The most important reasons for implementing a Program of Continuous Quality Assurance (QA) are to maintain and/or improve your operating standards. But as in so many areas of hospitality, “the devil is in the details."
A Function-Based Scoring System
The best way to make sense of the myriad details is to break down an operation into four broad functional areas, each with 3-5 specific categories on which you’ll focus. Here’s a basic outline:
Culinary and Kitchen
• Menu management
• Purchasing and receiving
• Food production and culinary expertise
• Food quality and control
Service and Front of the House
• Merchandising, presentation and service
• Customer relations
• Human resources
• Administration and finance
• Regulatory agencies and compliance
• Vending or card services
• Client relations
• Facilities, equipment and food safety
• Sustainability, energy, recycling and
• Miscellaneous (exceptions)
Add to this list (and limit it) to another 6-10 sub-categories under each of these, and you’ll have approximately 80-150 items to monitor as part of ongoing quality assurance regime.
Next you have to devise a scoring system. One way is to give each item a value of 1. If, during an evaluation, it meets your standard, give it 1. If not, give it a 0. Divide the number of earned 1’s by the total number of items, and that’s your score. Though you determine what the “passing” grade should be, we recommend 85. After all, your standard should be high.
Contract vs. Self-op
Contracted and self-operated business models require somewhat different approaches. In a contracted arrangement, the use of a third party is the most effective way to implement a QA program on a continuous basis. The goal is to have a process and the necessary tools to keep contractual obligations on track, communicate as good business partners should, and use objective criteria as a means to monitor performance.
The expense is generally neutral, as many contractors will bear the cost. However, it is important that the client pay the bill to the third party in order to avoid any potential conflict of interest. Reimbursement can be in the form of a deduction on the contractor’s bill or it can be built into the fee structure. In either case, the third party is representing the client, not the service provider. In our experience, many service providers welcome this type of oversight, finding that it facilitates a satisfied client relationship.
In a self-operated environment, the process is a bit more involved, but is simplified if your department has a well-articulated and documented set of Standards of Operation. The goals are similar.
In this case, while a 3rd party may be helpful initially and for an occasional check-in, an operation will want to manage its own QA program; also, staff involvement is more critical since they are direct employees. We recommend tying results to the performance appraisal process, whether employees are union or non-union.
Another critical factor is selecting the right team to oversee the process once criteria have been established. It is important to remember that this should be a positive experience and a way to acknowledge good performance as well as to correct poor operational execution or procedures. A good QA program will ultimately save money by uncovering many areas that need realignment, rethinking or tweaking.
Drive Team Involvement
In both types of management structures, you will need to determine frequency and whether inspections are announced or unannounced. In the beginning, a more frequent assessment is usually best. Once standards are well understood a quarterly review in usually enough. A surprise visit may be a good idea on occasion, but as most know, it’s difficult to hide chaotic, unsanitary conditions or poor service regardless of how much advance warning there is.
One way to leverage a good QA program is to turn it into a series of “teachable moments.” Make it a positive exercise, letting everyone know when a review will take place. You’ll see what is going well, encourage constructive self improvement feedback, and let staff help identify where improvements need to be made.
As a director, you will do well to put significant focus on this latter point. The true key to making a QA program effective is to use it to drive staff involvement and ownership. Although you, your management and culinary teams, and (in some cases) your management company will set the standards, it is staff that ultimately ensures their implementation.
An effective program will provide you and staff with a strong sense of direction for continuous improvement initiatives, many opportunities for cost containment and a way to measure and promote accountability. It will have the added benefit of creating a safer environment and, in the long run, an excellent return on investment.
Ted A. Mayer, FMP, Is Vice President of The Rochelle Group, Ltd., a foodservice management consultancy, and the former Assistant Vice President of Campus Services, Hospitality and Dining Services at Harvard University. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 617.875.5882.