Arresting poor service standards in urban eating houses

The proliferation of eating houses of one sort or another around the city has given rise to the need for appreciably heightened levels of vigilance as far as service providers’ attention to issues of safety and health and standards on the whole are concerned.

When this newspaper spoke with food safety authorities within the Georgetown Municipality some months ago, the impression obtained was that there were not sufficient resources available to deliver a regular and reliable inspection system to ensure that high standards of safety and health in the sector are maintained.

This is not the first occasion on which the Stabroek Business has raised this issue. The continual growth of the food service sector and the seeming increase in the number of patrons demand that it be raised again. Moreover, truth be told, too many instances of sub-standard service and blatant disregard for customer sensitivities keep popping up in the sector.

There is less than satisfactory standards of service delivery and sanitation sometimes at seemingly well-established eating houses. For example, there have been persistent customer complaints about tainted food at one establishment and another in which there is no facility for heating cold food. Besides these, customer complaints regarding low service delivery standards are invariably linked to what the complainants believe is the lack of training – or perhaps insufficient training – of service staff.

One observation on the matter of training has to do with the rate of staff turnover – a function, frequently, of low wage levels. High staff turn-over, of course, means that there is much less time to train replacements.

Another point that should be made here is that while the entrepreneurial postures of the increasing numbers of persons who are investing in the food sector should be lauded, there is a distinct difference between a for-profit enterprise that has a clear understanding of its obligations to its customers and those blatant and cynical ‘hustles’ that are concerned with little else but making a quick dollar.

The risks to consumer health and to the image and the reputation of the country that repose in low standards in the food service sector are clear for all to see. Yet it often seems that the expansion of the sector is forging ahead of the capacity to properly monitor the quality of what is delivered.

On the one hand, we simply should not have to countenance excuses from the municipality about a scarcity of resources with which to properly police the food service sector. On the other—and given the nexus between food service and the tourism industry—responsibility for monitoring and pronouncing on safety and service standards should extend to the tourism industry itself so that entities like the Guyana Tourism Authority and the Tourism and Hospitality Association of Guyana would have a say in rating local eating houses.

And as happens in other countries where there is a mindfulness of standards the consuming public should be provided, at intervals, with a rating of eating houses based on an objective evaluation. What obtains at this time is a regimen of eating houses that appears to lack any serious oversight and where, in some cases, all sorts of unacceptable and often downright dangerous practices slip through the cracks in the system.

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