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 Restaurant and Hotel Safety: Preventing and Managing Accidents and Incidents

The pressure to run a successful hospitality operation is greater than ever.  Between rising labor, food and rent costs and an intensely competitive marketplace, owners are finding it tougher to reach a profitable bottom line.  Now add to this the fact that the industry is a popular target in the legal arena with wage, discrimination, harassment and accident lawsuits, which can often add up to significant expense for the operator.  For owners to successfully manage this difficult environment, they must operate at a very high and professional level and become proactive in addressing the threats to their business.  In terms of preventing and managing accidents and incidents, this means developing and implementing a system of safeguards that minimize exposure. This article will focus on accidents and incidents due to slips and falls, cuts and burns and foreign objects found in food.  The following are keys to creating a system for restaurant and hotel safety:

Preventing Accidents and Incidents

  1. Owner’s Attitude: Nothing of consequence will be developed unless the owner takes prevention seriously and passes on their concern to the rest of the staff in an effective and organized way. Focused attention needs to be paid to smart procedures.  Ownership needs to be fully engaged and supportive.  A “culture of safety” needs to be developed where staff recognizes and acts upon the importance of methods to minimize accidents and incidents.
  2. Specific Written Guidelines: The culture of safety needs to be translated into a written set of specific guidelines that are understood and followed by staff. This can also include videos and online training tools.  Ownership may want to bring in an outside consultant to help set this up or do the research themselves to apply best practices.
  3. Training and Reinforcement: Choose designated leaders to carry out training and reinforcement. First aid and possibly CPR training should be provided.  Use staff meetings as reminders of various safety issues.  Update training materials when necessary.  Have the proper supplies organized in designated areas.

Guidelines for preventing slips and falls, cuts and burns and preventing foreign objects from getting in food should include:

Slips and Falls

  • Do a full risk assessment of the operation. For example, if there are steps in the dining room leading to a basement, make sure there is proper lighting, signage and safe flooring. Make sure chairs are secure and repaired. Assess all potential areas of concern and address them with clear action steps.
  • Make sure floor surfaces in the front and back of the house and all stairs have acceptable traction to prevent slippage and high-quality mats that are not curled up are used where necessary.
  • Have a specific cleaning and mopping procedure in place for the kitchen and dining room. When possible seek out sustainable cleaning products as they pose less toxic threat to those who come in contact with them.
  • Make sure staff has proper shoes.
  • Keep all handrails secure and make sure all wiring is set up to avoid trips and slips.
  • Repair all uneven floor surfaces.
  • Make sure all drains are cleared.
  • Have specific procedures for when it rains: i.e. The use of mats and umbrella stands by the front door.
  • Designate specific staff with assigned tasks related to prevention.

Cuts and Burns

  • Ensure proper knife skills are taught and practiced by all kitchen staff.
  • Have staff always use the proper tool for the job.
  • Have knives sharpened on a regular basis.
  • Provide appropriate safety gear when needed such as glasses and gloves.
  • Make sure staff is fully aware of potential burn hazards.
  • Understand the use and potential hazards of all chemicals used in the operation. Look to replace standard highly toxic cleaning chemicals with effective low or non-toxic alternatives.
  • Make sure all equipment operates properly and is secured in a safe place to use.
  • Have a complete and updated first aid kit.
  • Have proper lighting in all prep and service kitchen areas.
  • Make sure all electrical equipment is grounded and outlets are properly secured.

Foreign Objects Found in Food

  • Use only reputable suppliers for food product.
  • Have clear and thorough procedures for the cleaning of food product.
  • Have no foreign objects within the vicinity of food prep.

Managing Accidents and Incidents

  1. Have Staff React Quickly and Efficiently: Staff needs to understand instantly what they are to do and carry out their responsibility. They have to quickly assess priorities and act on them. For example, in a slip and fall, first priority needs to be towards the guest or employee who has fallen and to make sure they are as safe as possible. Staff needs to immediately understand what they can and can’t do from a safety and medical standpoint, such as how to move an injured person, if at all. If there is a burn or cut, trained staff should immediately get necessary supplies and apply them. Be prepared to follow all proper procedures in handling any burns, including chemical. Calling for emergency help always has to be considered and acted upon quickly. Owner or other management should immediately take charge and direct other staff.
  2. Secure the Area: There needs to be a system in place to efficiently secure the area of the accident so the injured party stays safe and no other complications occur. For example, the use of bright colored cones and wet floor signs need to be placed in specific strategic areas. It also is important that the rest of the customers or staff is kept away from the incident area.
  3. Accident and Incident Reports: A written report should be thorough and completed as soon as possible when memory is fresh and witnesses are available. If a statement from a witness cannot be objectively verified, don’t take it as fact and phrases such as “witness alleges” or “witness claims” should be the preferred language. It may be helpful to create diagrams and take photos to enhance the clarity of the report. If appropriate, reports should be provided to the insurance company immediately.
  4. Accident and Incident Feedback Loop: No matter how well the operation is prepared, accidents and incidents will occur. It is critical to always get better and learn from any incident that takes place and share the evaluation with the rest of the staff. Management should do a thorough analysis of the incident with feedback given to the staff. Lessons learned should be discussed with an emphasis on improvement.

The hospitality entrepreneur needs to wear a multitude of hats in carrying out their business.  The prevention and management of accidents and incidents has become an area that operators more than ever must seriously pay attention to as they go about running their establishments.  Having a clear set of guidelines and procedures that are ingrained in a “culture” of restaurant and hotel safety is a most valuable insurance policy to carry.

Alan SomeckAlan is a 30-year operator of high volume restaurants, in which he has managed all facets of the business. In his consulting practice, he has worked with many clients to create and establish their concepts. In addition, Alan has worked on assignments to develop food products for market such as protein bars, cookies, and brownies. He has also directed 7 EPA grants to train operators in Green sustainable practices. His experience and expertise have led him to develop a well-regarded expert witness practice. He has created an extensive network of industry professional who he works with on a regular basis. Throughout his career, Alan has supported the success of entrepreneurs through executive coaching and training. For the past 10 years, Alan also has taught at the Institute for Culinary Education in NYC and at NYIT where he has taught all aspects of the restaurant business. His students have opened fast casual restaurants, cafes, bakeries, and fine dining operations.

Digital Marketing Timeline for New Hotel Opening

A new hotel opening or changing of flags has so many moving parts. As an owner or manager overseeing this transition, you are likely wearing multiple hats. Here is a hotel digital marketing timeline for opening hotels to ensure you are building your website presence and a healthy channel mix that has reduced OTA dependency later down the road.

1 Year Prior to New Hotel Opening: FOUNDATION

  • Buy your preferred domain. Develop a 1-page site or temporarily redirect to a page on your management company site. This should have contact info about sales and careers.
  • Determine your opening budget. Be sure to include an extensive photo shoot, UNAP (URL, Name, Address, Phone) consistency and heavy paid marketing for the first 3 to 6 months of the new hotel opening. Participate in brand promotional add-ons if applicable for year one.
  • Create a fact sheet. The sales team will need something that has stock photography, amenities, and proximity to local demand generators.
  • Pencil in a photographer. If you are a branded hotel, ensure you meet brand standards in case they require certain companies to shoot, and also specific images. For more photo shoot considerations, visit these hotel photography guidelines.
  • Choose the best systems. For an independent hotel, ensure there is proper alignment between your PMS, Booking Engine, Channel Manager and Website. Make sure respective systems can integrate with a CRM down the road. The website vendor should be on top of latest search engine optimization trends, site speed, responsive design, booking engine integrations, and Google Analytics e-commerce/goal tracking.
  • Develop a voice for your brand. Who is your target audience? How will you fit into the compset? What are your goals, for digital marketing and otherwise? Pull market statistics from your CVB to properly set expectations.

6 Months Prior to New Hotel Opening: WEBSITE

  • Hopefully, your website is live or being built and these points are considered.
  • Define your unique selling propositions. Consider what is unique to your hotel and location against the comp set. Also, what is unique about your sub-brand, in terms of food and beverage, pet policies, in-room amenities. This is also location-based and how far your hotel is from specific demand generators. If your hotel has a free hot breakfast, are there any signature items? If you are close to a university, how far and are you the closest hotel to that place?
  • Find niche keywords for your on-site search engine optimization. Each page should be dedicated to different keywords. Start with niche keywords and expand into more competitive keywords later. Your meta descriptions should include unique selling propositions again. Integrate your keywords into on-page content and header/alt tags.
  • Write extensive content. Ensure your homepage lists all your unique selling propositions. Supporting pages should be dedicated to amenities, rooms, offers and the local area, at a minimum. Include keywords strategically placed throughout.
  • Have a working phone number. You should have your local number, but likely no front desk, so set this up to forward to your corporate office or someone’s cell phone.
  • Create a social media presence. Keep it minimal and just start with Facebook then you can grow into more platforms later. Aggressive posting isn’t needed at this time, but post construction pics, job fairs, and team training events.

3 Months Prior to New Hotel Opening: RATES

  • Ensure rates are live. Rate strategy should be built and rates should be selling on your website. Submit to get your interface set up with the larger OTAs, at least Expedia and Booking.com. Audit your content and imagery on these sites and fill out as much as you can.
  • Build at least 1 local package. It should showcase your unique selling propositions, partnerships or proximity to local demand generators. Leverage these to get exposure on your local CVB and chamber websites. And keep the fall back packages, like AAA, Points and Advanced Purchase.
  • Activate local listings like TripAdvisor and Cvent.
  • Check GDS strategy. Ensure major GDS channels are live and pushing AAA at a minimum.

2 Weeks Prior to New Hotel Opening: EXPOSURE

  • Write your press release. If you are a new hotel that is a flag change, the press release will need to comprehensively show the volume of the renovation. Later, this press release will be easier to submit to TripAdvisor to wipe old reviews than some other documents they accept.
  • Execute online partnerships. Your sales team should be in full force. As they are creating relationships on the ground, they need to think about how to promote the hotel online and get listed on local sites. Not only will it drive referral traffic to your site, but it will also help with off-site search engine optimization.
  • Tweak your paid marketing budget. Does your original budget align with hotel needs and season you are opening? Finalize your UNAP partner to ensure your hotel is visible on all channels with correct URL, Name, Address, and Phone number.

Day Of Opening: TESTING AND LOCAL

  • Ensure a working phone number. It should be ringing to the front desk.
  • Do test reservations. Test inventory selling for day of on multiple channels and do test reservations.
  • Distribute your press release. Consider using a national distribution service but also send to local avenues to distribute like your CVB and chamber.
  • Communicate opening on social media. Post the new hotel opening on Facebook and any other social channels you have.
  • Claim local listings. This includes Google My Business, Yelp, Bing and Apple. There is usually a phone verification involved.

2 Weeks Post Opening: PAID MARKETING, GPS AND PHOTO SHOOT

  • Turn on paid marketing. Considerations are Google Adwords, MetaSearch, Groupon/Flash Sales, Social Media, Waze, Eblasts, Travel Ads, Retargeting, Banner Ads. If you don’t have a database yet for email marketing (as most won’t) check with your CVB to advertise in one of their e-blasts or e-newsletters. Most states also have a tourism website that you can advertise.
  • Submit the new location to maps sources. With new builds, sometimes GPS devices don’t recognize road extensions or that a building physically exists. Check Apple Maps, Tele Atlas, Navteq, OpenStreetMap, and Waze. Google My Business should already be claimed at this point, but do submit turn-by-turn direction changes if needed.
  • Prep for the photo shoot. Your photo shoot should be scheduled within 30 days of opening. Ensure your landscaping looks good and you have extra staff scheduled around breakfast and reception times, if applicable.

90 Days Post Opening: CLEAN UP

  • Distribute new imagery to all channels. Ensure consistent image storytelling on your website, OTAs, local listings and social media.
  • Check with front desk for guest complaints. Cross-reference sites to make sure amenities and directions are not vague or misstated.
  • Check analytics and reporting. Check Google Search Console and Google Analytics for increased organic exposure. You also need to check Google My Business statistics. Look at your channel mix for red flags on really low channels. Tweak strategies as needed.
  • Plan for Grand Opening Party. Time to celebrate and invite your favorite and potential clients for a party. Budget for food and entertainment. Showcase local vendors specific to your area. Design custom invites and play it up on social media.

The goal should be exposure sooner than later and integrate a plan that spends money in the right areas for your new hotel opening until base business is acquired. Also, you want to ensure a consistent story is being told across all channels to avoid guest confusion and higher conversions. For assistance in executing on this timeline, contact Cogwheel Marketing.


About the Author:

Stephanie Smith, founder of Cogwheel Marketing, is an expert in hotel digital marketing and comprehensive digital strategy for both branded and independent hotels. The company has opened over 40 newly built hotels plus handled the flag / name conversions of another dozen hotels.  To ensure a cohesive online presence, the digital strategy must be aligned with the goals of operations, sales and revenue management.  Cogwheel Marketing understands the roadblocks teams face in hospitality and how to work around system issues, restrictions and delays.  Contact them if you are interested in the execution of the above timeline with their opening package.