Reported by foodem.com, the online wholesale food marketplace-
Restaurant owners usually have a lot on their mind – everything from server schedules to the electricity bill to the price of green beans. And that’s just the beginning.
So it makes sense that legal liability issues are often not the first thing on a restaurant owner’s mind. But, in reality, they should always be at the top of the list.
The fact is that, as a restaurant owner, you’re are extremely vulnerable to lawsuits. And if you’re not prepared, a lawsuit could cripple your business.
To avoid involving your restaurant in a long, expensive lawsuit that may be damaging to your reputation and long-term viability, you should be aware of potential issues that could result in legal disputes.
1. Food Safety
Most other business owners have to deal with legal liability involving their premises, but few have the health and safety concerns that restaurant owners do. Serving food puts your liability in a whole different league.
When it comes to being held legally liable, it all comes down to negligence and foreseeability – in plain English, could you reasonably have prevented it and predicted it? So, if a customer gets food poisoning because someone in your kitchen didn’t store the ingredients well, you’re responsible because proper care was not taken and the incident could have easily been prevented.
If, however, a customer has an allergic reaction to peanuts in their brownie but failed to ask their server about the ingredients or tell them about their allergy, it’s not your fault and nothing you or your staff could have done would have prevented it.
2. Pick Up Spills & Debris Immediately
As a restaurant owner, you have a heightened responsibility to your patrons to maintain a safe environment. This extends from the kitchen, to the bathroom, to the dining area, to the parking lot.
Spills inside the dining area are very common, so patrons assume that you know about them the second that they happen, which is often not the case at a busy restaurant. So, as soon as you or a member of your staff notices a spill, clean it up immediately. It’s critical that your staff understands how important this is – train them to be as attentive to potential dangers as they are to your customers.
Have them pick up things like napkins, dropped crayons or pencils, or other items that customers may have left behind. It not only keeps the restaurant clean and orderly, it also cuts down on liability issues. If someone slips on barbeque sauce or a pencil and hurts themselves or others, then the restaurant could potentially be sued.
3. Maintain Adequate Lighting
Restaurants often dim the lights to create an inviting and ambient environment for their guests. While it may look nice, it also comes with the hazard that guests will not be able to see what is on the ground in front of them.
If your restaurant has darkened spaces, install spot lighting for stairs, and instruct your employees to tell patrons to watch their step. Instead of completely removing lights, consider adding low-level lighting.
Adequate lighting isn’t a concern that stops at the door. The parking lot must also be well lit. Replace lights that burn out as soon as possible, and be sure that every corner has some kind of lighting. You want your guests to be able to see their way to their vehicles and feel safe in your parking lot.
4. Fix Broken Or Worn Seating, Tables & Walkways
Worn out seats can be a hazard because they have the potential to break or harm someone if pieces are sticking out or missing. Tables suffer from similar concerns. Run your hand along every surface of the tables and chairs periodically. If you can feel anything rough or sticking out, then your customer can too.
Be sure to check your carpeting and tiling. Everything should be flush; one piece sticking up is a tripping hazard. This inspection should continue outside as well. Check the sidewalks and parking lot. Consider fixing uneven surfaces or closing them off to guests.
The law charges owners of restaurants and other public facilities with knowledge of the condition of their property, whether the owner actually knows about them or not. The bottom line is that if you’re not regularly inspecting the place for safety issues, that could be considered negligent behavior, which would leave you liable for a customer’s injury.
5. Keep Outdoor Conditions Well-Maintained
Trees and other greenery should be trimmed periodically. Trim off any dead portions of the tree because they have the potential to fall on customers or customers’ vehicles. Be sure that bushes, shrubs, and vines are well off the sidewalk. Creeping vines and overgrown shrubs are a tripping hazard.
If your restaurant is located in a climate that has snow and ice, be sure that all sidewalks, stairs and paths leading to your restaurant are well-shoveled and salted. One thing that is overlooked often is ice and snow build up on the roof. This build up can slide off the roof and on to a customer or their vehicle, which can do some serious damage. Climb up on ladder to knock down ice and snow before customers arrive, if necessary. Be sure that any ice and snow that you remove is pushed away from the walkway.
You know by now that owning a restaurant isn’t for the faint of heart. In addition to what feels like millions of constantly moving pieces, you’re also have a heavy legal responsibility to your customers and staff.
Although this legal concern can often be put on the proverbial backburner, you should consider it to be your first priority. After all, rave review from customers or a 5-star rating from the local magazine won’t help you much if you find yourself in a big pot of legal hot water.
About the Author: Jay Deratany is an experienced Chicago injury lawyer and the founder of The Deratany Firm. He enjoys sharing his passion and expertise by contributing to several online publications, in which he help inform readers on everyday safety issues and how to avoid injury-related legal issues. To learn more, visit www.Lawinjury.com.