It was brought to my attention last week that the San Francisco Environmental Health Department is approximately five health inspectors down due to budget cuts and other circumstances. Even more disturbing, case loads have increased from 350 restaurants per inspector to over 700. Inspecting that many restaurants on a regular basis is impossible. Previously, before the cuts, the procedure for inspection was twice a year. Currently, if a restaurant is inspected yearly, owner´s are lucky. Lucky, you say? This guy thinks a health department inspection is lucky? Yes, a health inspection is a great thing for a restaurant owner. And, although it may not seem so at the time, health inspectors are a huge asset that can be used as an advantage in management.
One of most frequently asked questions in the restaurant business is "how do I deal with a health inspector"? The answer is elementary. If your restaurant and staff are as clean as they should be and you follow all the guidelines set forth in the health department code book, let the health inspectors in and welcome them with open arms. But, if your restaurant is a disaster that hasn’t been kept up to code, you know you are in trouble. You’ll probably lock the door, turn off the lights and hide when you see that white car pull up in front of your restaurant. However, that’s no way to treat a friend.
Health Inspectors are great people. And, the service they perform for the public is outstanding. But they also offer the restaurant owner an invaluable service if you choose to use them as a friend rather than a foe.
Consider the health inspector a partner in your business. THey are in charge of keeping things clean and spotless. If that new Wolf Range you purchased a few months ago looks worse than the used one you wanted buy, until the chef said he preferred the new on, have the health inspector solve your problems. If the walk-in cooler is never really organized to your standards and you just can´t seem to get your message across, call the health inspector, schedule an inspection. And, if the cleaning service that periodically comes into your restaurant to clean the hoods, polish the floors, and steam clean the kitchen is getting a bit lax, have them there when the health inspector comes.
I always had an arrangement with the inspectors – I would have them talk to the kitchen staff, or the chef, personally, one on one and discuss the problems with the people responsible. And, I would make sure the inspector offered his solution to the problem. This accomplished two goals- first, the inspector could utilize his authority with my employees. They would always feel the message was more important coming from the health inspector. Plus, they may meet again if the chef, I mean when the chef, moved on. Of course, the buck always stopped with me, but you can never get enough back-up or professional reinforcement when it comes to health standards.
Secondly, if the health inspector returned and the problem wasn´t corrected, it was hard for them to site me for any violations previously discussed with the staff- the inspector failed to get the message across. But this never happened. The inspector’s message was always taken as a direct order.
Now this may seem like an extreme tactic, but you will be surprised how effective it is. Health inspectors have a dismal job. But, if you are a professional operator who takes pride in your restaurants, the food served, and customer´s comfort level, inspectors will enjoy the standards you maintain.
And, if you treat them right, they will become partners that offer professional advice and help you make your business more successful.