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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Does Your Team Know What To Do in a Food Safety Crisis?

By Francine L. Shaw | August 2017 | Vendor Bylines


CREATE A SOLID PLAN BEFORE AN INCIDENT OCCURS.


For those of us in the food service industry, when we hear the words “food safety crisis,” we immediately think foodborne illness outbreak, then our minds hurdle to some of our country’s worst incidents. In 1993, Jack in the Box suffered an E. coli outbreak when 732 people were infected with the Escherichia coli O157: H7. Four children died and 178 other victims were left with permanent injuries, including kidney and brain damage. In February 2007, Peter Pan and some Great Value (Walmart's store brand) peanut butter were linked to 425 cases of salmonellosis across the United States. The Peanut Corporation of America was the source of the colossal salmonella outbreak in 2008 and 2009, where nine people died and at least 714 people—half of them children—fell ill, all from food poisoning after eating products containing contaminated peanuts. Chipotle is recovering from yet another norovirus occurrence after an unprecedented run of foodborne illness outbreaks in 2015.

A food safety crisis isn’t necessarily a foodborne illness incident or outbreak where someone got ill, injured, or died. According to Food Safety Magazine, during 2016, there was approximately 764 product recalls, that’s an average of 2.1 per day. The leading causes were undeclared allergens and Listeria contamination. The costs associated with these recalls are staggering. Recalls—even if no one was sickened—are certainly a crisis situation for the companies involved.

And what about other unexpected crises: a robbery, a customer has a heart attack and dies at your restaurant, a car drives through the front wall, someone places a bomb in the trash can at your front entrance, there’s an unexpected power outage or a shooting at your venue? Yes, sadly, these are all real possibilities. Does your team know exactly what to do? Where to start? Remember, the overwhelming majority of your employees are going to panic and forget everything they’ve ever been told—it’s normal. Therefore, it is important to be prepared for every type of crisis imaginable.

When you’re developing your plan (and/or thinking about how to recover from a crisis), here are some things to consider and implement:

1. Form a crisis management team.


Assessing which roles need to be part of the crisis management team and what the responsibilities need to be is a vital step in the overall development of the crisis management capability. Roles and responsibilities should be documented, and team members must have the skills, experience, and competence to carry out those roles and responsibilities. The team should consist of a corporate attorney, company leadership, food safety team, crisis management consultant, and a trained media spokesperson. You will likely need to bring in applicable government agencies, as well.

2. Know how your local health department operates.

The role of the local health department varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, so get to know your local inspectors. Find out which agency is responsible for your operation local, state, the FDA or maybe a combination. Discover how the organizations interact with one another. You want to know all this information prior to an incident occurring. Don’t be afraid to work with your regulatory agencies, they want to help.

3. Know whether you are one of 20 states that have emergency response teams funded by the FDA.
What do you do if you’re not one of them and disaster strikes?

4. Know whether your state has a Food Safety and Inspection Task Force.

Find out what help they offer and how you can leverage their services.

5. Create honest, authentic and apologetic messaging.

This will, of course, need to be developed to meet the specifics of your situation, whether that’s a foodborne illness incident or other crisis. Regardless of what happened, you’ll need to honestly describe the situation and explain the solutions-focused plan you’ve created to move forward. Transparency is important, otherwise, the general public will lose confidence and trust.

6. Work with the media to disseminate information about the incident.
The media want to report what has happened, and it’s in your best interest to be straightforward with them about the occurrence. Identify where there was a breakdown in your process—whether you received tainted merchandise from a vendor or experienced an error in the kitchen—and explain the concrete steps you’re taking to fix it and prevent a reoccurrence (e.g., selecting different vendors, re-training your staff, adjusting your food allergy protocols, etc.).

7. Train (or re-train) your staff on food safety protocols.

Be certain that everyone is knowledgeable about food safety (e.g., how to prevent cross-contamination, how to properly prepare allergy-friendly meals, etc.) to avoid similar crisis situations in the future.

8. Use social media wisely.

Some restaurants (and other businesses) experience a “social media crisis” that negatively impacts their reputation (online and off). An Applebee’s employee recently posted inappropriate things about a customer, and many followers were offended. Applebee’s reacted defensively, firing back hostile comments that added fuel to the fire. Then they started deleting the online threads about the incident, rather than addressing them rationally, which angered their followers and caused additional damage. Don’t get defensive and don’t allow yourself to get sucked into toxic, negative message spirals. Messages on social media (as well as in real life) should always be positive and professional.

9. Communicate with your customers and employees to win back their trust.

Again, be honest, sincere and apologetic. Explain how and why their loyalty is so important to you, and vow to earn their trust again.

10. Change vendors, if necessary.

Did a vendor mislabel ingredients, causing an allergic reaction in one of your guests? Did they source tainted products and sell them to you? Did they hold foods at unsafe temperatures, causing bacteria to grow, which sickened your customers? Change vendors, and be clear in your communications (to media, via social media platforms, etc.) that you identified the vendor as the source of the problem, explaining that you’ve cut ties to them to eliminate similar events in the future.

11. React appropriately to negative feedback and comments online.

It’s important that you (or someone on your team) monitor social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) and respond to negative and/or erroneous comments. Don’t get defensive and don’t allow yourself to get sucked into toxic, negative message spirals. Stay on message, remain positive, and explain how you’re working to fix the situation.

12. Thank the responders that helped.

Perhaps your crisis wasn’t a foodborne illness—it was a customer dying of natural causes or there was a bomb threat at your restaurant. Perhaps it was an electrical fire or an active shooter on site. Use the media and social media platforms to thank the police, fire department, paramedics—whichever responders helped defuse the situation.

13. Designate a media spokesperson.
When facing a serious crisis, your restaurant’s CEO/owner/president should be the spokesperson. The public wants the head of the company to speak authoritatively about the incident and the concrete plans to resolve the problem. Work with a professional crisis management team so your spokesperson doesn’t do more harm than good in interviews. For instance, Steve Ells, the CEO of Chipotle, was widely criticized for his delayed statements in the wake of the chain’s massive (and multiple) foodborne illness outbreaks in 2015. Further, he appeared nervous—not authoritative—in his television interviews, which did not reassure a nervous public that he was in control of the situation. In fact, he just doesn’t like to appear on camera. Practice your messages before going in front of the cameras, anticipate the most challenging questions you may receive, and determine how you’ll respond professionally, politely, and non-defensively.

14. Don’t say “no comment”


No comment is not an acceptable response. It makes you look like you have something to hide. Even though everyone in the company will be busy during a crisis, someone must take the time to speak with the media. It is imperative that whoever is assigned this task is professionally trained to speak with the press and handle interviews.

15. Ensure that you’re communicating consistent (and authentic) messages in media interviews, customer interactions, social media posts, etc.

Everything you say must convey sincere apologies, identify the problem and focus on successfully moving forward. What you say to the media should be the same messages as you’re posting on Facebook, telling customers/employees in person, etc.

16. Stay calm.

While it’s upsetting (and also terrifying!) to be in a crisis situation, your best bet is to remain calm as you work to recover from the incident. Follow your crisis plan and communicate your key messages. Make certain that important audiences (including customers, prospects, employees, the media, vendors, health inspectors, etc.) recognize how hard you’re working to prevent similar incidents in the future.

17. Debrief after the crisis is over. 

Get the crisis management team together and debrief. Review your plan and see if there is any room for improvement for future preparedness.

I recently attended the International Association for Food Protection Conference (IAFP) in Tampa, FL and the one thing many of us agreed on is, it’s not a matter of if you will have a crisis—it’s when.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

What Would You Do In A Food Safety Crisis?

By Francine L. Shaw, President / Published July 17, 2017 on RestaurantNews.com


What if your restaurant inadvertently served salads made with tainted lettuce, which sickened dozens of guests?  Or one of your servers accidentally served pesto to a guest with a nut allergy, who had a severe allergic reaction as a result? Perhaps your restaurant didn’t pass a health inspection and your commercial kitchen was shut down?  You’re facing a crisis – do you know what to do next?
Food service employees don’t intend to serve up a plate of Salmonella, norovirus or listeria, but sometimes tainted produce or undercooked meats make guests sick – or worse – even kill them.  Restaurant employees may accidentally cross-contaminate – cutting ready-to-eat food like fruit on a board that previously held raw chicken, contaminating the fruit with bacteria from the raw poultry juices.  Maybe they didn’t realize that a sauce contained dairy and they unknowingly served it to a dairy-allergic guest, who had to be transported by ambulance from your restaurant to the ER.
Even with the most careful food safety protocols in place, your restaurant is at risk for a food safety crisis.  Do you have a crisis plan in case the worst-case scenario happens at your venue?
Ideally, you’ve thought about crisis management before anything bad actually happens at your restaurant.  It’s important for all food service businesses to create a crisis plan before a crisis occurs to follow if a disaster strikes.  In a crisis, your team will be upset – even terrified – and will need an actionable plan to use as a guide moving forward.  While you hope to never need it, it’s better to be prepared.  A crisis plan will help you and your employees handle a crisis, deliver accurate messages, minimize damage, and rebuild your restaurant to be stronger (and safer) than ever.
When we think of a food safety crisis, we often think of foodborne illnesses, but all restaurants should prepare for a variety of crisis scenarios: a severe allergic reaction at your establishment, a failed health inspection, a product recall, an employee worked with norovirus and infected customers with it, etc.  You should also know how to react to any potentially damaging occurrence, where “bad news” about your restaurant is spreading through town – including a social media crisis.
When you’re creating your plan, include the following:
  • Find out what happened. This is the most important first step. Was there an error in your kitchen? Did a vendor ship tainted product?  Were products held at the correct temperature?  Did cross-contamination or cross-contact occur? Was there a mistake in product labeling? Did an ill employee spread a sickness (like norovirus) to customers? Determine what happened and how it happened.
  • Communicate with key audiences. Your customers, prospects, employees, advertisers, sponsors and others want to know what happened and what you’re doing to remedy the situation.  Create honest, apologetic messaging and be heartfelt and genuine in your communications.  Give the facts – what happened, where there was a breakdown in the system, and how you’re preventing a reoccurrence.  Explain the solutions-focused plan you’ve created to move forward.
  • Work with the media. Some restaurant owners/managers avoid the media in a crisis, but that’s not in your best interest. Instead, work with the media to tell your story – explain how there was a breakdown in your process and how you’re moving forward to fix it and prevent a reoccurrence.  Stay focused on the facts. Be apologetic, and don’t get emotional or defensive.
  • Train (or re-train) your staff on food safety protocols. Be certain that everyone is knowledgeable about food safety (e.g., how to prevent cross-contamination and cross-contact, how to properly prepare allergy-friendly meals, not to work when they’re vomiting or have diarrhea, etc.) to avoid similar crisis situations in the future.
  • Use social media wisely. Some restaurants (and other businesses) experience a “social media crisis” that negatively impacts their reputation (online and off). An Applebee’s employee recently posted inappropriate things about a customer, and many followers were offended.  Applebee’s reacted defensively, firing back hostile comments that added fuel to the fire.  Then they started deleting the online threads about the incident, rather than addressing them rationally, which angered their followers and caused additional damage.  Don’t get defensive and don’t allow yourself to get sucked into toxic, negative message spirals.  Messages on social media (as well as in real life) should always be positive and professional.
  • Vow to win back customers’ and employees’ trust. Actions speak louder than words, so do what you promise moving forward. Be very clear about the steps you’re taking to “right the wrong” that occurred.
  • Make changes. If a vendor mislabeled ingredients or sourced tainted products, cut ties with that vendor.  If an employee made an accidental error, be sure to train them (and all of your staff) about how to avoid similar problems in the future.  If an employee or vendor made a deliberate error (e.g., knowingly posting damaging information about your restaurant on social media), take appropriate action, which may include termination, suspension, etc.
  • Designate a media spokesperson. When facing a serious crisis, your restaurant’s CEO/owner/president should be the spokesperson.  The public wants the head of the company to speak authoritatively about the incident and the concrete plans to resolve the problem. Work with a professional crisis management team so your spokesperson doesn’t do more harm than good in interviews.  For instance, Steve Ells, the CEO of Chipotle, was widely criticized for his delayed statements in the wake of the chain’s massive (and multiple) foodborne illness outbreaks in 2015.  Further, he appeared nervous – not authoritative – in his television interview, which may not have reassured a nervous public that he was in control of the situation.  Practice your messages before going in front of the cameras, and anticipate the most challenging questions you may receive – and determine how you’ll respond professionally, politely and non-defensively.
  • Stay calm. While it’s upsetting (and also terrifying!) to be in a crisis situation, remain calm as you work to recover from the incident. Follow your crisis plan and communicate your key messages.  Make certain that important audiences (including customers, prospects, employees, the media, vendors, health inspectors, etc.) recognize how hard you’re working to prevent similar incidents in the future.
  • Move forward. Yes, a crisis at your restaurant will likely be the hardest and scariest period in your professional life, but you will get through it.  Stay strong, positive and solutions-focused.  Be a good leader for your staff.  Vow to serve safe food in a healthy environment.  And demonstrate – through your words and actions – how important the health and safety of your customers, staff and community are to you.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Training Staff on Food-Allergy Safety

By Francine L. Shaw  |  Published July 6, 2017, on ChefMagazine.com


It’s crucial to prep, cook and serve with food-allergic customers in mind—even during your busiest shift. It could save lives.

Food allergies are increasingly prevalent among diners, and they present such severe and even life-threatening risks that they now warrant mandated food-allergy training among foodservice professionals across the United States.
It’s estimated that 15 million Americans have food allergies, according to the nonprofit Food Allergy Research and Education. The “Big 8” that are responsible for 90 percent of all allergic responses are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish.
Diners can also have life-threatening allergic reactions to a variety of other foods, too. That’s why everyone in your restaurant—the owner, chefs, servers, and hosts— should take food allergies seriously and engage in training. All employees should be aware of your food allergy protocols. Emphasize to your staff that if a food-allergic guest ingests even a trace amount of their food allergen, it can trigger a reaction—and, in some cases, even death.
To help keep diners safe, staff must know what ingredients are used in every component of every meal on the menu. One of the most important elements of proper food safety protocol is avoiding cross-contact, where proteins from foods containing an allergen are transferred to foods not containing that allergen. An example of this is chopping peanuts on a board and then chopping salad greens on that same board. To avoid cross-contact, boards and other equipment must be properly cleaned and sanitized after preparing any foods.
It’s crucial to note the difference between cross-contact and cross-contamination. Anyone can become ill from cross-contamination if they eat foods that have touched raw meats or poultry. Cross-contact, however, is a relatively new term that is only dangerous for food-allergic guests. Be certain that your staff understands what this new term means and how to prevent it.
It’s easy to make a mistake when serving hundreds of guests on any given evening. But using proper food allergy protocols all the time can help prevent mistakes, so here are some tips to consider:
  •  Communication is critical among both Front-of-house and back-of-house staff. Hosts and servers should always ask if there are any food allergies in the party and, if so, inform the manager and chef.
  • Cooks must communicate with each other during the entire cooking and plating process.
  • Create a separate workspace in the kitchen to prepare only allergen- free/gluten-free meals.
  • Store common food allergens away from other foods.
  •  Utilize color-coded tools to reduce the risk of cross-contact. Purple is the universal color for allergen-free kitchen utensils.
  •  Don’t use the same fryer or oil for fries that has been used for breaded fish or foods with nuts.
  • When food-allergic guests have questions, the manager or chef should answer them to be certain the information is accurate.
  • Be aware of complex allergies beyond dairy-free or gluten-free.
  • Serve allergen-free/gluten-free meals on plates that feature different shapes or colors than the rest of the dishware so they can be easily identified by cooks and servers.
  • Ensure all dishware is properly washed, rinsed and sanitized prior to reuse.
  • Educate entire staff about allergen “aliases.” For instance, whey and casein are dairy products, and semolina contains gluten.
  • Be willing to modify dishes for food-allergic guests by using different sauces, sides or ingredients.
  • Take advantage of the numerous food-safety classes, webinars, and videos that are available online.
With all the things that are happening in a kitchen, food allergy concerns can take a back seat; but it’s essential to properly accommodate each and every food-allergic customer, even during your busiest shifts, to keep diners safe and even save their lives.
With more than 100 combined years of experience, Food Safety Training Solutions Inc. offers consulting, food safety training, food safety inspections and more.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Food safety experts can help design kitchens to reduce risks

No matter how much time and care a chef takes preparing a meal, no matter how beautiful it looks on the plate, one splash of one drop of dirty dish water can turn the delectable into the deadly.

BY FRANCINE L. SHAW | 


When designing a commercial kitchen, many people consider how the space will look, when they should be primarily concerned with how it will function. The design should maximize efficiency and productivity, but it also must promote proper food safety protocols.

Cross-contamination and cross-contact are important factors to consider. Recognize that one design flaw could have life-threatening ramifications. For instance, in restaurant settings, when servers take food to guests, they should never have to walk through the dirty dish area, which increases the contamination risk. Also give careful thought to the placement of your three-compartment sink, to be sure it’s separate from food prep areas.Food service professionals should work closely with their designer and construction team, and it’s wise to also collaborate with a food safety expert, who can advise on how the workspace layout can boost food safety practices. Many of the same considerations are appropriate for those designing and refinishing home kitchens.
Think of food safety when planning the space — such as ensuring that floor mixers aren’t placed near wash sinks where dirty water could splash in and contaminate the food. It’s also critical to plan the “smaller details” that could impact food safety — such as not leaving any gaps between counters and walls that could attract grime, insects or rodents, and being certain that you use grout that can be properly cleaned and sanitized.
When planning, designing and building a commercial kitchen:
  • Plan the flow. The flow of your prep area should make sense for efficiency, as well as food safety. This will save time, money and reduce risk.

  • Purchase equipment that’s easy to clean, with minimal nooks and crannies. This is important for all equipment that you use in your kitchen, including mixers, fryers, ice cream machines and meat slicers.

  • Consider even the smallest details — like the amount of tile grout used. The less tile grout, the less risk for chipping. Chipping — and cracks or holes in walls and floors — result in bacteria growth. Always use a non-porous grout material that doesn’t allow bacteria to grow.

  • Ensure that your floors have drains so they can be deep cleaned regularly.

  • Ensure that your hot water tanks hold a sufficient amount of hot water. If they don’t hold enough hot water to get you through your busiest rush period of washing and sanitizing dishes, you either need to get a booster or a larger hot water tank. Hot water is critical to proper washing and sanitizing dishes, equipment, and hands.

  • Consider the placement of your sinks. Kitchen sinks must never be in an area where there’s potential for contaminated water to splash on consumables, clean dishes, or anything else it could contaminate. In tight areas, a barrier may need to be installed between the sink and a prep area.

  • Install multiple sinks for washing dishes, produce, poultry, hands, etc.

  • Designate separate equipment and prep space for allergen-free/gluten-free cooking to safely accommodate your guests with food allergies and intolerances.

  • Designate allergy-friendly equipment, such as fryers, that are not used for any common allergens, including breaded products, fish or shellfish, or foods containing nuts.

  • Use different shaped or different colored plates to serve allergy-friendly meals.

  • Purchase or make your own allergy kits, complete with color-coded chopping boards and pans and utensils, which are kept clean, covered and stored away from flours and other potential allergens. Purple is widely used and recognized to designate allergy-friendly equipment.

  • Wash and sanitize allergy equipment and surfaces between each use.

  • Make certain areas that are impossible to reach for cleaning are sealed tightly. It is impossible for anyone to clean a quarter-inch gap between a wall and a counter space that the contractor neglected to close. This will eventually become an insect or rodent haven, which is obviously a food safety hazard.

  • Design separate storage space for common food allergens such as flours, nuts, etc., to avoid cross-contact with other foods.


Color-coded cutting boards help ensure that fresh produce is not cross-contaminated with pathogens from raw meat, fish or poultry. To increase compliance with such food safety policies and procedures employers must provide continuing education and training for food handlers.

The seemingly minor details in a kitchen — such as the kind of grout used — are truly a big deal in terms of keeping guests safer. And bigger issues — such as placement of a three-compartment sink — must be carefully considered at the start of a design project.
While it’s critical, of course, to have a competent design and construction team for your project, don’t overlook the importance of having a food safety expert consult on the project, from concept to implementation. Food safety experts bring a valuable perspective to the table and can advise on all matters from how kitchen design impacts reduce foodborne illness risks and which ice machines are easiest to clean and keep sanitary. By working collaboratively, your design, construction, and food safety expert can maximize your future successes and minimize food safety risks.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

11 Tips to Accommodate Food-Allergic Guests

Published on We Are Chefs by Francine L. Shaw  |  May 3, 2017

A hot and important trend in foodservice is accommodating food-allergic guests. According to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), it’s estimated that an estimated 15 million Americans have food allergies.

This dish is beautiful but could be deadly for a guest with a food allergy.


The foods responsible for 90% of all allergic responses are known as The Big 8: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soybeans, wheat, fish, and shellfish. For this reason, food allergy training is slowly being implemented across the U.S., which is a positive thing for food-allergic customers, as well as the restaurants that serve them. Emphasize to your staff that if a food-allergic guest ingests even a trace amount of their food allergen, it can trigger a reaction, and in severe cases, even death.
Here’s some advice to make your restaurant safer for food-allergic guests:

Eggs are considered one
of The Big 8 food allergens.

Here’s some advice to make your restaurant safer for food-allergic guests:

• Communication with guests and staff is critical. Train your front-of-house staff to ask every guest about food allergies and clearly communicate the food allergy to the manager and chef. Kitchen staff should be in constant communication during cooking, plating and serving to prevent cross-contact.

• Create a separate workspace in the kitchen to prepare allergen-free/gluten-free meals. Make certain all work surfaces and equipment are properly cleaned and sanitized.

• Store common food allergens in a separate area of the kitchen.

• Utilize color-coded allergy tools to reduce the risk of cross-contact. Purple is the universal color for allergen-free kitchen utensils. Keep these tools clean, covered and stored away from flours, nuts and other common allergens.

Rubbermaid® Commercial Products’ (RCP) Color-Coded Foodservice
System earned the ACF Seal of Approval.

• Use separate fryers for foods that are common allergens.

• Provide accurate information by directing food-allergic guests’ questions to the manager or the head chef. Front-of-house staff should never guess about ingredients or preparation of a dish — this can be a matter of life and death.

• Be aware of multiple and complex allergies. Your team may have mastered cooking and serving a dairy-free or gluten-free meal, but they should also be able to expertly handle multiple and unusual allergies.

• Serve allergen-free/gluten-free meals on different-shaped or different-colored plates so they can be easily identified by servers and guests.

• Educate your entire staff about allergen “aliases” — for instance, whey and casein are dairy products, and semolina contains gluten.

• Modify dishes for food-allergic guests using different sauces, sides or other components to accommodate their special dietary restrictions.

• Train your team on food allergy protocols. There are numerous online classes, webinars, videos and live classes that can assist you with this endeavor.

In 2015, 16-year-old Scott Johnson died after eating two pancakes at a Minnesota diner. Allegedly, staff members confirmed that the flapjacks were dairy-free, and the cook even agreed to clean the grill before making them. There was a mistake somewhere in the diner’s protocol, and the teen accidentally ate dairy in his meal. Shortly after consuming the pancakes, Scott went into anaphylactic shock and died three days later.

Scott Johnson’s death shows why it is imperative that your staff know what ingredients are used in each menu item. One of the most important elements of proper food safety protocol is avoiding cross-contact, a relatively new term, in which proteins from foods containing an allergen are transferred to foods not containing that allergen. Make certain that your staff understands what cross-contact means and how to prevent it.

An example of cross-contact is chopping peanuts on a cutting board and then chopping salad greens on the same board. A peanut-allergic guest can have a reaction from eating the greens that came into contact with the peanuts during prep. Thermometers are also a common source of cross-contact because they are frequently inserted from one food item into another without being properly sanitized. I strongly recommend color-coded thermometers (and other equipment, as well) to designate allergy-friendly tools.

Many people also believe using hand sanitizer is an effective way to manage food allergens. This is not accurate. Experts have proven that antibacterial gels are not effective in removing food proteins. Changing gloves and washing hands with soap and water are two effective methods to eliminate allergen exposure.

It is vital that everyone on your team understands how to properly handle an order for guests with food allergies and intolerances. Consumers are increasingly seeking out establishments where they can dine worry-free, many of them driving an hour or more to eat safely. These establishments will earn brand loyalty increase profitability by catering to these diners.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Not All Business Trips Go According to Plan

By Francine L. Shaw
Those of you that follow me know that I do a significant amount of travel. There are weeks that my business requires me to make four or five flights to meet with clients, give presentations, etc. I have become quite adept at getting from point A to point B, but even with experience, there can be challenges. How we choose to deal with those trials reflects how we deal with life in general (in my opinion) and, in turn, will determine our success in whatever we set out to accomplish.
Just a few days ago, I left my office for a trip to give a presentation. On my way to the airport, I received a notification that there was a flight delay.  I thought that’s not a problem, it’s to be expected this time of year with seasonal thunderstorms. A bit later, I got another notification that the flight is back on schedule – sometimes pilots make up a bit of time in flight. Great news! When I got to my gate, the flight was delayed again.  Now, this just makes me laugh – when stuff happens that’s beyond your control, there’s nothing you can do but embrace it. Several people are quite upset, even though the delay was only about 30 minutes, not several hours. We boarded the plane and made the three-hour flight without issue until we landed. Multiple flights landed within minutes of each other, and there was a shortage of flight bridges (or staff to operate them). We waited another 30 minutes. Everyone wanted to get off the plane, and the passengers were getting angrier by the second.  As time went on, passengers began to assume they wouldn’t have to wait for their luggage since it was taking so long to deplane. I guess they thought the passengers on the other planes didn’t have any luggage? Since 10 flights landed at the same time, all the luggage needed to be unloaded at the same time. We waited again. Don’t misunderstand me, I wasn’t jumping for joy about the string of annoyances, but I recognized that yelling and screaming at customer service or other passengers was not going to accomplish anything. We waited 40 minutes for our luggage, then. went out to the rental car shuttle.
At this point, it was after 10:00 p.m. I was expecting to be at my destination by 8:00 p.m. Every rental car shuttle was arriving except for the one where I had a reservation.  I stood with about 60 other people – and the crowd was growing. Honest to heaven, we waited so long (nearly an hour) and the crowd was getting so large that someone from the airport came out to ask which shuttle we needed. I don’t need to tell you, frustration was mounting. Many of these people had experienced delayed flights, long waits on the tarmac, an extreme wait for luggage, change in time zones, it was late in the evening and now there was no shuttle.  It’s no surprise that the mood was not great.
Finally, in the distance, we could see the shuttle! And…it was not a large bus it was a small van – “Oh no, this mob of people is never going to fit in that van! It’s going to be survival of the fittest,” I thought. I decide I would wait for the next van, I was not going to get in the middle of that chaos – I didn’t care how tired I was. The van stopped, all but in front of me. I was still planning to wait it out when a gentleman motioned me to go ahead and get on – what a kind man. As I stepped up, the driver took my luggage and the person in front of me. He set two bags directly in my path so I had to stop. That’s when I felt something hit me HARD in my calf, my leg buckled and I nearly fell over – thank heaven for all the luggage that was around me to hold me up. I turned around to see a large hardcover suitcase (apparently filled with rocks) had been hurled at me by a 6’2”, 250-pound man behind me. Apparently, he didn’t want to carry it up the steps.  I don’t know, but in any event, it hurt like hell. I could feel my leg swelling immediately and I truly wanted to strangle him. He apologized for hitting me and we moved on.
I finally arrived at the rental car location, hobbled in with my sore leg, and my luggage in tow and proceeded to get my car. I was to drop the car off at 4 a.m. two days later so I could make my early flight home. The clerk informed me that the shuttle doesn’t start running until 4:30 a.m. but there is a drop box for the car keys. I inquired as to how I might get to the airport at 4:00 a.m. His response, “I guess you’ll have to walk.” Did he really just say that? Customer service was lacking at this location. I wanted to inflict the physical pain I was feeling on him. Instead, I replied, “I’ll figure it out. Thanks for your help.” I went outside where I got my rental car and instead of giving me the printed receipt, he e-mailed it. Finally, I could head to the hotel and get a few hours’ sleep. I pulled up to the gate handed the gentleman inside my driver’s license – he asked for my receipt. I explained that it was e-mailed, and I didn’t receive a printed copy, he then replies – “I guess you’ll have to go back and get one.” (I couldn’t pull it up on e-mail because it was sent to my assistant.) Was this day ever going to end? I was exhausted, my leg was killing me, and everyone was being less than tolerable. “I don’t think so,” I replied. “I am NOT going anywhere. You can pick up the phone and call him if you like but I am not turning around.” So, he called his manager. Another wait.
I got to my hotel around 1:00 a.m., starving and drained both emotionally and physically.  I examined my leg, it was swollen, horribly bruised and the top layer of skin was ripped off (the next day I was speaking for several hours, wearing 3-inch heels).  Nothing a bag of M&M wouldn’t fix.
The trip home was another adventure. I’ll save it for another time. My point is, at many points during this excursion, I certainly could have gone the route of many others and yelled, screamed, and cussed at the less-than-helpful customer service agents. I am a top-level frequent flier, I’m a top level rental car customer, and the same goes at multiple hotel chains, but what does that matter and what does it solve. When an individual does that, the corporation doesn’t look bad. The person yelling and swearing does. They look like fools. Was it the customer service agent’s fault our flight was delayed? Was it the airline attendant’s fault that there was not a bridge available the moment we landed? Was it their fault we had to wait for our luggage? No, is the answer to every one of these questions. Yet it is these customer service representatives who were being yelled at and belittled in front of crowds of people.  Getting angry and abusive doesn’t solve any of the annoying travel problems – it only causes more anger and hatred.
To those who think that business travelers live a life of glitter and glitz…we do get to visit more destinations than the average person and we do (usually) have a good time in our travels, but it’s not always what you envision. To those who travel as I do, if you’ve never worked in the service industry, be patient with these folks – they’re people too. They are out there trying to earn a living just like you and me. Put yourself in their shoes.  Is any of this going to matter six months from now? Probably not. Take a deep breath, it will all be over soon – and it could be worse, at least you’re alive to complain about it.
To the gentleman that hit me with his massive suitcase, I hope you arrived home safely and got a good night’s sleep. I recommend getting your blood pressure checked, and maybe you should try meditation (or medication.  Or both).
I think I should write a book based on my last 10 years of travel experiences, there have been some doozies.
Francine L. Shaw is President of Food Safety Training Solutions, Inc., which offers a robust roster of services, including consulting, food safety training, food safety inspections, norovirus policies for employees, norovirus clean-up procedures, curriculum development, responsible alcohol service training, and more. The Food Safety Training Solutions team has more than 100 combined years of industry experience in restaurants, casinos, and convenience stores. The company has helped numerous clients, including Paradies Lagardère, McDonald’s, Subway, Marriott, Domino’s, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts of America, Dairy Queen, and Omni Hotel and Resorts, prevent foodborne illnesses. Additionally, they work with restaurants of all sizes, schools, medical facilities, convenience stores, hotels, and casinos.  Francine has been featured as a food safety expert in numerous media outlets, including the Dr. Oz Show, the Huffington Post, iHeartRadio, Food Safety News, and Food Management Magazine.