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Stretching thin staffs can be dirty work

Faced with the increased federal minimum wage, which took effect July 24, some operators may be tempted to slash labor to protect profits. But stretching staffs too thin can make for sloppy sanitation, especially at the close of a shift, say those in the know.

Michael Nolan, manager of franchise operations at 15-unit Sam & Louie’s New York Pizzeria, said regardless of how many employees are left to close, the restaurant must be cleaned properly.

“You’ve got to cut sometimes, but you don’t want to send anyone home before all that’s done,” said Nolan, whose company is based in Omaha, Neb. “When you start cutting, you tell your staff, ‘These things need to be done in the next 20 minutes, and don’t cut corners.’ Yes, that makes the kitchen work a little harder, but our guys get paid well, so we expect them to know.”

Neal Gilder says that cross-training is essential to keeping sanitation standards high when labor cost must be low. In addition, he said he feels he can ask more of better-paid people.

“If you’re going to get people who are responsible in those areas, it takes more than paying them minimum wage,” said Gilder, co-owner of Arbor Ridge Vine and Grill in Crestwood, Ky. “Our utility guys do wash dishes, but they cut vegetables and do other prep. They have to know a lot.”

When your company delivers all its food to customers, sanitation is even more important. Add in summer heat, and frequent reminders about procedures are required, said Aftan Romanczak, director of research, development and purchasing at 50-unit Steak-Out in Norcross, Ga.

“We have reports go out every week to our franchisees, and we always have a food safety component in that,” Romanczak said.

From proper temperature maintenance to insistence on cleaning equipment regularly, experienced and inexperienced crews get constant reminders to be safe.

“It’s summer in the South, so we sell millions of sweet teas,” he said. “So we have to stress regular maintenance of those machines. Things they might think they can ignore are things we have to keep pointing out.”

In his R&D role, Romanczak said food safety is always top of mind. The steps required in cooking every new product are minimized to reduce chances for contamination.

“The system has to work no matter who’s in the store, and it has to be simple,” he said. “Everything must flow cleanly to protect the product, so I try to take as many decisions out of the process as possible.”

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