They can make or break the success of your business. And no, I am not referring to Yelpers, or even the Yelp Elites, though they are sometimes just as much hated on by many restaurant owners.
Their arrival sends everyone into a scurry of madness to get everything into place where and how they’re supposed to be.
They are godlike entities that are to be answered to. Rub them the wrong way and Lord, have mercy on your business.They are the folks from the health inspection department.
Alert is on high upon the sign of their arrival. “Make sure everything is labeled and dated!” a chef might yell out. And everyone stops what they are doing to grab hold pieces of a labeling tape. Staff starts running amuck, writing on the labels as fast as they could and then sticking them on even faster. Misspellings are common, even more so when rushed. You wouldn’t believe some of the butchered labels I have seen during my time in the kitchen. Most of the butchered spelling are doings of the nonnative English speakers. But I have seen some pretty effed up misspellings by American born employees. I once saw someone spell lettuce as “lettus”. I’ve seen a “know-it-all girl spell caramel as “carmel”. I’ve seen Caesar spelled as “cisur”. I know I can’t spell anymore either. Don’t think that I am immune to my own mockery. I, too, can’t spell. I forgot how to spell! Long gone are the days of almost always scoring a 100% on my spelling tests back in my youth. Spell check and autocorrect has crippled me with a Dan Quayle symptom (if you’re old enough to remember).
In counties where glove wearing is required by law, chefs and cooks scurry around to look for the nearest box of gloves to slip on. Sometimes the only thing available might be too small and tight for some, causing wears and tears on the gloves as giant hands try to work in them, suffering through the cut off circulation. Other times, it may be so huge that the extra flap of latex makes it impossible to handle things (like in my case). And ya’ll know how I feel about glove wearing.
Clean towels are quickly thrown into the sanitary buckets, if not already in there like they’re supposed to be. Side towels (rules and regulations may differ in different counties and/or states) are stripped away from the hips, leaving some feeling naked.
Staff rush to shove down half eaten tacos and the remaining whatevers of food down their throats to get rid of any evidence that there was any eating (other than for tasting) being done at the work stations. Energy drinks and beer bottles buried in ice machines are taken out and put away somewhere far away from anywhere where food is being handled. Luckily for me, these highly regarded intruders don’t seem to come after 5pm. Or at least in my case, it has been that way. Around 7 or 8ish pm is when I go through my enraging behgopa pains and am rarely more than an arm’s length way from munchies stashed away on a nearby shelf somewhere, often times in my Hello Kitty “picnic bag”, where I pack fruits and stuff to bring so that I don’t die from hunger.
“Oh my gosh, they’re here!~” staff would whisper amongst their selves, warning each other that the dreaded moment has come.
They walk in…..clipboard in hand, ready to mark down every little thing that they see wrong….
Is everything within safe temperature zone? With their handy dandy thermometer, they’ll stick that thing in about every station to make sure nothing is within the 41-135F (temperature danger) zone.
Are items stored and organized correctly, from bottom to top?
And yada yada…all the billion other things they check for….
These people rarely smile. Deep down inside, they probably know that they are hated and that their visits are hardly welcomed with open arms. But who knows….outside of their profession, some of them could be happy, cheery, and laid back people.
The visits (in my experience) last for about half an hour to an hour.
“When are they leaving? Gosh it feels like they’ve been here forever. Wish they’d hurry up and check our station so we can get it over with,” staff would whisper to each other discreetly.
Restaurant owners with even the hottest tempers keep their cool and their heads down when encountering the folks from the health department. But I have seen some owners or managers lose their cool with these people. Dispute over a mark down will heat up. And well, Hell can break loose sometimes.
A former boss of my once got into a shouting match with one of them over something…..I can’t even remember what. A manager later suggested that he not be around the next time they come, in fear of pissing them off and plausibly getting more mark downs.
Fortunately, I’ve never worked in a restaurant with any major violations. And hopefully, I’ve never eaten in one. GROSS!!
Some kitchens actually do follow a strict guideline for being on par with all the rules. But the reality is, once the inspection is over (and the kitchen is done playing polite and proper), it’s not uncommon to go back to their old (sometimes violating) routines.
A disclaimer that should be noted here is that the experience and observation noted in this post are not just from one particular restaurant kitchen, but typical scenarios here could apply to kitchens in general.