Presentation goes beyond the plate and actually starts with the line staff and serving areas. Although people may be lulled into a false sense of security thinking foodservice establishments are so hygienically up to code because of the use of plastic gloves, looks can be deceiving.
“If you are scratching your nose while wearing a plastic glove, what good does the glove do?” asks Claudia Sutherland, president of When the Mood is Food, Inc., a Minneapolis–based food consulting company. “I’d prefer to see a box of plastic gloves within easy reach. That tells staff and customers that servers are expected to change them as needed.
When training employees about presentation, it is imperative that they are also trained about relevant food safety procedures, like coughing into the crook of their arms, as opposed to coughing into their plastic-gloved hands if they can’t leave the line. After a foodservice worker sneezes, away from the food line and preferably out of the service area altogether, he/she should wash his or her hands and wrists and put on a fresh pair of gloves. Written and posted guidelines for these and similar procedures are essential.
“I want to see everybody’s hair pulled back, under a cap,” says Sutherland. “There’s nothing worse than seeing a server run his hands through his hair (no matter how clean it looks) and then firmly grasp my drink cup about the rim as he hands it to me,” she adds.
Another obvious idea worth mentioning: uniforms, chef coats and aprons should be clean, clean, clean. Have a few extra coats or aprons hanging inside the kitchen door so they can be quickly changed if necessary.
One area that seems to be overlooked is the actual serviceware that is used—plates, crockery, deli baskets and trays. “Someone should check plates regularly, including checking for cracked and chipped crockery, fingerprints, grease and dried-on food,” says Sutherland.
Staff should be trained to check plates before food is plated. “I’d like to see a separate cloth, that is plate specific, that servers can use to wipe plates. I’d also like to see separate cloths to maintain the cooking area.”
If you’re using heated and chilled plates for your service, kudos to you. However, cautions Sutherland, “what starts out as a good theory in the morning tends to drop by the wayside by mid-service. Worse yet, you get handed wet plates just out of the dishwasher.”
The solution: assign a single person the added responsibility to keep hot plates hot, cold plates cold and just–washed plates dried–off.
Be sure to keep the handles of the serving utensils out of the food platters. “The whole serving utensil should not be resting in the serving pan with the food. Place the utensil in a separate bucket so that the handle is upright, or place it on the counter in front of the server with the food-covered spoon end resting on a clean plate; handle on the counter,” says Sutherland.
Using baskets for deli service and some fried foods may seem to be an aesthetically pleasing idea. However they can be a big problem hygienically for operators.
“Customers fill them with all sorts of things once they’re done eating,” notes Sutherland—sandwich tissues, half eaten food, used facial tissues. “I’ve actually seen operators place the empty baskets back in the stack without washing them!”
Operators need to be aware that the culinary staff is being watched at all times by customers—some more scrutinizing than others. The team effort exerted to ensure that serving areas and serviceware is clean, and procedures are followed, will only add value to overall food presentation.