Restauranteurs and owner-operators are some of the most fearless people I know. It's a trait that makes success in such a wildly lucrative industry possible. But regardless of how thoroughly prepared and ship-shape they run things, a visit from the health inspector can still bring feelings of dread.
Here's how to handle an impromptu inspection and what to do immediately afterward.
A Surprise Inspection
An unexpected visit from the health inspector can really catch you off-guard. Follow these steps to make it through the visit with sanity intact:
Check credentials. You don't want to allow anyone into the kitchen or back office areas until you've verified credentials. Generally the inspector will show quickly produce these upon their arrival. If this doesn't happen, ask them for documentation. This shouldn't be a big deal for any legitimate inspectors. Unfortunately, there have been numerous cases of people posing as inspectors, sometimes demanding money in exchange for a clean report. If the inspector doesn't have any documentation, then a quick call to the local health department may quickly settle things.
Reason for the visit. Once credentials have been verified, it's good to find out the reason for the visit. Is this a random inspection or was a complaint filed? Again, the inspector should share this information with you early on, but if they don't, it's your right to ask.
Keep it calm and professional. This can be easier said than done as it's natural to get a bit nervous — and even defensive — when someone is critiquing your restaurant and processes. But getting defensive or angry certainly won't help the inspection go any smoother. By remaining open, approachable, and professional, you'll be able to take the advice in stride and be even better prepared for the next inspection. And while it may seem natural to offer the inspector something to eat or drink — you're in the service industry after all! — avoid doing so as it can appear that you are trying to bribe them or sway the visit outcome.
Share updates. If you have made updates to processes above and beyond existing food safety regulations, share that information with the inspector. This visit is a great time to convey everything you're doing to remain compliant.