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5 Tips to Writing Better Restaurant Line Checks

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Every restaurant should be doing some form of line check for each meal period.  The reason you do line checks is to ensure that your food is safe and ready to serve to your guests.  Line checks allow you to catch your mistakes before your guests do, which reduces food comps.  They also allow you to check for line readiness:  FIFO is being observed and your not selling newer food and wasting older food, proper portion controls are in place, back-ups are thawed and that the line is stocked and ready for the rush, which improves execution and sales.

We have one client who saved 1.2% in food cost when they were doing line checks on the OpsAnalitica Platform vs. when they weren’t.  That equated to a $2,200 per month savings from just better food management.

The hard part about writing good line checks is that you have competing priorities to deal with.  You have safety and quality vs. time.  If your priority is time, then you can sacrifice safety and quality to speed up your line check.  If your priority is brand protection (safety & quality), then you can have an incredibly thorough line check, but it could take longer to complete.

Like all things in this world, compromise is going to be the key to writing an effective line check.  You want to check everything but do deeper checks on high-risk items. Below is a photo of one of our client’s line check kits, it includes tasting spoons and a dirty spoon container, gloves, test strips, alcohol wipes, and thermometers.

Line Check Kit

  • Line check question Attributes:  the perfect line check question should include the following parts.
    • Item Name:  Alfredo Sauce
    • Pan Size:  1/4, 1/2 pan
    • Safety Control:  temp range or time
    • Portion Control:  weight or portion size
    • Par: how much you have to have on hand to make it through the shift
    • Every Item Checks:
      • You should make sure that each item is properly labeled with the make and expiration dates because that is what the health inspector is going to do.
        • Note in the comments if item wasn’t properly labeled.
      • Taste every prepared item: dressings, sauces, sides; that is safe to sample for taste and quality.
        • You can make notes in comments if items taste bad.
        • The key here is to fix bad tasting items so your guests don’t have to taste them.
    • This is where the competing priorities come into play as you could temp each item, confirm the above attributes and taste the item and describe it’s quality but to do all of that becomes three questions that need to be answered. That line check could become very long very fast.
    • Staying with the example of Alfredo sauce I would write the question like this:  Ex:  Alfredo Sauce – 1/4 pan – 145 to 160 – 3oz ladle – 1 up 1 warmer.
      • SPEED TIP:  Don’t have the people conducting your line checks make comments on things that are good only have them comment on exceptions.
    • I would also have them record the temp of this item because it has a proper holding temperature range.  Not all items do, but when there is a top range that could affect quality, then it is a good practice to get those temperatures because it would give you data to analyze if food costs are high.
  • Temperatures Questions:
    • Temp everything but you don’t need to record every temp.
      • In my opinion, it is ok to temp items on the line, verify they are safe and note that you checked the item without writing down every temperature.
      • This practice will ensure safety and speed up your total line check.
    • Always record temps for:
      • High danger items: chicken, shellfish, pork, sauces like hollandaise, etc..
      • Delicate items where a too high or too low temperature could drastically affect quality.
      • High food cost items where you could take a big comp hit if this item goes bad before you have a chance to sell it.
    • Think like a health inspector.
  • Time as a control:
    • It is perfectly valid to use time as a control on items that need to be stored at room temperature.
    • The key to this kind of question is recording the time that the item went out on the line so you can prove that you are timing it and making sure you are discarding the items after 4 hours.
    • It is also good to have some kitchen timers or something that you can set to show that you are paying attention.
  • Critical Item Questions:  These are items that a health inspector is going to check and could get you a Critical item violation.
    • Make sure you have all the critical items covered every shift on your line checks:
      • Food being stored properly in walk-in
        • Cross contamination, labels, covering, soups and sauces being cooled correctly.
      • Sanitizer Buckets with test strips
        • You may even want to record the ppm on your line check.
      • Hand sink is clean, stocked with soap and paper towels, and that the water is hot.
      • Nothing on the floor
      • Chemicals stored in the correct place away from food.
  • Shorter is better than Longer:
    • You don’t get any awards for writing longer line checks.  It comes down to balance between brand protection and speed to complete.
    • Focus on the most critical items for your restaurant and leave out any fluff.
    • I see too many super long line checks that take 50 to 90 minutes to complete.
    • When you complete your line check go and test it in the real world for a couple of shifts and see how long it takes to complete and try to pair it down if it is too long.
    • Make sure that every question can be answered by every location or give the option for N/A.

Writing line checks is not sexy work, but a good line check is a foundation for running better operations and growing sales and profits.  Once you write your line check the only way to ensure that it is getting done correctly is to Inspect what you Expect and to follow-up with your managers when you see inconsistencies.  Without follow-up, your line check could be pencil whipped, and your investment in it will not show any returns.

If you would like to learn more about how OpsAnalitica can help you hold your managers accountable and effortlessly follow-up, then click here to watch our demo video.