by Dallas Henderson, Account Manager at RizePoint
Have you jumped on the ghost kitchen trend, operating in a commercial kitchen space for “to go” orders only? If so, your business model might be different than a traditional restaurant, but your commitment to food safety and quality must remain a priority. Think of the scariest things that could happen in your facility – such as food spoilage, human error, dirty equipment, ill employees, food safety outbreaks, COVID outbreaks, lapses in quality – and don’t let these safety breaches haunt your ghost kitchen.
Over the past two years, tremendous numbers of restaurants have closed, and others have struggled to survive. Many consumers have avoided dining out in restaurants due to fear of COVID exposure, which has spiked again with the new Omicron virus variant. As a result, some operators have adjusted the way they serve guests, pivoting to ghost kitchens to accommodate the changing consumer demand for more “to go” meals, instead.
Ghost kitchens are commercial kitchens without the infrastructure to serve guests onsite, as traditional restaurants do. Their overhead costs are lower since they don’t need to pay for a dining room space or any front of house staff. By operating out of a ghost kitchen, they are better prepared to handle today’s high delivery demand at a lower operating cost.
However, ghost kitchens must still prioritize food safety and quality, and should always:
- Follow food safety protocols. Make sure your team focuses on food safety protocols – every day, with every shift. They should sanitize surfaces and equipment, cook to proper temperatures, wash produce, store foods properly, not cross contaminate, conduct regular safety checks, wear single-use gloves, tie hair back, etc. Employees must also follow new COVID protocols: sanitize high-touch areas frequently, wash hands often, adhere to social distancing guidelines, wear masks, and stay home when sick. No exceptions.
- Train constantly. Set up ongoing training with regular reminders about food safety and quality. All employees should receive continuous training, not just during onboarding, but throughout their tenure. Use tech tools to provide relevant information at regular intervals. Send small, manageable “bites” of information right to employees’ phones. Be sure employees understand (and practice) the rules.
- Create a collaborative culture around audits. Food businesses are auditing differently, thanks to COVID, but this is actually a positive development to come out of the pandemic. Traditionally, food businesses had onsite, third-party auditors visit once or twice a year to assess their safety practices. This was often seen as punitive, with the inspector pointing out everything the employees were doing wrong, making staff members feel defensive and threatened. When in-person auditing paused due to COVID, restaurants had to adapt, relying on more frequent self-audits and virtual (or remote) audits. With this shift, employees became more involved (and invested) in the auditing process, and it became a more collaborative model, rather than a punitive one. Team members were finally empowered to play a bigger role in this effort, making them feel more responsible for its success.
- Be transparent. Ghost kitchens are virtual businesses, but guests still want to see “proof” that they’re operating safely. Spotlight your commitment to food safety wherever customers and prospects can see it – e.g., on your website and your social media platforms. Talk about your safe practices in media interviews. Make it part of your advertising campaigns. Include flyers and/or stickers about your commitment to food safety with delivery orders. This is an effective way to build customer trust (and, subsequently, loyalty).
- Use digital solutions. Surprisingly, many operators are still relying on antiquated pen and paper “systems” to manage their safety and quality efforts. It’s impossible to get a comprehensive view of your business this way. Tech tools are a much more effective, accurate way to improve safety practices, manage safety checklists, and analyze data for more informed decisions. Tech tools will streamline your safety efforts and alert you to any potential risks. These tools can include apps on employees’ phones, digital sensors that alert you if an oven temperature drops, and highly accurate food thermometers that can inform you with precision whether foods have been cooked to proper temps.
- Track vendors. Tech tools can also help ensure that your food comes from safe sources. Be aware of your vendors’ food safety policies and only work with partners that adhere to the strictest safety and quality standards. The newest software solutions in the marketplace enable you to quickly, easily, and accurately manage supplier certifications to help protect your business and your guests.
- Share space responsibly. In some situations, multiple brands share a commercial kitchen for logistical reasons, such as to cut costs. Be certain that your neighbors are committed to food safety and quality, as well. You don’t want them to cause any potential hazards in your shared space or with your shared equipment. Ensure that all teams are aligned on safety and quality protocols and are clear about working together to keep guests safe. For example, in a shared space, everyone should know where to prep ready to eat foods (such as produce for salads) so they won’t be contaminated with raw proteins. And people from each different brand must work together to conduct safety inspections in the kitchen to reduce risk and promote accountability.
- Accommodate food allergies. Train your staff about accommodating food allergies. Designate an allergy-friendly prep area where foods can be prepared without the risk of contamination. Use clean, sanitized utensils to prepare allergy-friendly foods. Some operators use different color equipment for allergy-friendly tools. Have separate fryers for allergy-friendly foods, and don’t use them to cook products containing common allergens (e.g., shellfish, nuts, wheat, dairy). Use a separate pan to cook allergy-friendly meals on common grills. Put food-allergic guests’ meals in separate containers and bags for delivery.
- Deliver foods safely. Shockingly, 1 out of 4 delivery drivers admit to sampling the food they’re supposed to be delivering! Use tamper-proof stickers to seal bags to prevent unethical drivers from snacking during delivery. Also, ensure that your drivers have equipment (such as insulated food bags) to keep foods at proper temperatures – hot foods hot, cold foods cold – during delivery. Drivers should also sanitize their hands frequently: before handling each delivery order and after they touch doorknobs, doorbells, money, etc.
The growth of the ghost kitchen is an exciting trend to come out of this pandemic, and consumers are certainly embracing this concept. It’s important for all food operators – and their employees – to stay mindful of food safety, and take every precaution to keep their businesses, foods, employees, and guests safe.
Dallas Henderson, a 25-year veteran of the service industry, is an Account Manager at RizePoint. RizePoint is disrupting traditional market software with their innovative, new product platform Ignite Supplier Certification Management, which helps small to medium sized businesses simplify the supplier certification and maintenance process. To discuss RizePoint’s solutions, please contact Dallas at firstname.lastname@example.org.