Prepping Restaurant and Bar Clients for New or Renewed Coverage

There are more than 700,000 restaurants throughout the United States and Canada.1,2 This growing segment represents significant opportunity for brokers and agents to further develop their book of business. However, insuring a restaurant that is safe and best positioned for attaining or renewing a policy can be more difficult than some may expect. Inspections are required for all restaurants as soon as possible after binding to ensure safety and confirm that the risk criterion meets the carrier requirements.

Insurance Market Source connected with restaurant safety and commercial cooking expert Todd Kahl, Loss Control Quality Control Supervisor at Afirm, a premier provider of premium audits, inspections and risk solutions, to answer key questions for brokers and agents.

Q: When preparing for a new or renewed Commercial Property policy, what should brokers and agents recommend restaurant owners do to make sure their kitchen passes inspection? 

Todd Kahl (TK): Kitchen inspections are carried out with the same level of scrutiny no matter if it is a mom and pop restaurant, a dive bar, fast food chain, or a fine dining establishment. The threat of fire is very real and similar in all of these instances. The most obvious is a visual inspection of the cleanliness of kitchen equipment. If equipment is caked with cooking grease, that raises an immediate red flag.

Automatic Extinguishing System (AES) devices, such as sprinkler heads, have many intricacies and should be serviced regularly, with visible service tags from a licensed contractor. Correct installation of AES devices is equally important. The sprinkler heads should be aimed over and facing each cooking appliance, and they should be free from grease.

There are two types of AES systems – wet and dry. Dry systems are not compliant with UL300 standards and are recommended to be changed over to a wet system. Wet systems work to put out grease fires through a process called saponification. This means that a potassium-based chemical agent converts grease into a soap to suppress the fire. All kitchens should also be equipped with an automatic fuel shutoff that is triggered when the AES system is activated.

Q: What simple safety measures should knowledgeable brokers and agents offer to restaurant owners prior to inspection?

TK: Make sure that the client understands the arrangement of their appliances. For example, a deep fat grease fryer should not be directly next to an open flame cooking surface. If it is unavoidable, there should either be a minimum 16 inch distance between the two appliances or an eight inch tall metal baffle between them. These precautions will help reduce the possibility of grease hitting open flame, decreasing exposure to a fire hazard.

A few other safety measures to suggest are:

  • Have hoods and ducts checked and serviced semiannually
  • Make sure filters above cooking systems are metal baffled, not mesh
  • Confirm that deep fat fryers have temperature limit controls
  • Confirm a backup class K fire extinguisher is available, wall-mounted in the kitchen and checked yearly

Some clients may tell their broker or inspector that non-compliant items are grandfathered in through the city. Whether this is the case or not, the insurance industry does not consider this standard and recommendations to update will be issued.

Q: For food-related safety measures, do you have a checklist that brokers can talk through with their clients?

TK: Food Product Liability is very important to the safety of restaurant patrons and the viability of the business. Brokers and agents can use the following as a checklist to help prepare clients for an inspection:

  • Food containers should be commercial grade
  • No food should be placed on the floor
  • No food should be left uncovered
  • Ensure that food is not in the danger zone of food handling – between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit – as anything in that range is susceptible to contamination and bacteria growth
  • Throw out any food that violates any of the above conditions
  • Have documentation of previous health violations available, if applicable
  • Walk in coolers should be set at 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius)
  • Walk in freezers should be set at 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-18 degrees Celsius)
  • Two thermometers should be placed in each walk-in, with a primary thermometer at the door and a secondary thermometer inside the unit on a shelf or hook apparatus
  • Glass of any kind should not be placed above ice containers as it presents a sizable liability issue
  • Utensils should be free from jagged edges or irregularities
  • Regularly service refrigerators and freezers, and have service records available

Q: How do restaurant upgrades and kitchen modifications play an important role in ensuring coverage?

TK: Brokers and agents should always ask clients if any modifications were performed on a restaurant’s kitchen. In one inspection, it was noticed that a kitchen went through a large expansion, doubling its size. Due to the upgrades, the manual pull station that triggers the AES system was too far back in the kitchen. This pull needs to be placed at the exit to a kitchen. If a fire happens to break out and an employee is unable to get to the manual pull, the results could be catastrophic.

In another case, a bar owner purchased a deep fat fryer to add to the kitchen. The hood did not cover the new appliance and an AES head was not directed over top of the unit. Following the inspection, a recommendation was made to have those upgrades completed before coverage could be confirmed. Items that do not present these sorts of risk are a popcorn machine, microwave or hot dog warmer, for example. If there is no open flame or grease-laden vapor cooking, AES systems are not needed.

There is a possibility for an insurance carrier to cancel coverage or not place a client if recommendations are too drastic. This is why it is extremely important to understand what restaurant and bar clients must do to gain coverage if they are preparing food. Using these tips to be a partner for clients will strengthen any broker’s book of business.