No matter what happens in the next weeks and months, the lesson I hope you take away from this industry crisis is that you can never go back to operating the way you were prior to the pandemic. That means if you were flying by the seat of your pants in any way such as using your gut to place orders and schedule your staff, it’s time to accept and adopt systems. This starts with the foundation to all restaurant systems. 

What is the foundation of restaurant systems? Checklists! Checklists allow you to impose your will without being in the restaurant. They set up your standards for your business, from cleanliness to service standards to product quality to line checks to passive and critical control points. They give the steps to make sure that food is safe, the portions are consistent. They guide you in the prep list, scheduling and cutting labor. You can literally checklist everything. 

Another reason to start with checklists is if you can't get a manager to use a checklist, what makes you think that they’re going to follow more involved systems such as inventory every Sunday night?

As an independent operator, if the first thing that came into your mind was, “We have checklists; I can't get anybody to use them. They don't work,” I’m going to tell you right now, it's because your checklists suck. They're not detailed enough, and you're holding the wrong person accountable.

For example, if you’re going to hold your management team accountable to those checklists, and they decide to let employees go home without doing that side work, then they must get it done themselves. You want to create a culture of close to open, that each manager has each other's back. Do that a few times and guess what—your managers are going to make sure those standards are met.

So, if you’re ready to move forward with establishing a strong foundation on which to build systems for a more stable and profitable restaurant, let’s get started with checklists. The best place to start is your opening and closing side work for every position. Your checklists should be so detailed that anybody could pick it up and do it. It’s not just “clean the bathroom,” but, “Make sure the bathroom is clean: the mirrors have no water spots, there's no standing water on the counter, wipe down the counter and throw away the paper towel, if the garbage pail is 50% filled, take it out and replace the liner.” It is step-by-step instructions how you want it done, how well you want it done and by when.

Walk around your building with a pad of paper, write down everything that makes you mad, grab any old checklists, grab your new checklist and put it all together. From this point forward, use your checklists to set expectations for every part of operating the restaurant. This is especially useful as you have to implement new processes for cleanliness, delivery and to-go orders.

Checklists are critical to your restaurant’s future because:

• They set your standards.

• They allow you to impose your rule without being there.

• They implement accountability without being a micromanager or a frustrated owner.

Our industry is going through something it’s never gone through. You have opportunity. Yes, your sales may not be as strong, but there will be less competition, which means it's an opportunity to be great. Don’t miss your opportunity!