How to Maintain Cleanliness and Service Standards in a QSR

Quick serve restaurants (QSRs) must maintain a clean environment to promote the safety and satisfaction of employees and customers. Every precaution to ensure safe food preparation and a great customer experience must be taken. QSR employees ought to carefully inspect kitchen areas, eating and dining areas and restrooms to make sure the restaurant meets legal health requirements and store-implemented standards. Complete implementation of the FDA food code ensures that a restaurant’s cleanliness and food safety practices reflect the most current science, technology, and legal precedents. Adhering to these guidelines enhances the customer and employee experience by reducing the risk of foodborne illnesses, and the likelihood of physical injury. Providing a consistent, positive customer experience by maintaining restaurant service standards is essential to the longevity of a QSR. A drop in customer satisfaction can result in up to a 45% loss in customer lifetime value.

Despite its significance in the success of a QSR, cleanliness and service standards can be hard to maintain. On the cleanliness front, necessary tasks can be disengaging to employees. For maintaining restaurant service standards, you may run into challenges gathering customer feedback. In this blog we will discuss three habits for QSRs to maintain cleanliness and service standards, while improving brand perceptions. First, using digital checklists provides managers visibility into whether their procedures are being diligently followed. Second, refining employee education strategies can increase employee engagement and willingness to perform. Finally, conducting regular customer satisfaction surveys allows managers to understand the degree to which their efforts are translating to an improved customer experience. With effective implementation, these good habits will become routine.

1. Use Digital Checklists for Remote Compliance Tracking

Checklists are an essential tool for organization, productivity, and accountability in the quick serve restaurant industry. Checklists provide maximum guidance when they are as thorough as possible. For example, checklists that provide clear tasks with instructions can lead to higher completion rates. Checklists can alleviate the complexity perceived by employees around how different tasks require completion at different frequencies. Squadle recommends overcoming this challenge by establishing opening and closing checklists for restaurant employees to follow. Strictly adhering to checklists establishes routine, and decreases threats to the FDA food code.

There are many benefits to organizing tasks into checklists, and many more to opting for a digital checklist solution. Digitizing checklists makes the process of establishing a routine that considers all tasks and their required completion frequencies less complex. For example, food prep surfaces may be sanitized daily, while fridge interiors are sanitized weekly and freezer interiors are sanitized monthly. This can become difficult to keep track of manually.

Digital Checklists also improve operator oversight. One of the major challenges of using manual checklists is the lack of transparency in completion rates and quality of tasks. This is especially true for operators of multiple locations. It is likely that the owner/operator has outlined to some degree what should happen in each area of the restaurant throughout the day. For example, coffee should be made before opening and sneeze guards should be sanitized constantly. However, there is no true way to confirm whether this procedure is being followed. A digital checklist can synthesize data from multiple locations and shifts into a comprehensive dashboard. Operators can pinpoint threats to food safety and cleanliness from tasks that do not meet completion standards. A manager can assess the state of restaurant cleanliness and predict threats to food safety & customer satisfaction remotely. For example, if a manager identifies that the tables in the customer seating area are overdue to be wiped down, they can alert employees to this issue. With a digital checklist, managers gain visibility into when and how employees complete these specified tasks. Many current digital checklist solutions include reporting capabilities that allow managers to view a variety of task completion statistics and historical data. Having this digital record of completion provides managers confidence that their procedures are being followed. 

Digital checklists also promote employee accountability. In many digital checklist softwares, employees are compelled to provide managers with evidence of tasks being completed on time. This may take the form of a sign-off or photo. With a paper checklist, a manager cannot distinguish whether an employee completed a task to a high degree, or participated in pencil whipping by signing off regardless of task completion. Without an accurate view of operations, food safety and restaurant cleanliness standards cannot be accurately assessed. Eventually, these inconsistencies may cause unforeseen customer service conflicts and food code violations.

2. Prioritize Employee Education of Cleanliness & Service Standards

Even after cleanliness and service processes are finalized and established as part of company guidelines, employees may still cut corners or ignore this guidance. In the QSR industry, this can lead to issues including increased food waste, lost productivity, food safety risks and health code compliance violations. Fast Company cites the top reason employees cut corners being that employees either don’t understand the process, or the point of the task. Employee engagement increases when workers understand the purpose of their role, and why they are spending their time in certain ways. 

Another study on employee non-compliance found that “Employees are most likely to cut corners when they lack clear goals and feel overworked”. This finding yields two valuable insights. First, it is crucial to reiterate the importance of cleanliness to employees. Remind employees that cleanliness and workflow procedures are time-tested and effective, and are not just in place to keep people busy. Ensure employees are familiar with the legal and financial risks that arise when these procedures are not followed. Second, employees should be educated and consistently reminded of the long term goals of the company. And further, how their active participation in adhering to cleanliness and service procedures helps the company reach these goals. Explain the implications of maintaining cleanliness and service standards in increasing employee and customer safety, and improving product quality & customer retention rates. 

Equip employees for success by providing the proper tools and training. For new employees, training should include: education of the restaurant’s cleanliness and service standards, where these standards are derived from (i.e. FDA Food Codes), the purpose of restaurant inspections, and the consequences of receiving a food code violation. Additionally, onboarding should include customer service training. Upserve recommends a combination of hands-on and indirect learning. Before stepping onto the floor, employees should be educated on customer service best practices, such as ‘accommodate substitutions’, and ‘greet the customer promptly’. New employees should also be educated on solutions to common customer problems during training. This equips staff to minimize tension for both customers and employees while handling issues. One strategy for hands-on customer service training is to have new employees shadow a current employee with strong customer service skills. In this way, the new employee may learn the nuances of customer service with some supervision.

A final tip is to encourage compliance by including cleanliness adherence as an element of performance reviews. Kitchen posters hung in strategic locations can be helpful reminders of these employee expectations. Explore 16 free food safety posters available for download here!

3. Conduct Regular Customer Satisfaction Surveys

It’s less expensive to retain existing customers than to attract new ones. Customer satisfaction surveys are an important tool in improving customer retention, by providing valuable insight into customer attitudes about the restaurant. Using information gathered from customer satisfaction surveys, your organization can understand specific customer needs and wants, and adjust business practices to enhance customer experience. Tailoring your business model based on the results of customer satisfaction surveys is highly effective in increasing store income. By one estimate, 84% of companies who work to improve their customer experience see an increase in revenue. Customer satisfaction surveys help you understand what aspects of your business are perceived as positive and negative. This insight is a catalyst for customer-centered adjustments such as introducing new products, or adjusting store hours.

Evaluating your quick serve restaurant’s net promoter score (NPS) is another valuable tool to understand customer perceptions. A businesses net promoter score is based on one question: “How likely are you to recommend this business to a friend or colleague?”. The customer answers this question on a scale of 0-10. Customers who answer 9 or 10 are considered “promoters”. These customers are very valuable because they are likely to participate in word-of-mouth marketing on behalf of the business. NPS is a great metric for assessing the effectiveness of business model adjustments based on customer feedback. In fact, organizations are predicted to exceed growth expectations by  10% by using NPS as a customer satisfaction benchmark. Be sure to include this question in your survey!

Incentivizing customers to participate in a customer satisfaction survey can be a challenge. Follow these tips for improving response rate: 

  1. Ask customers if they would be willing to participate in the survey at the time of sale. Customers are 34x more likely to engage with a survey that they are presented in person, rather than one that they access remotely, i.e. via email. In general, the quicker a survey is delivered following a service interaction, the more likely it is to be completed.
  1. Accommodate the customer. Online surveys provide the opportunity to reach your customers through many mobile channels. Digital surveys can be sent to customers via web link, email, social media, or text message. Ask which platform they would prefer to access the survey on.
  1. Refrain from offering a material incentive. Incentivizing survey responses increases the risk of insincere feedback, and skewed survey results. Instead, reward customers for their participation by implementing real changes based on their input. Announcing that these changes were inspired by customer feedback sets the precedent that survey input is valued and taken seriously.
Next Steps: Improving Cleanliness and Service Standards

These three habits help completion of necessary tasks for maintaining cleanliness and service standards. Once established, your  business can begin to enhance these standards using feedback from customer satisfaction surveys. This ensures that adjustments to the business will be in favor of the customer experience, ultimately increasing customer retention rate, net promoter score, and health code compliance ratings.