In Good Taste
It could be an employee forgetting to wash his hands after handling raw chicken, a burger leaving the kitchen undercooked, or some cheese being left out on the counter too long. Regardless of its cause, a serious case of foodborne illness can ruin the reputation of a family entertainment center (FEC).
One in six Americans gets sick—and 3,000 people die—from contaminated foods or beverages annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On a global scale, the World Health Organization reports almost one in 10 people falls ill every year from eating contaminated food, and 420,000 die as a result. Kids under age 5 have a particularly high risk, the organization notes, with 125,000 children dying from foodborne diseases annually.
A veteran of the hospitality industry for over 15 years, Simon Hynd understands why the repetition in an FEC’s kitchen could lead to mistakes—if left unchecked.
“It’s the nature of people,” explains Hynd, CEO of Bubbles’ World of Play in Liverpool, England. “When you do the same tasks day in and out, there are times you will forget to do a particular thing.”
That’s why he has worked to ensure his kitchen (as well as others) stay safe.
Training and Continuous Education
Food safety starts before an employee gets hired, Hynd says. At the interview, the candidates’ personality usually becomes a clear indicator of how they will fare in the kitchen or serving area. Outgoing team players, who show the initiative to learn and develop themselves, often head to the front of the line.
After staff members officially come aboard, they complete a food hygiene certification course run by the city council, Hynd says. Next, at the FEC, they watch 10 short videos on hygiene topics, such as hand sanitization, proper food storage, and cross-contamination. Employees must accurately answer one or two questions after each video to show they understood the key points.
Following the videos, the food and beverage (F&B) manager reviews fire safety, demos food prep and the FEC’s extensive checklist system (more on p. 67), and gives a kitchen tour, including locations of exits, extinguishers, and emergency stop buttons. The kitchen manager then will shadow the first few days of new staffers, making sure they follow the correct standards and plates like chicken and sweet-corn pizza on fresh dough and a hand-pressed halloumi mushroom burger align with the facility’s spec sheets and portion controls. Rookies generally will be introduced to a specific section in the kitchen so they can be monitored for a short time before moving to another spot to create different dishes.
Even well after the onboarding period, managers will monitor employees’ kitchen skills, and team members will be randomly asked to complete tests on hygiene, allergies, and food specs. Plus, the general manager will anonymously order food through the point-of-sale system to check that each item matches the correct quality and portions.
“Our F&B counter staff are also told to send dishes back to the kitchen if they feel there is a quality or temperature issue before the customer receives the plate,” Hynd says of the FEC’s quick-service operation. “We take photos of such dishes and make a log so we can analyze if any kitchen employee is falling below standards.”
In addition, the general manager will conduct hygiene checks in the kitchen each morning before the team arrives.
Well aware of all the required kitchen-related tasks and the chore it can be to maintain the necessary checklists and keep staff honest and accountable, Hynd developed an app, called It’s Ticked, to help apply best practices throughout his 24,000-square-foot venue, especially the F&B area.
The checklist, inspection, and task-enforcement app features questions locked with QR codes. For example, to improve stock rotation and save money on waste, employees must clear the shelf of soda syrups, scan the QR code on the wall, and then replace items in date order—containers with the longest shelf life at the back and items that will expire sooner in the front. On another question, the staffers scan the code on the inside lid of the soap dispenser to show they’ve checked the status.
Employees take pictures in other sections, like after they clean the refrigerator, to demonstrate they’ve completed the job and record the image for insurance purposes.
The app also features supplemental guides along with its checklists. One takes staff through the steps needed to clean the oven and links to a PDF with the cleaning manual from the supplier. With the coffee machine, employees can watch a YouTube video of the proper cleaning technique, along with step-by-step instructions from the app.
Managers will be notified if staff members don’t complete a job or if any problems pop up. Thanks to this streamlined process, Hynd has reduced labor costs over the past few months of beta-testing. A few other owners have tried out the app after speaking with him at IAAPA FEC Summit 2019, and Hynd anticipates a full release of It’s Ticked soon.
“It doesn’t have to be our app,” he says, “but kitchen safety requires having the proper checks and systems in place and making sure you’re continuously monitoring your standards.”
Sell with the Senses
When Hynd opened Bubbles’ World of Play six years ago, he did more than create a food safety playbook. The FEC owner also battled a negative stereotype that sometimes can plague the industry, especially at children’s entertainment centers.
“Not many people bought our food at first because they assumed it wasn’t very good,” he admits.
To convince guests otherwise and show the effort put into the kitchen, Hynd knew he had to tickle the senses. First, menus couldn’t simply be created in Microsoft Word and haphazardly taped on the wall. Instead, Hynd worked with a professional design company to make sure the menu signage sang with its imagery.
“It made a huge difference,” he says. “People associate a quality menu with quality food. A printed-out piece of paper doesn’t do that.”
Second, Hynd cleverly uses a free sight-smell marketing technique if a particular food item stops selling well. For example, an employee will simply walk around the building with a juicy burger on display, its steam still wafting off the plate, to grab customers’ attention.
“All of a sudden, our guests are like, ‘I want one of those,’” he says. “It really does for work for us.”
Contact Funworld Contributing Editor Mike Bederka at [email protected]
ServSafe Fights Foodborne Illness
From the kitchen to the front line, everyone has a responsibility to keep food safe at an attraction.
“I don’t care what their title is,” says William Weichelt, director of food safety and industry relations for the Washington, D.C.-based National Restaurant Association. “If they serve food to the general public, then they have a very important role in food safety.”
By staff members going through the association’s ServSafe Manager and Food Handler programs (additional courses focus on alcohol, allergens, and maintaining a safe workplace), FECs will have the tools they need to help prevent foodborne illness, he says.
Much of the ServSafe training focuses on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s five main foodborne illness risk factors, including temperature control, food handling, employee hygiene, dirty equipment, and food from unsafe sources.
“These are typically the big areas where we see a lot of issues,” says the industry veteran.
People preparing for ServSafe’s Food Handler test can go through either online or instructor-led courses. Managers have those two choices, along with a self-study option. To date, approximately 8.5 million people have passed the test to become a Certified Food Protection Manager, which may be a state, county, or local requirement, and 2.9 million employees have earned their food handler certificate, Weichelt says.
For more information about the National Restaurant Association’s ServSafe program, visit www.servsafe.com.