Restaurant Audits

3 Best Practices for Effective Restaurant Audits

18 April 2019

Restaurants | Operations

There's nothing quite as panic-inducing as the prospect of having your restaurant audited. Sure, being written up by an auditor and having your manager find out about it is embarrassing enough, but the possibility of the whole restaurant closing down is worse.

Short on time? Watch this handy video summary instead: 

HubSpot Video

But considering the 48 million reported cases of foodborne illnesses in the US every year, the lack of an effective audit plan sets your business up for terrible Tripadvisor reviews, a massive PR crisis, or worse.

No one wants to be Chipotle last summer, when a norovirus outbreak caused their shares to drop by 7%.

Or McDonalds when they had to recall salads from 3000 restaurants after the FDA confirmed over 400 cases of Cyclospora infection across 15 states.

And at the very least, no restaurant wants their name to be preceded by "never again".

The problem is, the very nature of working in a restaurant makes slip-ups likely. Fridge temperature, food storage, correct allergen displays and product traceability - all these and more must be perfect 100% of the time or your business is exposed to an incredible amount of risk. 

7.7 million employees work in the food and beverage industry, and a good chunk of them are between the ages of 16 and 19.

A younger, part-time and seasonal workforce paid minimum wage who are typically looking to get in, get out and get paid is a recipe for cutting corners and putting health and safety at risk.

Most of us have had at least one job in food service as a teenager or college student - can we honestly say we really cared about cleaning the grill perfectly every time? Probably not.

So how can restaurant chains do everything in their power to prevent health and safety slip-ups from happening?

Here are 3 tips to ensure your audits are fast, effective and don't miss a thing.

1) Make the audit procedures manageable so auditors can focus their time where it's the most impactful

An audit questionnaire has hundreds of questions - all of which are important. But filling out each question isn't the most effective use of an assessors time, especially when those questions are in an Excel spreadsheet or clipboard.

Giving auditors a digital tool to whizz through the questions really focuses their time on areas where a restaurant is struggling, making the audit more effective. And with a digital tool, there's less of a likelihood of missing something that could put customers' health in danger further down the line.

An auditor shouldn't be silently lurking in the background for the entire duration of the audit - they're experienced, they've seen it all, and they could help the staff by sharing best practices they've picked up from years working in the field. But they can only do this if they have the time.

2) Ensure audit reports are clear, actionable and accessible by the right people

Audit reports are a goldmine of data head office can use to identify common areas where staff slip up with health and safety, and with which they can create targeted training and make data-driven decisions. But it's difficult to pull the data and be aware of issues cropping up on a wider scale when everything is stored in spreadsheets or paper checklists.

At the end of an audit, reports should clearly indicate:

  • Improvements to be made by the staff, how to make them and when they should be made by
  • How the restaurant scored on each area, for example: safe handling of food, clean-up, cooking temperatures and storage
  • How the restaurant scored overall

For example, if audit reports are analyzed and head office identifies a pattern of store employees being unclear about the exact temperature the oil should be when cooking fries, head office can create a targeted training program about cooking temperatures.

And that leads us to our third point...

3) Make your employee health and safety training so thorough that audits are merely a formality

Studies have found a definite link between comprehensive food and safety training and fewer health and safety compliance violations.

Audits are a waste of time if employees know to sweep things under the rug beforehand.

A study analyzed the experiences of an American college student over several fast food jobs and documents the woefully inadequate training employees received and the frequent health and safety violations that took place - even by managers themselves.

The best way to have a successful audit is to train employees so well on health and safety that it becomes second nature.

And the right way to do this isn't via a crusty old health and safety manuscript in a massive binder that no one ever reads. The manager never checks who's read it, so who cares? 

Training needs to be continuous, accessible and easy to digest. That means no 2 hour videos that were recorded back in 1995.

To master the skills, employees need to practice them. And they need a manager who doesn't blatantly disregard the rules and ensures employees are aware of best practices for food handling, clean-up, product storage and everything else.

After all, assessors don't just audit the restaurant, they audit employee knowledge too. So just sticking up those signs we all see in the bathroom informing employees that they MUST wash their hands isn't enough.