Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

It is well known that Ray Kroc, the comercialiser of McDonald’s, saw the group as a property company rather than as a restaurant business. Get the best pieces of property in a town, then rent them to franchisees who have to carry big yellow arches. This way you don’t carry the cost of running the business, you just get the rent from the person selling the burgers.

Sometimes you can start off being one business and end up being another. This is what has happened with Spur, which has evolved from a family restaurant chain into something rather different: a childcare business that feeds people.

This fact is almost ignored by the organisation and its staff. Had it realised this, that well-publicised racist incident could have been avoided.

While Spur should be congratulated for taking a stand against the racist and the organisations that supported him, all is not well with my child’s favourite restaurant.

A few weeks ago, I was at the Spur at OR Tambo airport. My two-year-old was in the play area. When I went to check on her, the child minder was AWOL — and so was my two-year-old. As a panic-stricken father, I approached management, but was left alone to find my daughter.

She came toddling back of her own accord, unharmed. Much to my relief, the absent child minder came back a few minutes later, apologetic for her absconding from duty. The whole incident lasted 10 minutes, if that, but it could have ended badly for all parties.

It is easy to blame the low-paid child minder. She was clearly wrong — she was negligent and I have little sympathy for the fate of a person whose sole job is to take care of my child — but the blame was not hers alone. Spur, in the alignment of its priorities, is creating serious business and reputational risk for itself.

If Spur saw itself as a child-centred organisation, management would have made it their top priority to find my child. The restaurant would have ceased operations and done everything in its power to make sure no harm came to any child.

Spur might point out the CCTV in the play areas, the name-tag each child wears, and the first-aid training all child-minders undergo. But these do not make it a child safety-centred organisation. They make it a company that does child-centred stuff, but not one where child safety is at its centre.

Given what Spur has become, it needs to put as much emphasis on protecting children as it does on food.

It needs a child-safety policy, rather than leaving core business decisions and processes to individuals. It should have a child-safety officer and ongoing, measurable programmes and systems related to child safety.

A clear policy affects the design of play areas in child-centred restaurants. It designates powers and responsibilities should things go wrong, and provides a blueprint for constantly getting things right in protecting children.

For the most part, I have had very pleasant experiences at Spur establishments across the country. Where we are regulars, they know my family by name and for the most part we feel safe in their hands.

Spur is an easy target, but they are not alone in lacking policies to keep children safe. Churches, sports clubs, school and crèches — any organisation that has children on its premises, should have child-safety policies. All of these organisations are a step away from a child disappearing under their care. Too many are unaware that they operate in a society at war with women and children.

All organisations that allow children through their doors are just one incident away from reputational and financial disaster. The absence of a proactive policy for child safety carries a business risk. Too often what policies exist are passive — "we don’t tolerate this and we are against that".

It is not impossible to do. Companies such as Sasol and Eskom have a clearly ingrained safety culture. Visit any of their facilities and you will get a lecture on how to use an escalator, or what to do in case of an emergency. Their safety culture does not eliminate accidents, but it certainly minimises them. This is what a child-safety policy would do: limit the opportunity for things to go wrong.

We need a proactive and purpose-driven culture of safety for our children. Society has to be re-engineered beyond platitudes and slogans. It needs leadership with clear policies and programmes. And it starts with understanding what business you are in.

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