Uncovered Food Pesents Problems

There is no excuse for sloppiness in the restaurant business. It is the difference between professionalism and amateurism, while adding to losses that cannot be recouped.  And, when it affects the image of the company the food represents, this will further hurt an establishment. The problems need to be alleviated and the staff responsible for the problems need to be retrained to make sure the problem will not reoccur.


As I stepped onto the sidewalk in front of The Westin St. Francis Hotel last Saturday the pollen that had been blowing in the wind was the first breath I took once outside. The sneeze overtook me before I could get my hand to my mouth.


At the same time I broadcast the sneeze, a cart of food passed in front of me as though directed by Francis Ford Coppola. My immediate concern was did my germs infiltrate the air above the cart. Then I noticed that the brownies, the tomato and mozzarella plate on the top of the cart, along with the one on the bottom of the cart – three inches off the -sidewalk were uncovered.


The sight made the hair on the nap of my neck stand straight. Flash back fear overtook me. Suddenly the days when I was in the catering business and a tray of food left the kitchen uncovered flashed in front of me. I caught it in time. It never made it past the back door of the restaurant. That was then, this is now.


It turns out that the cart, being driver by a uniform clad waiter, was coming from a well known hotel lobby restaurant and was being delivered to a sister hotel for a private party. The waiter stopped when I asked him and allowed me to take a few pictures. And, upon inquiring, he explained where the cart was going and what was on it. For the record, his menu presentation was perfect.


I wasn’t the only person inquiring about the cart. Passers-by gazed in awe as he made the three block trek from Powell St. to Sutter St. Some commented on the beautiful food, while others noticed some plates went uncovered.


For those who know San Francisco the streets are not the cleanest in the country. In the Tenderloin District, only blocks away from glistening Union Square, dogs are often seen putting their paws over their noses due to the smell of human urine. And, it is a common practice for some cultures to openly spit on the sidewalk. Having said that, the thought of uncovered food openly travelling up a human thorough fare is not only a health violation but also basically an injustice to the customer, to the restaurant, the hotel and the investors who have placed their money behind a corporation they have faith in.


Which raises the question: How often do we discuss management’s responsibility to the customer? How often do we remind the staff that a misstep the likes of uncovered food could cost the restaurant all of its profits on the event because of a substantial health code fine? How often do we bring to the forefront the responsibility everyone has to investors and owners?


And, finally, what does that cart, filled with attractive food, being pushed up Powell St. do to the image of the restaurant if the food is uncovered? Aside from the restaurant’s image, the hotel chain also suffered. Few know the restaurant is a different company than the hotel.


It would appear to be common sense to cover anything that is going to be outside. Especially since 80 percent of the items on the cart where covered. Yet, the kitchen was behind, the event was looked upon as a secondary billing, and I am sure the chef was yelling “Just get it out, we can’t be late.”


On the other hand, if the waiter would have had adequate training, he never would have ventured out into a germ covered sidewalk environment with a cart of food.


And finally, who is in charge of covering the food? Was the chef who prepared it the person who owns the responsibility? Is there a catering manager who checks the food out? Is there a checklist that everyone reviews?


These are all points that keep an operation flowing, smoothly. We must remember the backbone of a successful restaurant is the training the staff receives and tools needed to implement what they have been trained to accomplish.


Tomorrow: The Catering Checklist