Rules for some, but not for all?

by Austin Publicover

I often puzzle over the issue of why some fine-dining cooks choose not to wear hats.  With the celebrity chef culture creating such buzz around the awesomeness of well-crafted food, it's understandable that the best-regarded chefs and rising-star sous chefs want to set themselves apart from other team members in the kitchen.  Plus, they ususally have movie-star hair and are incredibly good-looking.  

But the fact of the matter is, the Dept of Health doesn't care.  Not wearing an effective hair restraint is still a 5 point violation that goes against the 13 points or less needed to get an 'A' letter grade.  And it's not just hats; consider garnishing, plating, serving bread, and other tasks where bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat food might be involved.  Bare-hand contact is a 7 point violation.  That leaves you with a scant 6 points to your 'A'.  Yet, there are still cooks who insist others wear gloves while they refuse to.

In today's climate of strict regulations, high fines, and reputation-damaging letter grades, we need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.  Modeling the excellence and behavior that we expect in the kitchen is an integral part of being a successful leader.  That includes doing the right thing for food safety and for your team to emulate.  Don't garnish with bare hands, instead use gloves or utensils.  Don't eat in food prep areas.  Actively use your thermometer, it's the best indication of how your equipment is performing.  Then continue to monitor that equipment.  

And, yes, please put your beautiful hair under a hair restraint or hat. 

Employee turnover is extremely high in our transient restaurant industry.  This means that new hires may not have the experience or expertise to maintain your standards of quality and excellence.

Active managerial control includes embracing the responsibility of providing quality, safe, and healthful food to your ultimate consumer.  The best chefs understand this on an intuitive level.  The best managers learn it through observation.

Some important components of active managerial control include:

  • Investing in your team members become Food Protection Certificate holders. There is the online course here or the class can be taken in a three-day period through the NYC Hospitality Alliance or similar in-class setting.  Either way, this is key to your restaurant's ongoing success.


  • Establish Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for each of your food preparation processes, and establish Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOPs) for your cleaning expectations.  How else can you expect your team to "get it" and get it done right if the procedure isn't a written one?


  • Recipe cards that contain the specific steps for preparing a food item and the food safety critical limits, such as final cooking temperatures, that need to be monitored and verified


  • Encourage your team to monitor your facility; they are the eyes & ears of your restaurant and can best let you know when something needs to be repaired or maintained.  And they must feel comfortable in communicating those equipment or maintenance problems, even if something breaks while they're using it.


  • Emphasize that communication should always be about the problem or the solution, and never about the person. We're all in this together, and most people try their best.  Constructive criticism and gently correcting behavior contribute to the long term success of your restaurant.  The person you're correcting is not an idiot, he or she just hasn't had the opportunity to learn the right way of accomplishing a task.


  • Establish an employee health policy for restricting or excluding ill employees.  It's okay to be sick, but it's not okay to be sick & work with food.


  • Make record keeping a part of the team's day-to-day practices.  In HACCP, "if it's not written, it didn't happen" is a well-known axiom.  In the day-to-day operations of your restaurant, a simple cleaning log, cooling log, FOH or BOH checklist literally keeps everyone on the same page while promoting consistency and a positive routine.


  • Make ongoing training and education a part of your establishment.  Your team wants to learn, and on-the-job continuing education, such as Bulletproof's Well Done Compliance Intensive, promotes food safety and team cohesion.

And now you know why rules are rules, and they are for everyone... not just for some.  All eyes are on you.   

Have a compliant day... and now go make someone happy with your beautiful food!