Is your kitchen safe? Hopefully, right? But is your kitchen as safe as it could be? If your protocol assumes that your staff will use common sense rather than train protocols, then your kitchen is vulnerable. You are vulnerable from injury to them, you, your customer and a big fat bill on top of it. All while blaming a staff that’s “dumb.” The only dumb person is the one who assumes too much. Safety is purely a matter of training and awareness.
To gain situational awareness, especially for people that have not worked in a kitchen, all training needs to start with your restaurant values and then jump right into safety. Training should cover questions like:
• Why does over-communicating in a kitchen matter?
• What practices would make their space safe?
• And then how to do it?
Training like this goes beyond text on paper they read once and forget. Safety training is not a check box to just get done. You need to ensure any new person that comes into your establishment to work has not only gone through your training but is highly aware of the principles of that training. Here is what solid kitchen training should do.
The phrases kitchen people announce for safety should be taught on DAY ONE. “Coming behind,” and “coming out hot” to “sharp” or “corner.” All these kitchen-specific terms are not known to every new hire. Neither will your handymen, IT person, bookkeeper, family friend, or anybody who might walk through your kitchen know these phrases and how to react when they are called. All these people must watch video training detailing safety protocols. Every one of them must test on it. This is not overkill; this is protocol.
To create safety training videos, all you need is your cell phone.
“But Mike, I don’t know how to edit videos.” It’s not super complicated; someone you know can do this if you truly can’t stand doing it yourself. And if you don’t know anyone at all who knows how to edit a cell phone video, outsource editing to the Internet. It’s never been cheaper.
It can get extremely hot in a kitchen, and you might be inclined to wear shorts. If you have a fryer or boiling water, I would highly advise you not wear any shorts and prefer breathable pants for uniform—also, slip-resistant shoes.
The days of the gaudy hospital-looking slip-resistant shoes are gone. Very affordable versions are available at every Wal-Mart, Target and shoe store. And, of course, available online at any varying price. Mandating your kitchen staff to wear slip-resistant shoes is a decision with no negative side effects.
A crew that knows how to hold a knife, where to position it, and how to ensure their fingers don’t get cut will ensure safety and save money. I’ve seen a lot of stupid injuries over the years, and most of them were caused by a lack of training. I’ve seen kids break up compressed cheese by stabbing at it like the cheese was Billy Bats in the back of the trunk from the opening of Goodfellas. That level of ill-training led to a hospital visit.
Is there a feeling that running around in your kitchen or jumping up and down would be accepted? Time for a 180 if it is. I am a big proponent of having fun during a shift, but I am staunchly opposed to anything that inevitably will cause an injury. Kitchens are dangerous places. No one should jump, run or even touch each other in a kitchen.
If this is considered remotely acceptable right now for your crew, pull everyone out of the kitchen, and have a sit-down meeting explaining safety and what’s appropriate at work and what is not.
Closing and Leaving the Restaurant
If you have a bunch of people leaving the restaurant alone, one by one, into a dark space at night or even a bright one, you’re putting all of them at risk. No one should leave a restaurant alone. Someone should be viewing the other person from a safe spot when someone goes to their car. The final person of the night should leave in a buddy system with someone else. One person
observes from the locked store until the other is in their car, then the other person locks the door and walks to their car, watching from a protected, safe distance. This prevents assaults and theft.
Cameras, Cameras, Cameras
You need a camera system. This is not a debatable item. You need a good camera system. In the last few years, I’ve noticed that the quality of the camera is essential, but how the data is processed will show you how clear the footage is. Also, a good user interface will determine how easily accessible the footage is. Cameras reduce employee time theft and make your customers safer, ensuring your team is also safe. And that if something goes wrong, you and your company have a backup and resource to verify what went wrong and if someone broke protocol.
A True Adult on Site
You need an adult in the room. I’ve had 18-year-old adults and 45-year-old kids. An adult is someone you trust to perform the Heimlich, call the cops and understand what to do when something goes sideways. An adult should be someone over 18 with some level of restaurant experience and a cool head on their shoulders. The type of level head who can reach for a fire extinguisher and know how to operate it when needed.
From personal experience, I can tell you, get more fire extinguishers and always ensure they are serviced. Ensure your management team is trained on how to handle them, reiterated yearly, and that a restaurant never has an absent manager.
A Solid Emergency Plan
A real one for every situation. The customer falls, a significant cut, an employee passes out. I’ve seen all these situations, and the response need not be, “Oh, what do we do?” It needs to be “Follow the protocol.” There should be a laminated book every manager learns about what to do for every conceivable situation. This book should provide the closest hospital or Urgent Care to go to for each scenario. Ideally, one already pre-coordinated with your insurance in case an employee from (Your Brand Here) Pizzeria shows up.
And above all else, you and your managers need to know when it’s time to call the police. And to also be aware that calling 911 costs nothing and not to be afraid to do it. I’d rather deal with an annoyed cop than a customer’s lawyer. Also, offer the police slices and feed their shift change if you want a faster response time.
A restaurant can be a scary thing. It doesn’t have to be when you know that you’ve prepared for the inevitable catastrophe. Catastrophe is coming. The only thing in the way of it taking you down is your ability to prepare and train now.
MIKE BAUSCH is the owner of Andolini’s Pizzeria in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Instagram: