How to safely handle candles in a restaurant

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Candles are such a simple decoration, it can be easy to forget that they're a fire hazard. If you own a restaurant, you should train your employees on candle safety. Mishandling them during setup, dinner service and cleanup can start fires that can lead to injuries in the restaurant. Proper candle techniques can prevent your dinner service from going up in flames, literally.

Teach fire safety
Inform your staff about proper candle technique. This'll make everyone aware of the potential dangers of working with fire but also set a standard for all employees. Start off with some basics about the fire extinguisher. Many people have never had to use one before. Point out where they're located around the restaurant and then go over how to use one in case of an emergency. Each extinguisher comes with its own instructions, but generally the acronym PASS is an effective way to remember how to use it. The steps are: pull, aim, squeeze and sweep.

Fire Extinguisher 101 provided instructions: Pull the pin to unlock the extinguisher, aim the nozzle toward the fire and not the flames, squeeze the lever to release the chemical and sweep in a back-and-forth motion to fully put out the fire. The extinguisher should be held over the fire for about 10 seconds or until the fire goes out. Other fire safety experts recommend using the entire container unless the fire is a very small one because many establishments don't want a half of an extinguisher around the place. Once everyone is comfortable with using an extinguisher, get into candle techniques that are safe and effective.

Make a checklist
Checklists are a helpful way to manage restaurant duties. Add a candle safety checklist to your side work
sheets so your staff know how to prepare and distribute candles and put out the flames. Here are some suggestions, broken up into the different parts of the shift.

Candle setup
Staff should wear fitted clothing and roll up their sleeves before starting candle side work. Hair should also be tied back. Loose articles of clothing and hair can catch on fire. Prepare candles for dinner service by trimming the wicks to 1/4 inch each, suggested The National Candle Association. Examine the candles as you go along and don't use any that have crooked or questionable wicks. Make sure you're placing them in holders that are stable and not wobbly. You don't want them to tip over and drip wax or spread flames onto other objects. 

Distribute the candles strategically. They should be placed within sight so you can watch over them at all times. Never place them near paper goods or flammable materials. Avoid sitting them alongside curtains, napkins and menus. If you're lining them up in a row along the bar, a general rule of thumb is 12 inches of space between each candle and other objects, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Keep them away from drafty areas like windows, doors and vents. The breeze can either knock them over or other objects can blow onto the flames. 

During dinner service
Once the restaurant opens, staff should continue to keep an eye on all candles. Throughout the course of dinner service, guests might blow out candles, move them to a different place or accidentally knock them off of the tables. Be especially cognizant of these situations. Remove any candles that end up in places that they don't belong. It's better to be safe than sorry. 

Also, don't let your candles burn longer than they should. They can sit out for much longer than they should once everyone gets caught up in the dinner rush. You should never let them burn all the way down, cautioned the NFPA. If the wick is almost gone, either change out the candle or remove it from the table. 

Closing side work
Once all of the guests have left, servers might be eager to quickly finish their side work, but candles should be extinguished carefully. Advise staff to put them out with a snuffer rather than blowing them out. Wax can blow onto tables and it's difficult to scrape off once it dries. Also, staff can hurt themselves if the candle is still hot. When the candles are out, staff should set the holders with the candles aside on trays so they can cool off overnight. If you'd prefer your staff to toss out old candles, make sure they're cold before they hit the trash. Never let people remove candles from the holder with sharp objects. Enforce tabletop checks to ensure that no candles are left burning overnight. Do a final walk-through to make sure no lit candles remain on the tabletops. 

Practice and enforce candle safety in your establishment to protect your guests, staff and business. If your restaurant has a lot of flammables, maybe it's time to consider an alternative method of decor. Fake candles or battery-powered lights can look just as attractive without being a risk. You'll have enough to worry about without any fires during dinner service.

Brought to you by Shoes For Crews, the trusted leader in safety footwear for more than 30 years.

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