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Alerting, Forced Comments, and Task Management in Checklists

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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.

 

Face the Facts: It’s a Drag and Drop World – Part III

Here’s part III of the series, the final installment. To catch up on part I click here, part II click here.

How to Craft a Workflow Strategy

  • Seek out a check-list driven workflow app provider that has restaurant specific knowledge.
  • Examine the pedigree of the management of the app provider.  The restaurant business is perhaps the most idiosyncratic business in the world.  Do they really know what goes on in the kitchen and on the floor?
  • Don’t be a guinea pig for a company that’s trying to break into the restaurant sector with new app development.
  • See how quickly the workflow app provider can implement you with their “off the shelf” apps, and how quickly they can customized a new workflow app for you.  Sometimes, as with OpsAnalitica, it’s as simple as upoading a spreadsheet.
  • Make sure your provider offers dashboard views of procedure compliance.
  • Make sure your provider offers analytics of your operations, because they are the “window into the soul” of your business. 

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Maximizing Your ROI

  • Technology at any cost is worthless unless it quickly pays back your investment.
  • Accountability management workflow apps, like those from OpsAnalitica, are famously quick to earn back initial investments… in part because they are relatively inexpensive to put in place to begin with.
  • When searching providers, be sure to look for an ROI calculator, or case studies that show how quick the earn-back was.

Finally, ask your accountability management workflow app provider for their input on which apps will do the most to optimize your restaurant locations.

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Food-borne Illness Just Got Very Serious

It’s of course always a serious issue, but there hasn’t been a sentence such as the one laid down last week for the former owner of Peanut Corp of America. A 28 year prison sentence for the salmonella outbreak at his manufacturing facility in 2008/2009 that killed 9 people and got another 714 people really sick.

Now granted there was gross misconduct/neglect by the owner and upper management in this case which, I’m sure, played a large role in the sentencing, but either way the bar has been set very high. The message has been sent that the courts will not take these cases lightly.

Food manufacturers and service businesses need to do everything they can to prevent these kinds of outbreaks or ownership/management can face prison time. Add that on top of all the bad publicity especially in this day and age of social media and the internet where news spreads like wild fire in minutes. Facilities and food need to be checked and inspected regularly to make sure that there is a minimal chance of an outbreak.

Documentation is also a key factor. In this case the documentation worked against Peanut Corp of America in that they had emails going back and forth outlining lies etc. (Here’s an article from MSNews Now). Of course if it wasn’t the case that the company knowingly shipped contaminated food the sentence would have been less, but how less? Who knows? If they were able to show documentation that proved that they inspected their operations and food daily that would have helped as well.

The reality is that being in the food business you are dealing with human lives and it’s not a responsibility to be taken lightly. Just as airline pilots to a pre-flight inspection every single flight the food industry including manufacturers, restaurants, etc. need to perform similar checks every shift to insure that the food is safe. They also need to prove that these checks are being done consistently and diligently when they are supposed to be done.

Check out our blog from last week for some thawing and holding tips that you can start using immediately. Click here for an article with more details on the sentencing etc.

Click here to download our Better Practices Guide to Self Inspecting.

How do you use your operations data?

So you are collecting operations data every day, probably every shift, but what are you doing with it? 
If you are like most operators you are filing it in a drawer in the GM’s office never to be seen again. But what a waste of time and data. Why go through the exercise if nobody ever looks at the data again? I can tell you that’s how your managers feel. 
 
Just take a step back and look at the data you are collecting in your line checks and pre-shift inspections. Close your eyes and think about it for a minute.
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What could you do with that data? How do you think it could affect business decisions is you were able to view this data in usable format over time? 
  • Could you potentially discover an optimal walk-in temperature to reduce spoilage?
  • Could you spot a common trend in your bottom 20% performing locations, or the top 20% for that matter?
  • Could you determine that a hung over Saturday lunch staff is affecting sales tremendously?

There’s power in data, just ask Google and Facebook. If you are making decisions while ignoring important data that is available to you, you’re basically guessing. Sure experience and intuitiveness play a role, but data tells the real story. 

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Yelp responds to critics

On May 22, 2015 we wrapped up a blog series on Yelp. Click here to read the wrap up post. As a Yelp user I recently conducted a search for a restaurant in West Palm Beach and I saw this new message, starting with “Your trust….”, from Yelp right below Recommended Reviews.

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I clicked on the link and read the page where Yelp gives their side of the story on reviews and yelp advertisers getting preferential treatment.  Yelp went so far as to provide examples of how users can prove to themselves that Yelp doesn’t alter reviews. I ran the test search that they provided, ironically the top two businesses that were returned had closed.

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With their test search none of the top results were current advertisers. I did a secondary search of motels that were pet friendly in Odessa Texas trying to see if the Quality Inn that was returned on my google search would show up, they did but they weren’t currently advertising. The top search result was an ad for the La Quinta, see screenshot.

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When you look at the search results you will notice that the ad spot doesn’t show the star rating or the number of reviews like the other results. It is also apparent that the it is an ad with the yellow and white ad flag in the upper left corner.

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When I clicked into the ad, I got the normal Yelp page and saw that this particular property had a 1.5 Star rating with plenty of bad reviews.
In our last blog on Yelp we called on Yelp to provide more transparency about reviews. This is a good first step. Here’s a link to the Yelp FAQ, http://www.yelp.com/advertiser_faq.

What are SMART Pre-shift Inspections?

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At OpsAnalitica, we are big believers that conducting consistent daily inspections drives better operations, safer restaurants, and increases profitability.  We are such big believers we have developed our pre-shift inspection methodology, the SMART Pre-Shift Inspection.  We will be hosting a 30-minute webinar on SMART Pre-shift inspections on Tuesday July 14th at 3:00 pm central time.

Click here to register for this FREE webinar

Here is an excerpt from our SMART Pre-Shift Training manual.

SMART is an acronym for the different categories that you should be focusing on in your pre-shift inspections.

  • S = Sanitation
  • M = Management Responsibilities
  • A = Accountability
  • R = Readiness for Guests
  • T = Temperatures

A SMART Pre-shift inspection will contain questions that take managers on a tour of their location and have

them focus on safety and readiness to serve guests. It should contain both FOH and BOH items, as well as,

items that you know are unique to the success of your operations.

The goal of conducting a SMART Pre-shift Inspection is to focus your managers on the critical success factors

of your business. To know that your operations are safe and ready to serve guests for that service period. The

act of walking around your location with a critical eye and focusing on the most important parts of your

business focus your manager’s on what is required to be successful, this is especially important for hospitality

manager’s because we are always on and almost always in front of customers.

 

All OpsAnalitica Clients get a copy of our SMART Pre-shift Inspection pre-loaded into their portal and our training manual when they sign-up for our service.  We also offer consulting services around helping you write your own SMART Pre-shift that is custom tailored to your unique operations.

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How to Handle the Press after a Bad Health Inspection

On the OpsAnalitica blog, we have written about this trend of local news stations reporting on restaurant’s health inspection scores.  It makes sense for the news stations to do these reports because the data is readily available, it advertises well, it’s easy content to produce, and my guess is that it drives viewership.  In Denver, Fox 31, has their restaurant report card segment and website.  As we have been following this in the media, we have seen a ton of these restaurant health inspection segments all around the country. If you operate a restaurant in Florida, watch out, they seem to have these reports in every major city.

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For the restaurant industry this good and bad.  I believe that more transparency around health inspections and health inspection scores puts pressure on the industry to do better, and it increases the restaurant cleanliness standards in that area.  When LA moved to letter grades system, one of the results was that there were less foodborne illness cases over time.  What they found is that bad letter grades affect revenue, a C resulted in a -1% sales dip and an A resulted in an 5 to 6% increase in sales.  The market rewards clean restaurants and punishes dirty ones.  We got this data from a grand jury report when Orange County was looking at moving to the letter grade system, click here to see the report.

I also understand the concern of restaurant owners when it comes to making this data public, it affects their business and sometimes it is hard to get a reinspection promptly.  I don’t feel bad for restaurant owners that lose revenue for being dirty, they should. I do feel bad for restaurant owners that fixed their issues, but have to wait a considerable amount of time to get reinspected.  Counties have to provide the ability to get reinspected very quickly even if they have to charge a convenience fee.

I’ve embedded the Fox 31 report from June 12th in this blog.  There are three restaurants mentioned in the report.  2 of the restaurants got F’s, and one got an A.  According to the Fox website you have to have 5 critical violations on your last two health inspections to get an F.  To get an A you have to have 0 critical violations on your last two health inspections.  This video is amazing and shows you how to and how not to handle an inquiry from the media at your restaurant.  It is 100% worth watching to see how the Blue Bonnet handled their bad score compared to Chubby’s.  

Here are my feelings after watching their segments:

  • Chubby’s
    • Didn’t answer repeated phone calls – could have been trying to evade reporters
    • Manager had face blurred – guilty and wrong
    • Written statement that was summarized – too little too late
    • Verdict:  I probably will never eat at that restaurant after seeing that report. In fairness, I don’t live close to that restaurant so my chances of popping in were low to begin with.
  • Blue Bonnet
    • Owner got interviewed – She was taking responsibility
    • She showed the media her kitchen – open nothing to hide
    • She mentioned the all the staff meetings – she took action
    • Verdict:  I may eat there again in six months or so after they have had a chance to be inspected one more time.  In fairness, we used to frequent Blue Bonnet when we lived close by and really like the food.

I hope you find this video helpful in crafting your crisis plan and how you would handle this type of interview. Also, kudos to Johnny Rockets in the Cherry Creek Mall for getting an A, I’ve eaten there several times and will be back.

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