As onsite dining operations cautiously begin to reopen, Restaurant Associates (RA) announces the formation of a brand-new role in the company, RA COVID-19 Safety Czar. This position entails basically staying on top off workplace safety, food safety and how it relates to the health and well-being of both team members and guests.
Anthony Capozzoli, a 13-year veteran of the company and a graduate of Johnson and Wales University, has held a few front- and back-of-house positions for RA, most recently senior director of strategic projects, directing all new unit openings and refreshes, as well as coordinating quality assurance and workplace safety programs.
“Safety has always been at the forefront of our business, and now it’s more important than ever,” says Capozzoli, who was just reunited with his family after seven weeks apart while he worked at New York’s Javits Center, which had been converted into a COVID-19 hospital. He’s been on the front lines of this pandemic, and he has a clear-eyed approach for what his role will mean.
“I think what Restaurant Associates’ strengths are: We’re willing to change and we get into the trenches to help our guests and associates out,” Capozzoli says.
Dick Cattani, CEO of RA, says the health and safety of employees and guests has been “our No. 1 priority since our early years…We want to dedicate our best resources to safely manage the re-opening plan and beyond, hence appointing this unique position.”
“It’s a somber time, but I’m excited because when it comes to food safety and sanitation, I believe we have a plethora of resources,” Capozzoli adds.
The safety czar will be backed up the new advisory board tasked vetting information and setting policies related to COVID-19 procedures. Industry experts like Beth Torin, former executive director for the NYC Department of Health Office of Food Safety; Dr. David Buckley, director of retail food safety for Diversey and a trained virologist with a specialty in foodborne pathogens; Ted Diskin, president of Health and Sanitation Systems and a Registered Sanitarian; Lena Darrell, MPH, REHS/RS, RD, CDN, manager of quality assurance for Compass Group; Amanda King, workplace safety manager for Compass Group and Aaron Salsbury, VP of data analytics for Compass Group’s data services and customer insights arm, E15 Group.
Capozzoli stresses a strictly scientific, fact-based approach to being safety czar.
“It’s about facts vs. opinions at this time. The truth lies in the science, not in the beliefs. There’s no silver bullet to this and you have to arm yourself with the facts,” he says. “We know physical distancing works and we know masks work because they lessen the spread of droplets. We know wearing gloves and hand washing works. How many emails have you been getting about coronavirus? How do you know it’s a reputable source? The focus is not getting bogged down with the information overload.”
The plan for the next few months includes “building consumer confidence but also associate confidence,” Capozzoli says. “During this time of uncertainty, we need to build that confidence; our restaurants will be the safest places to eat upon reopening, maybe even safer for some than eating at home.”
The way to building that confidence is “training, training, training,” Capozzoli says. “It’s important for everyone. We have COVID-19-related training and we’ve adjusted a lot of our trainings in food safety, especially sanitizing high-touch surfaces and cross-contamination.”
The sight of employees wiping down counters, tables, chairs and kiosks will become more common in what RA is calling “the new food experience” (rather than the ubiquitous “the new normal”).
“One of the most important pieces is overt sanitation,” Capozzoli says. “That means seeing associates cleaning and sanitizing and disinfecting surfaces. In the past this—not taboo for guests to see—but something done in off-hours; we didn’t do it in front of you. But now, we want to see it.”
As time goes on, Capozzoli predicts more companies will create safety czar positions “because it’s the right thing to do,” he says. “This isn’t to ‘get out in front’ of something, and our hope is we influence other companies to do the right thing.”
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