Virtual communication has become the norm and, for most of us, our ‘screen time’ has increased enormously since March,” Williams says. “It has also enabled things that were once deemed impossible to be possible – from GPs running virtual patient appointments to teachers hosting online classes.”
He adds that hospitality compliance hasn’t been immune to this digitisation, with tech solutions likely here to stay even among operators who’d previously fallen back on excuses including being “too busy”, “too much hassle” and “this is how we’ve always done it” to thwart the virtual takeover.
“As venues closed down overnight and restrictions on travel came into force, we were challenged with finding new ways to conduct audits and operators were faced with a host of challenges, not least making sure each venue within their estate – large or small – had all the correct checklists, online records and hygiene measures in place,” Williams explains.
“Before Covid-19 we had already seen a move to automate compliance by switching to digital and going paperless,” Williams continues.
“However, some hospitality operators were slow to commit and make that leap of faith, even though they knew it would save time, centralise systems and seamlessly manage hygiene and safety standards across an estate by the swipe of a finger or click of a button.”
‘Consumers and employees looking for reassurance’
Yet, there is nothing like a crisis to focus the mind and bring the benefits of digital compliance to the fore, according to Williams, who argues that prior to Covid the idea of a virtual audit “would not have been considered” but that services have evolved to meet new challenges.
“Integrated food safety and health and safety applications and e-learning are nothing new, but what is new is the realisation of how important it is to have this type of software solution as much as it is to have an online order and pay app,” he says.
“Compliance might not be the most exciting part of running a hospitality business, but I would argue it is one of the most important.
“Without the correct online records and robust hygiene and safety procedures in place, no hospitality business is going to enjoy success, even if they deliver the best experience. And, in our current climate this is even more relevant.
“Consumers and employees are looking for reassurance that operators are doing everything they can to keep them safe.
“I strongly believe that site visits will not return to previous levels and that virtual is here to stay.”
Digitalisation is the enabler
While Williams believes the vast majority of audits will be “in real life” in the short to medium term, he feels that there will be a move towards operators requiring the tools to undertake more of the checks, inspections and audits themselves, with the digital transfer of compliance very soon confining piles of paperwork to the recycling bin.
“Imagine a world where the Environmental Health Officer comes knocking and you are not scrabbling around for the right piece of paperwork, but all you need is neatly hosted in the cloud that can be simply accessed, updated as and when required,” he says.
“Prior to Covid-19 food safety and health and safety compliance was already complex, that has only increased, so having an integrated app that hosts everything you need to operate a fully compliant business, from reminders to check lists and from allergen controls to hygiene safety, Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) systems to employee training, has to be the way forward, especially when visibility of compliance standards across multiple sites is key.
“We have seen how quickly the changes to the status quo can turn our world upside down and being able to respond nimbly and effectively is vital,” he continues. “As people start to venture out for drinks and meals, what operators are doing to keep their customers safe has become even more important and visible. It is no longer an option, but a must.
“Digitalisation is the enabler, but it is up to us as suppliers to make sure that we evolve the services that we offered historically to meet the future needs of our hospitality clients.”
‘Transformed the way I work’
One such client, London-based Inception Group – which operates a number of venues across the capital including award-winning concept Mr Fogg’s – decided to switch its safety provider and couldn’t believe how easy the process proved to be.
Far from being a protracted and frustrating experience, the switching process proved to be seamless and took just a couple of weeks to complete according to Inception Group’s compliance, audit & training manager, Ellie Kwong.
“Our incumbent safety provider was not living up to our expectations in terms of quality of product and service, so we decided to change,” she, says. “The Food Alert team was on hand throughout the switching process and continues to be there whenever we have a query.
“Any concerns about losing data or it being a complex process was soon put to bed and the process couldn’t have been easier.
“The safety software, Alert65, has transformed the way I work,” she continued. “I am far more productive and efficient with the ability to customise reports to meet Inception Group’s needs and deliver real-time reporting and analytics with just a few clicks.
“For example, if my directors want to know how many incidents we’ve recorded, with year-on-year comparisons, I can do that within minutes rather than many hours. Food Alert is also continuously enhancing and updating Alert65, which is great as it’s always improving.”
‘Compliance has now become a real focus’
Alert65 gives operators the power to tackle complicated compliance issues with ease, while also saving time and money by automating time-consuming manual tasks. All compliance information and policy documents from across multiple locations are stored centrally in the cloud.
The pandemic has proved a real eye opener for Kwong as working from home has been the norm and Inception Group’s venues have been either shut or partially opened with restrictions in place.
“Compliance has now become a real focus, it was always important but now it’s essential, creating a better safety culture,” she says. “So, having all the correct paperwork, policies, risk assessments, checklists and reminders in one place that can be accessed from any location is brilliant.
“Alert65 is the total package and so easy to use and the Food Alert team is similarly easy to work with – I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them.”