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7 Tips for Faster Better Line Checks

Chef Tasting Food

Pre-shift line checks are a requirement for running a successful restaurant.  Line checks provide management the ability to inspect their restaurant before the meal period to:

  • Ensure that they are stocked properly, Pars
  • The right food is on the line, FIFO
  • That everything is safe to serve, Temperature Control
  • The correct serving ladles and spoons are being used, Portion Control
  • That all food is fresh and tastes correct, Food Comp Reduction
  • Basic food safety and cleanliness practices are being met, Sanitation

If you are not conducting line checks every meal period, from my experience, you don’t even know what you don’t know about what is going on in your kitchen.  My guess is that if you started doing line checks  you would be very surprised at what you find.

Here are some tips to make your line checks faster and more effective:

  1. Thorough is Better:  Look at every item that you are going to be serving that shift.  Don’t assume that because it was checked on the last shift that it is still good to serve.
  2. Make a line check kit:  It doesn’t have to be fancy but you should grab a full pan and load it up with the things you are going to need to conduct your line check and then bring the kit with you to each station in the restaurant.  A good kit should contain:
    1. Sanitizer bucket with 1 wet towel for cleaning off thermometer probes
    2. 1 dry towel
    3. Sanitizer test strips
    4. Dishwasher test strips if different
    5. 1 bucket with clean spoons for tasting (figure out how many spoons you will need to taste every item and bring that many)
    6. 1 bucket for dirty spoons
    7. Thermometer(s)
    8. Fryer oil test kit if you use one
    9. Post-its and a pen – for leaving notes for crew
  3. Write SMART Questions:  For any food item you should:
    1. Temp the item
    2. Taste the item when appropriate
    3. Ensure it is labeled correctly with expiration date
    4. Check that it is in the correct container size
    5. Has the correct portion control in place (spoodle, ladle, measuring cup, check weight of random item, etc..)
  4. Use Multiple Thermometers:  The average probe thermometer takes 1 to 5 seconds to register a temp.  If you are going to be temping your entire line you are adding unnecessary time to your line check if you only use 1 thermometer.  Use at least two or four at a time.  By the time you place the 4th thermometer the 1st one has probably registered the temp.  This will speed up your line checks
  5. Check for critical violations:  You should take this opportunity to be looking for other critical violations in your restaurant:
    1. Sanitizer buckets: proper concentration, towels, temperature
    2. Dishwasher: water temperature, sanitizer concentrations, etc..
    3. Improper food storage:  look in dry storage and refrigerator units for proper shelves, cool down procedures, covers, and labels
    4. Temperatures:  record temps for all cold and hot hold units
  6. Correct any critical violations immediately:  As you are walking around conducting your line check if you stumble upon a critical violation you need to fix it immediately.  Fixing might consist of you stopping what you are doing and fixing it yourself or delegating it to a member of the crew.  You need to flag that item and re-check that it was fixed before service starts.
  7. Implement quality management processes & job aides:  OpsAnalitica drives line check compliance by providing a customized end user exerience that provides team members all the data they need in order identify and remediate issues in real-time before they affect customers.  Above store leaders are able to effectively manage and coach employees to maximize performance.  Our clients see a 1/2 to 1% decrease in food costs due to reduced comps and better inventory management.  Our clients are reporting increased temperature compliance and safety.

Here is an additional guide that you might find useful:

  1. Calibrate your thermometer

The Value of Pre-Shift Meetings

I had the opportunity in 2002 to go through hospitality and customer service training similar to what the Ritz Carlton organization uses.  This program was implemented at one of the premier shopping malls in the country, The Grove in Los Angeles. I was a Concierge Services Manager at the mall. Our concierge team was so good that we won the 2002 Wall Street Journal Battle of the Concierges. We beat the W Hotel in San Francisco and the Ritz in NYC.

 The training program was simple and straight forward:

  1. Intense customer service training before new employees interact with guests.
  2. Wallet card with customer service guidelines on it.
  3. Memorization of customer service guidelines.
  4. Customer service test, must pass before assuming position.
  5. Daily Pre-shift Meeting for all employees including managers.
I want to focus on the pre-shift meeting aspect of the system because it was key to the overall implementation of the program and what maintained our customer service standards after the initial training.
Over my years of managing restaurants I have built upon that foundation and created the OpsAnalitica Pre-shift Methodology that I would like to share with you today.
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Your Pre-shift is broken into the following sections:
  1. Customer Service Tenant
    • This is one of 10 to 15 customer service tenants that you train and hold your team responsible for implementing.
  2. Quick explanation of the service tenant as a story.
    • Make the story relatable and short.
  3. Team member Experience
    • A team member shares a real life experience where they discuss a time when they gave or received service highlighted in the service tenant.
    • How did that make them or the guest feel?
  4. Important shift Information
    • 86’d items
    • Specials
  5. Quote or Joke of the day
    • Share a quote or joke of the day.
    • Make sure joke is appropriate for your audience.
  6. Shift contest
    • Every shift you should run a contest to motivate the team and you reward the winners with a meal, or credit, or post shift drink, etc.
      • You can run longer contests, like bottles of wine in a month but you really have to work to keep the team motivated and the prize has to be a lot bigger. Sometimes distributors will provide the prize.
    • Serving guests can become monotonous, use contest to motivate your team and to focus them on high contribution margin or items that are nearing expiration. By using contests to move these types of products you can lower waste and increase profits.
      • When I worked at Changs over a decade ago the food cost on Chicken Lettuce Wraps was $.39 an order and they sold for $6.95. Chicken Lettuce Wraps had a 6% food cost.  Don’t you want to be incenting your servers to sell items that have high contribution margins?
    • Make sure you announce the winner of last shift’s contest at the next Pre-shift meeting.
    • Examples of server games:
      • Server Bingo
      • Ticket times contests
      • Food or drink Item contest
      • Compliment contests
      • Comment card contests
I’ve seen first hand at a Changs the power of pre-shifts. Taking that couple of minutes before every shift to focus your team on service, give them a goal, and communicate vital information works wonders. I was a part of a management team that increased weekly sales by 50k a week from 125 to over 170k a a week in an 8 month period and pre-shifts were a major part of the strategy.
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