Below is the audio version of our very popular blog, The Only Way to Sustainably Grow Restaurant Sales is Through Better Operations.
Subscribe to our podcast Order Up – The Restaurant Ops Show on SoundCloud, iTunes, Stitcher, and Tunein.
Below is the audio version of our very popular blog, The Only Way to Sustainably Grow Restaurant Sales is Through Better Operations.
Subscribe to our podcast Order Up – The Restaurant Ops Show on SoundCloud, iTunes, Stitcher, and Tunein.
Management by checklist is exactly what you think it is; it is the art of managing your restaurants by using short, focused checklists to ensure that the most important operational details aren’t missed on a shift-by-shift restaurant-by-restaurant basis. The practice is modeled after airplane pilots and their use of checklists.
Checklists work, plain and simple. We recently surveyed over 100 restaurant owners and managers. We asked the question; do you think that you could save money and serve safer food if you used checklists? They all said yes, 100% yes.
There is a great book out about checklists, The Checklist Manifesto; the book discusses how checklists are driving better operations and protecting professionals from failures across multiple industries. Here are some quotes from the Checklist Manifesto, by Atul Gawande
Here, then, is our situation at the start of the twenty-first century: We have accumulated stupendous know-how. We have put it in the hands of some of the most highly trained, highly skilled, and hardworking people in our society. And, with it, they have indeed accomplished extraordinary things. Nonetheless, that know-how is often unmanageable. Avoidable failures are common and persistent, not to mention demoralizing and frustrating, across many fields—from medicine to finance, business to government. And the reason is increasingly evident: the volume and complexity of what we know has exceeded our individual ability to deliver its benefits correctly, safely, or reliably. Knowledge has both saved us and burdened us.
In a complex environment, experts are up against two main difficulties. The first is the fallibility of human memory and attention, especially when it comes to mundane, routine matters that are easily over-looked under the strain of more pressing events.
Faulty memory and distraction are a particular danger in what engineers call all-or-none processes: whether running to the store to buy ingredients for a cake, preparing an airplane for takeoff, or evaluating a sick person in the hospital, if you miss just one key thing, you might as well not have made the effort at all.
Good checklists, on the other hand are precise. They are efficient, to the point, and easy to use even in the most difficult situations. They do not try to spell out everything–a checklist cannot fly a plane. Instead, they provide reminders of only the most critical and important steps–the ones that even the highly skilled professional using them could miss. Good checklists are, above all, practical.
First there was the recipe – the most basic checklist of all. Every dish had one. The recipes were typed out, put in clear plastic sleeves, and placed at each station. Adams was religious about her staff’s using them. Even for her, she said, “following the recipe is essential to making food of consistent quality oover time.”
If you have been working in restaurants, especially chain restaurants, then you know all about checklists. The restaurant industry has simultaneously embraced and turned our backs on checklists. When a typical employee or manager gets trained to work in a restaurant, especially at a training restaurant, a large part of their training is checklists. Op’s manuals are full of checklists. Checklists help boost productivity because they take away the guesswork from running the restaurant. We’ve seen huge managerial productivity gains when new managers are given checklists and systems to follow during their training period. They are able to be effective faster and they learn quicker.
Then once our training is done and the manager gets to their home restaurant, we stop using them or even worse, we allow our teams to pencil whip them. We recently asked restaurant managers and owners how many of them thought their teams were doing their checklists accurately? 94% of them thought their teams were pencil whipping.
Pencil whipping a checklist is worse than not doing it at all for several reasons.
There are two types of checklists that you should be employing in your restaurant and they have different benefits:
Safety checklists ensure that you are operating safely and should prevent any critical violations on health inspections. Conducting daily safety checks are our biggest moral responsibility to our guests and the most important thing we can do from a brand protection standpoint. Temp logs and sanitation checks aren’t sexy but they are so important. Line checks, especially when you are tasting food items do have a positive effect on profitability, they allow you to catch your own mistakes before your guests do and reduce food comps. We have seen our clients reduce food costs by 1/2 to 2% based on the type of restaurant.
Management checklists drive better operations on a restaurant-by-restaurant shift-by-shift basis. They protect managers from memory failures especially when they are putting out fires. They make it easier for junior managers to learn faster and reduce training time. Restaurants that use management checklists to focus managers on what is most important create better guest experiences and drive sales increases.
Here are some steps to creating a Management by checklist system. 1st you build the checklists, you should have safety and management checklists. Once that is completed you can implement the follow-up system.
What are the benefits of managing by checklist with follow-up:
The disconnect in the industry is this, 100% of restaurant managers and owners believe that checklists will help them run better restaurants. 88% of those same owners used paper checklists. 94% of them believed that their teams weren’t completing them accurately. The issues is paper checklists suck at holding people accountable. You don’t know when they started or finished their checklist. You don’t even know who really completed them.
Follow-up is the key to a management by checklist system and running better operations. Being able to see that a checklist was completed on time before service started and then to be able to quickly determine what the issues were and address them is how you ensure checklists are getting done and that you are running safe operations. If you aren’t in the restaurant, you can’t see that the checklist was even completed or get a look at any of the data on the checklist. You need to use a system like OpsAnalitica to effortlessly conduct checklist follow-up and drive pencil whipping out of your operations.
Ultimately, great restaurant operations are the only way to sustainably grow your business. Management by Checklist with follow-up can and will play a huge part in driving those better operations. We can help you with the follow-up piece, to watch our OpsAnalitica demo video click here.
It’s time to return to basics and focus on what works for long-term sustainable sales growth, which is better operations. Nobody wants to hear better operations because they are either delusional about the current state of their operations, or they don’t want to put in the hard work and discipline of focusing on running better operations.
Nothing that you will do, no new system (delivery or take out), no new technology like a better POS or better website, is going to do more for your business than having delicious food, in clean well-managed restaurants, with great customer service. NOTHING!!!! If you didn’t want to be an operator and focus on being excellent, then this isn’t the business for you.
I was the dining room floor manager of a busy restaurant in 2001 we added $80,000 a week to revenue over a ten month period. That is right 80K a week, not a month, and we didn’t spend an extra dollar in marketing nor did we add any new sales channel. You know how we did it:
You see we had latent demand that before we focused on operations we weren’t getting because our service was slow and quite frankly not that good. When we made the sections smaller, brought in more servers, invested in training those servers on the menu, customer service, upselling, etc. They had more time to do a better job servicing guests. When we focused each shift on making sure that the restaurant and the team were ready, it was easier to wow guests. I’m not telling you anything that you don’t already know; better operations, focusing on the little things, and providing an excellent experience is your best marketing initiative and the quickest way to grow sales.
Here is some information that provides more evidence to the better operations theory:
“We’re just running better restaurants today,” Lee said during the company’s earnings call Tuesday. “I don’t think we should discount the importance of ensuring we’re properly staffed, our teams are properly motivated, simplifying the operation, reducing the size of the menu, processes and procedures. NRN
“One of the things we’re focused on now is trying to keep things simple,” Lee said. “Simple is hard. Doing simple things every day is really hard. That’s what’s given us the biggest lift at Olive Garden. We’re not relying on promotional activity to drive business.” NRN
Look at your experience in restaurants. The restaurants that serve delicious food with great service that are clean and well managed on average are much busier than their competitors who fall down in any of those areas.
There are so many outside factors affecting your restaurants every day, from minimum wages, weather, street construction, commodity prices, competition, shifting dining trends, government regulations, cook shortages, and social media to name few. It can feel overwhelming. How do you manage all of those outside factors and run your restaurant? The answer is to control what you can control and react as best you can to outside forces.
If you know that you aren’t doing all that you could be doing in your business to run better operations, make a plan and start focusing 100% on your most critical issues and check them off the list one at a time.
The quickest and most effective way to run better operations is also one of the easiest systems to implement: checklists with follow-up. Checklists focus your managers on those most important items each shift that have to be done to operate at your best. They are self-documenting and easy to use. By executing checklists every day in the same order, they build a routine and drive consistency shift to shift. Checklists work, we asked 107 restaurant managers and owners recently if they thought that managing by checklist would help them run safer and better operating restaurants, and 107 of them said yes.
Most restaurants today have checklists in place, but they are conducted on paper, paper checklists make it impossible to hold your team accountable. We recently conducted a survey and 94% of restaurant owners, and managers believed that their teams weren’t completing their checklists accurately. 94% of paper checklists are being pencil whipped and therefore the restaurant isn’t getting any of the benefits of safer and better operations because people aren’t conducting the checklist.
The key to getting the benefits of your checklists is to use a system like OpsAnalitica that can hold your managers accountable and make pencil whipping a thing of the past. By simply moving your checklists to a tablet we can track start and end times, duration, and make the data available on any device from anywhere. You will always know if your team is doing what they are supposed to be doing.
Better operations can increase your sales anywhere from 5 to 9%. Checklists can play a major part in running better operations on a shift basis. It is consistent daily execution that will yield the highest returns and generate those positive reviews and word of mouth recommendations that will grow sales organically and in a sustainable manner.
Operations data are the data points that are generated every meal period in a restaurant that directly affect sales and profitability. Let’s break it down:
Remember we are restaurant operators and operations are our business. Operations data points are the measurement of our operations. Until this time in the restaurant industry it has been next to impossible to capture, organize, and analyze operations data for even a single restaurant location never mind a national chain.
There are two main reasons for this, the first is that we aren’t a completely automated business. We are predominantly a human business where people, not automated machines are the means of production. Number two the technology didn’t exist or it was too expensive to capture the data.
With the invention of tablets and smart phones we now have powerful handheld devices that can be used to capture operations data. A smartphone used every day to consistently capture operations data can feed a data analysis initiative that can drive down waste and increase profitability.
In the spirit of ops data and running better operations we are giving away our ebook, SMART Inspections, Drive Big Data. Click here to get it delivered to your inbox.
I will leave you with this thought. As technology becomes more prevalent in the industry, the companies that can identify, test, and implement new solutions more quickly will have a distinct competitive advantage in the marketplace.
How could paper checklists be bad? Paper checklists are bad because people pencil whip them or lie on them. We recently conducted a survey of over 100 restaurant owners and managers. 94% of respondents believed that their teams weren’t completing their checklists accurately.
Which raises the question; why would a sane person have their team complete checklists that they know are being lied on?
A sane person wouldn’t, because they know that it is a waste of time and money. It costs money to develop checklists. It costs money to print checklists. It costs money to complete checklists. It costs money to file and store checklists and when it is time to get rid of them it costs money to shred and recycle checklists.
Yet as an industry we do spend money to have people complete checklists on paper even though we know they are being pencil whipped. Why do we do that?
The limitations of paper checklists aside, the fact that we still have people pencil whipping checklists in our businesses is because even a 30% accurate checklist is better than no checklist.
Let’s stick with the thought that even a partially completed checklist is better than no checklist. A person who completes a line check 30% accurately is still checking 30% more items than a person who skips their line check. They have a better chance of catching an error in preparation or finding an unsafe item and correcting it before it get’s someone sick.
Imagine a world where restaurants employees completed all of their checklists accurately and when they didn’t you were at least able to catch that they didn’t and coach them about the importance of doing them correctly. How much better would your restaurant run?
If every shift your team checked everything that was important enough to make it on a checklist. They checked every temp, tasted items, checked sanitation and portion controls. The restaurant when opened was clean and ready for guests.
Do you think that running better operations would translate into more sales, safer restaurants, happier guests, and most importantly more profits?
Of course running better ops would accomplish all of that. If running better operations couldn’t do that then we wouldn’t spend a penny on training or any operational initiative, we would only spend money on marketing because the only way to get sales would be to con people to come to your restaurant one time.
By the way, this is what the restaurant managers and owners told us on our survey. 100% of them agreed that checklists could help them run better and safer operations. That is right 100%.
Because checklists when completed diligently and followed-up on work.
The problem with paper checklists is that you can’t tell when they were started, when they ended, who did them, and if they were pencil whipped. Basically paper cannot help you hold people accountable. Also, this is for multi-unit owners who cannot be in every location every day, you can’t magically see paper hanging on a wall in a restaurant from your office.
What our industry needs is a checklist solution that is as easy to complete as paper checklists but allows us to hold our managers accountable and get visibility into our daily operations.
This solution would need to do the following things to be effective:
A solution that could replace paper checklists and hold people accountable at the store level up through the corporate level of a system could drive better, safer, and more profitable restaurants.
A restaurant company that could deploy a solution like this and start holding their unit managers more accountable and harness this new feed of operations data could optimize their operations and beat their competition by running more efficiently and making better decisions.
Think about the data that corporate restaurant management has access to today. They have register, inventory/ordering, and customer service data and they use that data to make the best decisions that they can. If you used a checklist solution to capture pertinent operations data at the store level, which would drive better operations. You could also use the date with your other data feeds such as sales, inventory, and customer service to create a complete picture of how your restaurants were operating. Remember that operations affect sales, inventory, food costs, and customer service, its not he other away around.
It would be a major competitive advantage for any restaurant system that took advantage of operations data. Look at how companies like Walmart, FedEx, Nordstrom, and Google use data to streamline operations and generate increased profits. Restaurant chains could do the same thing if they had the data, which they have, but just need to get it into an accessible, usable format.
How do you do this in your chain? You should implement the OpsAnalitica Inspector platform in your system for daily operations checklists and corporate inspections. The OpsAnalitica Inspector will hold your managers and teams more accountable at the restaurant level and our custom reporting and data warehouse will provide you with the data that you need to optimize your business.
The future of the restaurant industry is possible today for those chains that are bold enough to take the first step forward. If you are interested in learning more please click here and set up a call with our team.
The dirty little secret in the restaurant industry is that we know a lot of our restaurant safety-documentation is not completed accurately.
Every day in restaurants across the country, restaurant managers are supposed to complete temperature logs, line checks, and other safety checks to ensure that they are operating safely. A lot of those logs are pencil-whipped, or to state it more bluntly they are lied on.
The reasons for the lies are numerous: ran out of time, who cares no one ever looks at them, I know we are safe, we’ve never gotten anyone sick, etc.. This behavior is so commonplace in the industry’s culture that it is almost a joke.
I was recently in a meeting with some restaurant executives, and we were discussing their line checks, their checks included food temps and sanitation items. The company’s policy was restaurant managers would complete two line checks a day, one before each meal period. Area managers would review the line checks once a quarter when they performed their site inspections. I asked these executives, are these checks getting done twice a day? When your area manager is going through their site inspection are they seeing 180 of these a quarter? Everyone in the room chuckled, “yes, they all get done accurately every shift” was the ha ha response.
Daily checklists not being completed or being completed inaccurately seems to be a common issue no matter how large or small the restaurant system is. We recently talked with a chef of a restaurant who was working there six days a week, and she didn’t feel like she knew if the checks were getting done accurately and she was only managing that location. That speaks to how hard it is to manage in restaurants, you can’t be everywhere all the time. We spoke with a multi-unit franchisee who stated that he has walked into his restaurants and looked at the temp logs on the wall and knew they had been pencil whipped.
We recently conducted a survey of over 100 restaurant managers and owners from around the world. Here are the results:
This final stat is the kicker:
Here is the light at the end of the tunnel. We just did a deep dive with one of our clients who has used the OpsAnalitica platform for 20 months. They were able to cut critical food safety violations by 55% when they did their daily checklists. How; because they saw stuff that was wrong every shift and they fixed it. When you actually do your checklists, they do work and you run safer and better operations.
The reason pencil whipping is so rampant in the industry is because 99% of the time it doesn’t matter. It is a hard truth to hear, but it is true. If it mattered, then we as an industry would have corrected this issue by now.
To fully understand pencil whipping we have to break down the safety checklist into it’s two parts: checking to ensure items are safe and documenting the items safety status.
When you pencil whip a checklist or log you are committing two sets of lies:
The reason that you are being asked to check the safety of these items is because they have been identified as high-risk factors that could contribute to getting someone sick or even potentially killing them. If you check the item and catch a problem, then you have an opportunity to fix that problem before it affects your guests. That is why we do the checks.
When you don’t check the safety of high-risk items or of your sanitation procedures, you are rolling the dice with other people’s lives and it is no different than driving a car drunk or shooting a gun into a crowd. It can have the same exact consequences. I know that sounds dramatic but ask the families of those people who died from eating a Blue Bell ice cream last summer.
The second offense is just dumb; you should never put your name or complete any official document with knowingly false information on it. This goes back to that early statement that 99% of the time this won’t come back to haunt you until the day it does, and then you will regret that decision.
If your restaurant get’s someone sick, look at Chipotle they just had their safety documentation from every unit subpoenaed, are you going to want to stand by all of the false documents. The lawyers and investigators are going to use that documentation to show your wanton disregard for your safety procedures. If you are a manager or an owner, take this one step further; do you think your employees would lie for you on the stand in that scenario? My guess is that when asked they are going to tell the truth.
Here is something that most restaurant owners don’t know about, most restaurant liability and food borne illness insurance policies have writers in them that release the insurance company from responsibility if the restaurant is acting unsafely. Here are some actual writers that we pulled from a policy:
We have all heard about insurance companies doing whatever it takes not to pay out claims are you willing to risk that consequence on pencil whippers.
What do you do?
I hope that we all have come to the conclusion that completing checklists accurately makes sense because we are acting responsibly as operators and we are looking out for the best interests of our customers and brands. If you are going to incur the costs of creating and mandating that checklists get completed, then you have to hold manager’s accountable for getting them completed on-time and accurately. That means that every shift that safety and quality checklists are completed before we start serving guests and that the managers take the time to check each item and record the items safety status on the checklist. That is the only way that you can generate an ROI from your checklists and ensure safe operations.
There are a ton of ways to do this. If you are going to stick with paper checklists, then you can have the person time date stamp when they started and ended each checklist. If you are a multi-unit operator, you can have your restaurant manager’s fax in their checklists to corporate each day or scan and email them. The reason most people don’t do this is because it is a giant waste of time and it pushes the burden of managing all of this paper to different people in the business.
With today’s technology, the easiest way to manage your checklists is to use a checklist system app. These are the features you should be looking for in a checklist app:
Pencil whipping has been happening in our industry for years, but it needs to come to a stop. There is a benefit to completing these safety and operational checklists every shift. Not only at the restaurant level to ensure that you are safe and ready for service but also at the corporate level where operations data can be collected and used to assist the restaurants. Keeping people safe is a moral and brand imperative and the best way to do that is through solid operations that are driven by checklists.
If you aren’t using daily checklists to manage your operations, or you are using paper, there is a better way. I invite you to click here to learn more about the OpsAnalitica Platform. We can help you digitize your checklists and get you up and running doing your checklists a better way today. We have a managed service offering that takes all of the burdens of setting up and managing your checklist program off of your shoulders and puts it on ours, we can have you up and running in as little as a day. If you are a DIY type of person we have a plan that fits your needs. The first step is jumping on a quick call and learning more about how we can help you. Click on the learn more button at the top right of your screen.
The Denver-based chain was served with another subpoena on Jan. 28 by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California requiring Chipotle to produce documents and information about the company’s practices at all restaurants system wide. click here to read full article
I don’t think you have to be a legal genius to see what the government is trying to do here. My guess is that they are going to try and show that Chipotle wasn’t operating safely and that it was a system wide problem.
By subpoenaing documentation across all restaurants it is pretty easy to build a case where the numbers look bigger than the percentage. When you have 1,755 restaurants, NRN Top 100 Unit Count June 2015. If each of those locations missed 1 temp log a week that is 91,260 missed temp logs in a year.
Do you even know if your restaurants are doing their daily checklists? If you don’t have an automated system how could you?
How many temp logs does your chain miss in a week? Even if you did them all you are bound to have lost a few from soda spills and misfiling.
What is even worse is if you get a bunch of those documents back from the restaurants and they are incomplete, or appear to be pencil whipped. That would be direct proof that you aren’t doing your due diligence as a company. If the government can prove that management knew that the restaurants weren’t all operating safely and wasn’t doing anything about it, there is your Ford Pinto case.
Anyone that follows OpsAnalitica knows that we have been harping on this stuff forever and a day because it matters.
Here is the crazy thing, if Chipotle was an OpsAnalitica client and they conducted all of their checklists and inspections on our platform, they could pull a report and send it off.
Restaurant safety goes beyond training, culture, daily checklists. A large part of it is documentation and record keeping. You can say you are safe all day long but can you prove it.
There is a reason that one of the 7 HACCP principles is record keeping and documentation.
We are committed to helping you run safer restaurants. From our white papers, to our platform, to our new managed service license. We will help you run the safest restaurants you can and do it in the most efficient way possible.
Click here to download our free guide, 7 Tips to Faster Better Line Checks.
Let’s talk about the art of Pencil Whipping. Here’s the “official” definition from Wiktionary:
pencil whip (third-person singular simple present pencil whips, present participle pencil whipping, simple past and past participle pencil whipped)
(idiomatic) To approve a document without actually knowing or reviewing what it is that is being approved.
(idiomatic) To complete a form, record, or document without having performed the implied work or without supporting data or evidence.Knowing the auditors were coming in just a week, we chose to pencil whip the quarterly inventory forms for the last year.
I suspect that most of you know this is happening in your restaurants whether it be line checks, temp logs, pre-shifts, restaurant audits, safety inspections, or any of the other checklists that you may be performing on a regular basis. There are several excuses for pencil whipping any of these, some more plausible than others, but when it comes to food safety none of them are acceptable.
Running late for example. Tommy was recently talking to a buddy of his and he admitted that when he was a chef he would wind up in a situation where he was running behind and would just quickly initial everything on his line check because it was required to be filled out. Note that I didn’t say that he completed his line check, he simply did the minimum required to be compliant with the rules. This is a classic Pencil Whip. All well and good until someone in your restaurant gets sick because you served food that wasn’t the right temp.
Another very common Pencil Whip stems from the mindset of “Nobody looks at these anyway so why should I invest any time in it I’ve got better things to do. I know everything is fine.” This is very dangerous, but it also makes sense. If every day you fill out a checklist and then file it in a drawer in the office, knowing that nobody ever looks at it. Then twice a year the paper shredding truck arrives to make room for more. You might feel the same way. Make sure you are following up on your checklists.
Then there’s the “I forgot so I’ll just fill it out later” pencil whip. This is going to happen from time to time, but if you are tracking them you will know that it wasn’t completed on time. This can now be a coaching moment on how important line checks are to the overall success of the operations.
If you are doing line checks, inspections, checklists, etc. without follow up I will guarantee you that some of them are being pencil whipped. This is putting your business at risk.
It’s very easy to put off food safety improvement until tomorrow, until tomorrow is the day you get someone sick. Look at Chipotle, I just read today that they have been subpoenaed to produce documentation about practices, chain-wide, for the last 3 years. We already know how much their sales have suffered recently, but there are huge costs associated to these types of things as well. It’s a big deal.
Make sure that you are doing everything that you can to minimize food-borne illness. Start by ensuring that your line checks are being completed diligently and not pencil whipped. Click here to download our free guide, 7 Tips to Faster Better Line Checks.
Keep on Inspecting!
A lot of our prospective clients ask us if we can force comments, create alerts or tasks when there are safety violations on their checklists. We don’t offer these features, not for technical reasons, but for liability and management reasons. I’m going to use this blog to explain our thinking on this subject.
Alerts and tasks sound great on paper, the reality is that they open you up for additional unnecessary liability and work. It has a lot to do with how and when restaurants conduct checklists and the nature of our business. Let’s start from the beginning.
An alert is a way of drawing attention to an issue, but it doesn’t require that you take any action. Because it doesn’t require you to take action, it is often ignored. Also, and this is a theme throughout this topic, there is a limitation in computer logic that may create false alerts.
Let’s discuss false alerts quickly by using the example of 50-degree mayonnaise on your line. If this mayonnaise had been in a cooler all night, and you took it’s temperature, and it was 50 degrees this is a critical violation and probably a sign that your cooler is broken and everything that goes along with a broken cooler.
There is also another example where 50-degree mayonnaise is not a critical violation. Some mayonnaise is shelf stable and can sit at room temperature indefinitely until opened. At that point, it needs to be refrigerated, and you have 4 hours to get that mayonnaise down to a safe temperature. If you were out of mayo and opened a new container and stocked up your line, then this would not be a critical violation until that Mayo had been in the danger zone for 4 hours or more.
How would a computer know this? It can’t know that the Mayo was safe or not safe it can only look at the temperature and create an alert based on whether or not that temperature is in or out of range. But in this case, the alert is a false alert, it is busy work that requires a person to look at something that isn’t an issue. This is one question out of possibly 50 to 150 questions. We have several clients with 150+ item line checks. How many real vs. false alerts could be generated on a 100 question line check per shift?
Think of yourself in this situation, how many false alerts would you look at before you stopped looking? Look at your cell phone and your app badges, those little numbers that tell you that there is something in the app that requires your attention. How often to you see those and think, I need to do something about this?
In our opinion alerts are useless because: they don’t drive accountability at the user level. Also, the lack of context that the systems have and the dynamic conditions that exist in a professional kitchen make it hard to reduce false alerts.
Forcing Comments when a temperature is out of range, or a safety violation is discovered is another thing that feels like a good idea but when it is done has some potentially negative consequences. Forcing a comment is extra work for the person conducting the checklist. It is extra work that is only incurred on questions when there is something wrong.
When I type in a 42-degree temperature, I have to do this extra work but when I type in a 39-degree temperature I don’t. Have you ever heard of the Hawthorne Effect; it posits that people act differently when they know they are being observed. Have you heard of the Lazy Ass effect; where people are lazy and if they don’t understand the importance of what they are doing might be tempted to alter answers to not have to do as much work, such as lower temps by a degree or two to not have to enter a comment. Have you heard of the I Don’t Want to Get in Trouble Effect; where a person doesn’t want to be the person who answered the question that was obviously wrong so much so that the app forced me to explain what was happening?
All of these effects are real and happen. Look at how many people pencil whip their paper checklists today because they know, no one can catch them. Our concern is that by forcing comments, we are reinforcing a negative and incentivizing people to take the easy way out and not to give us accurate data. Data accuracy is of paramount importance to completing checklists, especially when they have to do with safety.
In our platform, we allow people to enter whatever temperature they recorded with a thermometer without any prompting for a comment or the creation of an alert. When they submit their checklist, the score of the checklist may be altered based on optional scoring rules but that is for each client to decide. We encourage our client’s to train their teams to enter comments explaining why a temperature was out of range, but it is not mandated. Training to enter a comment is a small but important difference between mandating and managing to this standard.
It is a lot like the reverse psychology I have to use to on my 3-year-old. If I want her to stop doing whatever she is doing that is going to cause me to spend thousands of dollars at the urgent care. I can tell her to stop, she won’t listen to me and will continue doing it or modify her behavior just enough to have me move on. This in my mind is like the mandating the comment because I’m forcing it to happen and it is a negative interaction, one that she would like to avoid.
If I go to her and say “hey, we aren’t going to watch Princess Sophia if you keep jumping on the bed.” She will stop jumping immediately because she made the decision herself and because she wanted something and she sees it as a positive interaction. That is what we want from the person completing the checklist. We want them to identify unsafe conditions an let us know what actions they took to fix those issues voluntarily and with praise from management.
There is also value to the organization in seeing which of your manager’s are following through on these types of issues. It provides insight into your managers work performance and provides opportunities for training and coaching.
If you are going to use tasks to measure your compliance and to prove that you are addressing all safety issues, then you can’t do it halfway. It’s an all or nothing proposition. It becomes a standard at which you have to manage to, 100% or nothing. Here is a scenario that could happen when using tasks.
Most line checks and temp logs are conducted right before service starts for a shift. We often see line checks being completed up to 10 minutes after a restaurant is open for business. It is a common occurrence that a restaurant could get slammed right as it opens and that the manager who just conducted the line check might not have time to complete and close all tasks before they are called away to run their shift.
You now have a situation where you identified a potential food safety issue, notified a manager, but did not address it before the food was served to customers. In reality, that manager may not have time to get back to their computer or tablet and close those tasks until the restaurant has slowed down several hours later. You know, and I know that the restaurant may have fixed that issue before service or that the food wasn’t in the danger zone or any other reason that a restaurant professional would know.
How would that look to the media or a lawyer who is trying to sue you for getting their client sick? I think that it would be used against you. Tasks work great for knowledge workers who are at their desks and computers for their entire shift and can quickly get tasks resolved and close them. Restaurant managers are in constant motion during their shift and are wrong if they are in the office during service; their job is to be managing out in the restaurant. Tasks for restaurant managers that are time sensitive could pose issues for a company from a liability perspective.
Another weakness of tasks in the restaurant industry has to do with a number of questions and locations. Let’s say you want tasks to go to your district/area managers when restaurants have a critical temp issue. If I’m an area manager with 50 locations, our area managers back at Quiznos had 50 or more locations. You conduct 4 to 5 temp logs a day; you get one temp task per temp log, and you could be looking at 250 tasks a day that needs to be addressed and closed. It isn’t uncommon to have a 1 item that is in the danger zone on a 20 or 30 question temp log or line check.
Once again you have to close these tasks if you are managing by tasks. There is no halfway; you can’t not close tasks if that is how you are tracking compliance. Managing the resolution and closing of all these tasks becomes untenable for larger organizations.
At OpsAnalitica, we replace alerting, forced comments, and tasks with summary reports. Summary reports allow our inspectors to conduct inspections quickly and then in the background we group like issues together and email them to area managers on a schedule. These reports allow the area managers to look at the issues and the comments and use their judgment on how they are following up with their restaurants without overwhelming them with communication.
Ultimately the goal of using an automated checklist app is to collect great operations data and to run safer restaurants. You don’t want to do anything that is going to take away from those goals or puts you or your organization into a situation where you were trying to do the right thing, but you increased your liability.
Part of our responsibility is to provide you with content and tools to help you run your business. This blog post will contain links to other resources that we have found on E-coli, Norovirus, and General Food Safety issues. If you know of some other great tools, please add them in the comments and we’ll update our list.
As you look at these different resources you might be asking yourself how can checklists and checklist platforms like OpsAnalitica help me run safer restaurants?
Operations checklists play a huge part in running safer restaurants because they focus managers on what is important on a shift by shift basis. Whether your checklist is having a manager check temperatures or sanitizer concentrations. Or they are using checklists for sanitizing or cross contamination prevention. Manager’s who use checklists diligently run better operations than those who don’t. The checklist keeps them focused and reminds them of all the steps that they need to complete a task and to run safer operations.
Situational Checklists can also guide managers on how to properly address situations that might not happen very often. Checklists on how to manage a foodborne illness outbreak at their restaurant, or a cleaning checklist that they use if they send an employee home who is sick. These kinds of checklists ensure that every “i” is dotted and “t” is crossed in an efficient manner.
A platform like OpsAnalitica takes checklists to the next level because we provide visibility and accountability at all levels of the organization. We can see if a manager is following the checklists or pencil whipping them. We can provide visibility from the CEO down to the manager of a unit. Plus our system is self-documenting and organizing. When you complete a checklist on our system it is filed and stored in the cloud accessible from any connected device. No more scrambling to find all of your old temp logs or wasting time filing and organizing, they are just there when you need them.
Here are some resources I found that I thought were good and not too long.
One common denominator in food service safety from HACCP to SQF, to the CIFOR response plan is checklists and documentation. Checklists are not a nice to have they are a must have in running safe restaurants. Check out the OpsAnalitica Inspector and see how we can help you run better, safer, and more profitable restaurants.