This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of Food Management.
In quality assurance (QA) programs for dining and hospitality services, not all service providers are the same. They vary widely, creating confusion for those who oversee onsite food and hospitality services.
Some companies offer front-of-the-house assessments, such as mystery shopping, while others focus on safety and sanitation in the back of the house.
If you want a comprehensive QA evaluation that will improve results for your operation, what should you look for? You need to know whom you’re working with and ask the right questions.
Know the players
QA service providers typically fall into one of these five categories…
1. Front-of-the-house mystery shoppers focus on client interaction and engagement. The assessments evaluate guest experiences and recommend ways to increase satisfaction.
2. Regulatory quality-assurance-only companies that focus on food safety, sanitation and other compliance areas identify risks and help operators score more favorably on mandatory audits.
3. Product manufacturers and distribution companies offer QA audits to complement their core business, such as selling cleaning or food service supplies.
4. Internal assessments are provided by food service management companies. Dining managers conduct QA assessments on behalf of their teams.
5. Independent management consulting firms offer comprehensive services. These consultants offer a holistic and operational view that a client, owner or institution doesn’t typically have. Consultants can offer independent third-party reviews and focus on continual improvement.
Ask the right questions
To elevate your dining and hospitality program from good to great, consider these points.
1. What perspective does the QA company bring to the assessment?
For long-term results, you need a comprehensive view and an independent perspective. Evaluators, by nature, are objective. But if the company focuses only on one part of the operation, you might be missing key data necessary for improved dining operations. Be cautious about assessments from product distributors. While these auditors have product knowledge and provide QA services at low prices, their end game is to identify deficiencies that could be solved using their products. They might offer a discount from the parent company but miss the bigger picture.
2. Can the QA company deliver a truly independent and objective review?
You should believe that the QA company can assess and deliver an unbiased view of the food, hospitality or other services. Evaluators from food service management companies conducting self-audits might not be objective about needed improvements. They’ll be biased towards their team’s performance. It’s human nature. Evaluators from a company that sells a service or product will likely focus on trying to sell more of their goods and services. A truly independent view is ideal.
3. Is the QA review a one-time deal or a long-term commitment to ensure improvement?
To track continual improvement, you need at least two evaluations per year. The evaluation should provide support, reports and prescriptive and realistic recommendations. Look for evaluators who will complete the assessments and follow up with documentation and proof of improved operations. You want to engage industry experts who can coach you and your team with concrete recommendations to correct deficiencies and improve performance.
4. Does the evaluator need hands-on food management experience?
You want feedback from an experienced industry expert who can provide solutions to fix your team’s shortcomings. A good QA assessment goes beyond checklists. You need evaluators who can double as coaches to provide insight and support to continually improve your dining and hospitality services.
5. Can you customize the assessment to meet your specific needs?
Your QA company should be able to customize an assessment just for you. Independent evaluators can include all local, state, federal or agency standard operating procedures, including Joint Commission criteria. They can evaluate and report on those standards before official inspections to ensure your team complies with regulations.
Laura Lozano is a senior associate at Innovative Hospitality Services and CrossCheck Quality Assurance and Contract Compliance, a management consulting and quality assurance firm specializing in hospitality, campus dining, and auxiliary services.