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Restaurant Health Permitting - by Karl Travis

I am a Registered Interior Designer and I have an extensive background working in restaurants. My experience led me down this path and today, and now I design restaurants for a career. I’m heavily involved in restaurant design trends, color influencing food establishments, menu design, front-of-house design and back-of-house design amongst many other design insights. I’ve been researching food safety and wanted to share my experiences in which design can help with creating a safer environment for restaurant patrons.

Have you ever had a food borne illness? I wasn’t pretty. I’ll spare you the details. When you have an opportunity to go out with friends or family, you shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not you could get sick. Now, I’m not going to tell you that design is the be all and end all to food safety, but it certainly helps. I have a system, and I’ll share what I know.

When I receive a new project location, the first step is to research which health jurisdiction it falls under and find out what is required. When gathering this information, I look for a few things: an application form, a guide to setting up a restaurant (usually shows a generic layout), any other requirements and a phone number. The phone number is the important detail. I find out who the inspector is and call to speak with them directly. I begin to create a rapport with them. I make them feel important, because well, they are. After a client approves layout and detailed equipment schedule, RCP/schedule, and the finishes plan/schedule, I send it to the inspector for design and approval. When and ONLY when I receive that approval, I proceed to have engineered drawings generated. Here is why. I can practically guarantee you, that most all inspectors first look at the number and locations of hand wash stations. If they are not happy with the number and locations of them, it's better you find out early rather than later. Later could cause major headaches and even delay opening. Changing it early on a drawing is much easier.. Speaking with the inspector directly about the layout also helps because they sometimes have "rules of thumb" that they sometimes don't include in their documentation.

Once you have an approved plan, that rapport you established earlier comes in handy. Inspectors hate surprises. If Any changes during construction such as site conditions forcing the relocation of anything resulting in moving sinks or makes you question the chance of cross-contamination, a simple call to the inspector is required. That way, there are no surprises.

When the final inspection time comes around, it is very important to have your client/franchisee/food service trainer set up the final inspection well in advance. Inspectors really like this courtesy. There is nothing worse than an inspector showing up the day you want to open with customers eating and fryers working overtime.

Food service is not any easy job. I've been there. Operators run into all different types of difficulties when running the business. If the design of the space contributes to the reduction of food borne illness, things are much better. It's up to the operators to follow the food handling protocol that they learned about from the various provincial food handling courses and the franchise food safety and sanitation plans, but at least design can start things off right.

Interior designers have an important role in the scheme of the opening of a restaurant so be sure to utilize their knowledge and methodology.

Article written and published with permission by Karl Travis

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