Restaurant/Health Department Conflict Resolution

Conflict Resolution with your Health Department Inspector

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Three Conflict-Management Principles
Although most of us were raised on the notion that conflict is bad, conflict itself isn’t good or bad-but it is inevitable.
Resist the temptation to quash conflict, instead learn how to make conflict work for you.
These principles can help you manage conflict:

1. Prevent Health Department conflicts from coloring customers’ perceptions of your restaurant.

2. Find and eliminate conflicts by resolving them in ways that improve the long-term strategies of the restaurant.

3. Set policies that minimize the negative conflicts that plague businesses.

Customer Perception
No doubt about it, it’s awkward for a customer to witness a health inspection. It also gives any business an unprofessional appearance. Managers need specific strategies to deal with such situations.

While your first inclination upon witnessing a violation may be to run and hide them from the public, trying to cover up a violation never works. Instead, walk up to nearby customers to get them away from the inspection. Let them know that such embarrassing situations are not the norm in your establishment.

Also develop a company wide hand signal that means “Let’s all go to the back office immediately.” This management tool can help shield customers from awkward situations. Such an internal communication can quietly head off embarrassing situations before they affect customers’ perceptions.
Now that the fire is out, how do you prevent further damage?

Positive Resolution
After customers are out of sight, and the health inspector has finished their report and ask them, “What problems did you find, and we solve any of those problems right away?” Probe the inspector to get resolutions to all the problem and work with them to promote solutions to the differences.

Minimize Negative Energy
Although conflict cannot be avoided entirely, managers need to stamp out a culture of conflict that plagues poorly run organizations. Such conflict becomes institutionalized because of poor policies or bad behavior examples set by managers. Ongoing conflicts that are never addressed lead to the very headaches managers want to avoid: unnecessary restaurant shutdowns and distractions that pull employees away from attention to customer service.

For restaurants, a particular flash point is relations between the health department and restaurant staff. Managers need to make sure both groups work together to create a harmonious atmosphere conducive to great customer service.

Never pass up a chance to learn from conflicts by looking at them from an health inspector’s point of view.


Follow these tips to keep your business open and conflict free.
• Focus on tasks, not personalities.
• Look for areas of mutual benefit. Find the common ground first and work from there.
• Design reward systems that recognize team behavior. A certain degree of competition between employees may serve as a motivator, but compensation plans should also recognize team sales or overall customer satisfaction to encourage cooperation.
• Managing conflict sometimes requires no response at all. Listen attentively as a health inspector or customer vents and then proposes his or her own solution.
• Stay in touch with all departments. Some chefs or owners never seem to leave the stove while some glad-handing proprietors never venture into the kitchen. Maintaining daily contact with every department can prevent health department conflicts from sneaking up.
• Model the behavior you want employees to exhibit.
• Keep staff busy. When you have time to lean you have time to clean….
• Train, train, train. Constantly train employees so that they know what is expected of them.