Temperatures:  record temps for all cold and hot hold units
  6. Correct any critical violations immediately:  As you are walking around conducting your line check if you stumble upon a critical violation you need to fix it immediately.  Fixing might consist of you stopping what you are doing and fixing it yourself or delegating it to a member of the crew.  You need to flag that item and re-check that it was fixed before service starts.
  7. Use a Digital Checklist App like OpsAnalitica Inspector:  The OpsAnalitica Inspector drives line check compliance through our accountability management functionality.  When you use the OpsAnalitica Inspector for your restaurant checklists you will know who completed the checklist, when it was completed, if the line check was pencil whipped, and you will be able to see the answers from any connected device in the world.  You will also be able to identify any issues and immediately follow-up with your management team to ensure that they are corrected before they can affect safety and quality.  Our clients that use the OpsAnalitica Inspector for line checks see a 1/2 to 1% decrease in food costs due to reduced comps and better inventory management.  Our clients are reporting increased temperature compliance and safety.  The fact is that paper line checks that no one ever look at are a waste of time and are given the appropriate amount of attention but when line checks are conducted digitally and followed up on the end result is better, safer and more profitable restaurants.

We hope you find this list helpful in making your line checks more effective and quicker to complete.  If you would like to learn more about the OpsAnalitica Inspector and how it can drive line check compliance please click here to watch our demo video.

Here is an additional guide that you might find useful:

  1. Calibrate your thermometer

The Restaurant Industry Warned You – Look at What is Happening in Seattle

Fox news just published an article about some of the unintended consequences that are showing up in Seattle because of their new minimum wage law.  To read the full article click here.

Here are the points that I found most interesting:

  • People are asking their bosses for fewer hours so they can make less and stay on public assistance.
  • “If they cut down their hours to stay on those subsidies because the $15 per hour minimum wage didn’t actually help get them out of poverty, all you’ve done is put a burden on the business and given false hope to a lot of people,” said Jason Rantz, host of the Jason Rantz show on 97.3 KIRO-FM.
  • The fifteen dollar minimum wage has not really moved the needle very much on moving people off of welfare:  In March 130,851 people were enrolled in the Basic Food program. In April, the caseload dropped to 130,376.
  • Some restaurants have tacked on a 15 percent surcharge to cover the higher wages. And some managers are no longer encouraging customers to tip, leading to a redistribution of income. Workers in the back of the kitchen, such as dishwashers and cooks, are getting paid more, but servers who rely on tips are seeing a pay cut.

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Seattle’s $15 minimum wage law is supposed to lift workers out of poverty and move them off public assistance. But there may be a hitch in the plan.

Evidence is surfacing that some workers are asking their bosses for fewer hours as their wages rise – in a bid to keep overall income down so they don’t lose public subsidies for things like food, child care and rent.

Full Life Care, a home nursing nonprofit, told KIRO-TV in Seattle that several workers want to work less.

“If they cut down their hours to stay on those subsidies because the $15 per hour minimum wage didn’t actually help get them out of poverty, all you’ve done is put a burden on the business and given false hope to a lot of people,” said Jason Rantz, host of the Jason Rantz show on 97.3 KIRO-FM.

The twist is just one apparent side effect of the controversial — yet trendsetting — minimum wage law in Seattle, which is being copied in several other cities despite concerns over prices rising and businesses struggling to keep up.

The notion that employees are intentionally working less to preserve their welfare has been a hot topic on talk radio. While the claims are difficult to track, state stats indeed suggest few are moving off welfare programs under the new wage.

Despite a booming economy throughout western Washington, the state’s welfare caseload has dropped very little since the higher wage phase began in Seattle in April. In March 130,851 people were enrolled in the Basic Food program. In April, the caseload dropped to 130,376.

At the same time, prices appear to be going up on just about everything.

Some restaurants have tacked on a 15 percent surcharge to cover the higher wages. And some managers are no longer encouraging customers to tip, leading to a redistribution of income. Workers in the back of the kitchen, such as dishwashers and cooks, are getting paid more, but servers who rely on tips are seeing a pay cut.

Some long-time Seattle restaurants have closed altogether, though none of the owners publicly blamed the minimum wage law.

“It’s what happens when the government imposes a restriction on the labor market that normally wouldn’t be there, and marginal businesses get hit the hardest, and usually those are small, neighborhood businesses,” said Paul Guppy, of the Washington Policy Center.

Seattle was followed by San Francisco and Los Angeles in passing a $15 minimum wage law. The wage is being phased in over several years to give businesses time to adjust. The current minimum wage in Seattle is $11. In San Francisco, it’s $12.25.

And it is spreading. Beyond the city of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors this week also approved a $15 minimum wage.

New York state could be next, with the state Wage Board on Wednesday backing a $15 wage for fast-food workers, something Gov. Andrew Cuomo has supported.

Already, though, there are unintended consequences in other cities.

Comix Experience, a small book store in downtown San Francisco, has begun selling graphic novel club subscriptions in order to meet payroll. The owner, Brian Hibbs, admits members are not getting all that much for their $25 per month dues, but their “donation” is keeping him in business.

“I was looking at potentially having to close the store down and then how would I make my living?” Hibbs asked.

To date, he’s sold 228 subscriptions. He says he needs 334 to reach his goal of the $80,000 income required to cover higher labor costs. He doesn’t blame San Francisco voters for approving the $15 minimum wage, but he doesn’t think they had all the information needed to make a good decision.

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Operations, Data, & Reporting in Restaurants

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This week we are going to be doing a deep dive into restaurant operations, data, and reporting in the industry.  We are going to be exploring areas of the restaurant business where operators could be collecting more data, what that data could tell them, and strategies to collect data.

The restaurant industry as a whole is starved for meaningful data and actionable reports.  We as an industry have gone without them for so long that we don’t even know what we don’t know about data-driven decision making.  In my last job, we worked with clients that had highly automated systems in other industries and were able to develop meaningful reports that made their decision-making easy and proactive.  The question is why don’t we, the restaurant industry, have better data?

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The answer, we are a people business.  We serve a highly variable product to people, and it is delivered by people in real-time, that makes it difficult to collect data.  In the corporate restaurants systems I’ve worked in, we only had access to formatted register and customer service data.  I will add food ordering and inventory data to that list if the company is running an inventory control system.

The problem with making decisions based off of customer service and sales data is that those data points are downstream of operations.  A company spends money on marketing with the goal of reminding people that they exist and trying to get people to come to their restaurants.  Then the people come to their restaurant, and they experience operations that result in sales.  If you are lucky 1 to 2% of your most vocal customers, happy or mad, will give you their customer feedback for a bribe of a cookie or future discount.  Where your business is winning or losing is in your operations, the quality of the food, service and experience.  A bad restaurant that does a promotion will drive immediate sales but because they are bad will ultimately have lower sales at the end of the promotion than they did before because they didn’t take care of their guests.

It is in that operations data where you can fill in the blanks between marketing, sales and customer feedback.  It is in the operations data you can search for causality in how you operate and look for cost saving profit increasing efficiencies.

We know that ops data is important but before we can go deeper into what data we should be collecting, let’s talk about how we can collect it.  There are several ways to capture operations data they boil down to automated, fewer options, and human entered.

An example of automated ops data capture comes from temperature loggers; temp loggers can collect temperatures every 15 seconds and send the data to the cloud.

Unfortunately, there is no sensor that will tell you if your bathroom is clean and pleasant or that your waitstaff is perky vs. being hungover.  Those kinds of datapoints require a person to make a judgement call and get the data entered into a system.

The most common way to collect data in the restaurant industry is also the cheapest, pen & paper.  Pen & paper is also the worse way to collect data because you can’t do anything with it easily.  You pay to have the data entered on paper.  Then you will have to pay a second time to have the data entered into a spreadsheet so it can be used in the most basic analysis.

Spreadsheets are better than pen and paper and ok for single unit organizations but they can be hard to use on tablets and walking around with a laptop is not recommended. Spreadsheets also don’t allow you to take advantage of other types of data like pictures.  We have seen several small chains where they send their Area Manager’s out into the field with a paper inspection.  Then their Area Manager has to spend about an hour per inspection entering the data from the paper form into a spreadsheet for scoring.

Another limitation of spreadsheets is aggregating data across several locations.  It becomes difficult to bring spreadsheets from multiple locations together into a master spreadsheet and you start to run into some data limitations very quickly.  A Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet can only have 65,536 rows in it.  That sounds like a lot of rows, but it isn’t.

One of our clients has 18 restaurants and runs a 52 question line check for lunch and dinner service daily.  So you can see how quickly data add’s up, that is 1,872 rows of new data being created daily.  At that pace, they could fill up an Excel spreadsheet in 35 days.  Now you have to create a new spreadsheet tab, and you start to loose your ability to do any historical analysis easily.  Also, as spreadsheets get bigger with more data they slow down your computer, and I have seen them become unstable and prone to breaking and causing errors.

Databases are ideal for storing and managing large data sets, but you need to have a way of getting the data into the database to make them useful.  Capturing data requires an app that can directly insert the data into the database.  When you move from a spreadsheet to a database, you now need an entire new set of skills to manage the collection app and databases.  You are becoming an IT shop instead of a restaurant.

Survey Monkey(paid) and Google Forms offer a unique solutions for small chains, in which you can get a web front end for collecting data that is easier to use than a spreadsheet. You could export your data to a spreadsheet and then if you wanted get it imported into a database. You are still stuck with the limitations around spreadsheets and the additional costs of database management, but they are better than a spreadsheet.

Services like OpsAnalitica that are built to collect, aggregate, and display data from many locations are probably your best bet for capturing operations data for the following reasons:

  • We don’t require your company to become a database and programming company.
  • Our Inspector  is made to collect restaurant data and aggregate it across multiple locations into one reporting platform.
  • The app allows you to collect more than just the answers to questions, allows pictures and additional comments.
  • Our reporting portal and data warehouse allow you to view reports of your most important data on any device.
In tomorrow’s blog post, we will start to explore the different types of operations data you could be collecting and how that could help you run better restaurants and make better decisions.
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