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Pencil Whipped Checklists Steal Sales & Profits

We did a survey and asked over 100 restaurant managers and owners a very simple question. “Do you think your teams are completing their paper checklists accurately?”

94% of those surveyed said that their teams WERE NOT completing their checklists accurately.

I used to think that the industry just didn’t care about pencil whipping. Now after five years in business I realize I was wrong. It’s not apathy, it is a lack of data and visibility into daily restaurant operations.

What is pencil whipping?

Pencil whipping, for our purposes in this blog, is defined as not using and completing a checklist accurately. Pencil whipping includes missed checklists and checklists where the employee just fills it in to get it finished without checking the items as they are supposed to.

What does pencil whipping look like?

The superficial view is the temperature log in a restaurant, hanging on a clipboard, where it is obvious that one person simply went down the list and filled it in day after day. Same pen, same color, same handwriting, the same temperature on all cold hold, and hot hold items.

We have all seen that pencil whipped checklist at some time in our career’s but most of us have never thought about the checklist’s impact on our bottom lines.

What Pencil Whipping actually looks like:

Pencil whipped checklists lead to slower speed of service and lower QSC and Customer Satisfaction scores. This is directly correlated to lower sales and profits.

How much pencil whipping is happening?

Through conversations with our clients and analysis of our own data. We believe that only 25 to 30% of paper checklists are completed accurately.

Which means that 70% of the time, paper checklists are pencil whipped or not completed accurately.

According to Yelp, the average score for all restaurants in the United States is 3.71 out of 5 or 74.2%. Restaurants in America are solid C students according to consumers.

I know that some operators discount Yelp reviews but they are statistically significant and they are the best gauge of what our customers truly think. A 1-star increase in your location‘s Yelp Score can lead to a 5 to 9% increase in sales.

Pilots are famous for using checklists. You can’t turn on a plane’s engine without a checklist. Surgeons also use checklists to make sure they don’t make a catastrophic mistake.

Would you feel safe flying on airplane or getting surgery from a doctor that was only completing their checklists 30% of the time? Why is that ok for restaurants?

The Operators Nightmare

The Operators Nightmare, is when you are doing everything you are supposed to be doing. You are training, investing in your employees, you have systematized everything you can, you have checklists/logs/documented procedures, state of the art technology, great food, and good locations.

Yet your stores feel like they could be doing better and that the day-to-day management of them is just way harder than it should be. You know that something is off but you can’t put your finger on it.

Underperformance in the restaurant industry can be directly tied to pencil whipped checklists. I know a lot of you don’t believe this, and it’s not that I’m incorrect, because I’m not. It’s because if you are using paper you have no data to the contrary and no idea how bad your pencil whipping problem really is.

Paper checklists, which are the most widely used checklist system, are never reported on. It’s simply too arduous to collect all the red books and analyze them and get any real operations data out of them.

Most restaurant executives have never seen any data that would suggest that their restaurants aren’t following their procedures and that by pencil whipping their checklists that it is costing them any money.

We did a study a couple of years ago and we found that in a QSR chicken finger franchisee that had high process compliance, the teams were doing their daily checklists accurately and on time, increased sales by 3.2%, and reduced food cost by 1.2% during that period.

How did this happen you are asking yourselves?

The restaurants ran better or more accurately ran how they were supposed to run. Issues were corrected in real-time before they had a chance to affect guest experiences. This lead to higher QSC Scores and Speed of Service times which led to an increase in sales and at the same time a reduction in comps led to an increase in profits.

Death by 1000 Cuts

The other problem with pencil whipping is that it isn’t a clear cut 1 thing you have to fix. If you have a broken sprinkler pipe, that is a singular problem which you can address and get solved.

Pencil whipping is a singular problem but the symptoms of pencil whipping are not. Pencil whipping shows up operationally as a lot of different things. Refer back to the chart above. Pencil whipping shows it’s ugly head in poor execution on things that were supposed to be handled.

There is nothing more frustrating than a customer having a bad experience at your restaurant because of something that got missed but was part of your training and managed on a checklist that was supposed to be completed before service.

Pencil Whipped Data is Worse than no Data

We have a client that recently made the above comment to us. Pencil whipped data is worse than no data at all. He believes this because he is in Ops Services and he saw the executives of his company making million-dollar decisions on garbage data.

There has always been a lack of good daily operations data in restaurant companies. Especially, large multi-unit operators. Most restaurant companies don’t even have a direct operations data feed that they can analyze.

Restaurant chain executives are forced to back into operations effectiveness at their restaurants by looking at ancillary data: sales, costs, customer satisfaction scores, and if you are lucky audits.

All of those metrics are trailing indicators of operations effectiveness or with the audit a snap shot that is out of date the next day.

Looking at falling sales, higher costs, or bad customer satisfaction scores to identify operational issues is what most of us have had to do. If you are seeing bad indicators in those data sets, it’s already too late.

The goal is not to run bad operations for a long period of time until it finally shows up in a trend line 6 months later when you have done a ton of damage to your brand and those location’s viability.

The goal is to exercise active managerial control over your operations, follow your systems, and avoid bad experiences altogether by executing your systems consistently.

The fact is that we all see the impacts of pencil whipped processes every day in our restaurants and the restaurants that we frequent as guests. We as restaurateurs speak restaurant, we see the stressed employees, the customers having bad experiences, the lost sales, increased costs, and the bad reviews.

We also know that the most successful restaurant companies not only have systems and processes but their culture manages them and holds all team members accountable for following them. Consistent execution of systems is the difference between highly profitable restaurant machines that print money and operations that struggle and barely break-even.

If you work in an organization that is still using paper to manage your operations processes and you would like to fix the biggest nagging issue in your business, please click on the chat icon in the bottom right of the screen and reach out.

I’m going to leave you with this thought.

An employee that pencil whips a checklist is stealing from you. Is there any real difference between taking 10 dollars out of the register or willfully not doing the job you are being paid to do and causing a customer to not come and spend that same 10 dollars at your restaurant? In both cases, you are out $10 dollars.

This hospitality business doesn’t have to be this hard and stressful. You have already figured out what everyone needs to be doing, you just need a better way of managing your team to ensure that they are following your SOP’s.

We have helped thousands of restaurants in 19 countries increase sales, profits, and QSC scores, we can help you.

Dynamic Checklists: What are they and why you should care

Dynamic checklists are customized checklists that conform themselves to each location as they are loaded. They are smart checklists that know that each location is slightly different and they only show questions that are relevant to that restaurant.

In short, you can create one checklist that works for every location in your chain and your store level team is always working a checklist that is perfectly configured for their building, equipment, menu, and configuration. Think Sheet-to-shelf inventory lists for checklists and audits.

Why should you care? Money!!!!!

Let’s start at the restaurant level where 99% of your checklists are completed. When you are using generic or non-dynamic checklists you are costing yourself money.

  1. Your checklists take longer to complete because they have more questions then they need for each location and your team is spending time trying to figure out which questions they should answer.
  2. Do you really want an employee determining which checks are important and not important for your business and brand?

  3. Your data is less accurate because you can’t require all of your questions to be answered every time. Some people are able to pencil whip or skip bunches of questions.
  4. You have to do more training initially so that your team knows every nuance of your checklists and their location vs. just having a sheet-to-shelf version that they can just complete without thinking and making unnecessary decisions.

Basically, when you can’t dynamically customize your checklist to your locations, you pay more money for worse execution and mediocre data.

Before you dismiss this as just pennies of cost. The average restaurant management team is supposed to be completing about 2 to 2.5 hours of managerial, food safety, and restaurant readiness checklists per day.

Think about it, you have two line checks that take 45 minutes each to complete, that is 90 minutes right there. Most of our clients have between 5 and 15 shorter checklists that get executed throughout the day. Examples of common checklists that our clients are using: Manager opening and closing, HACCP Logs, Shift Logs, Line Checks, Mid-shifts, Deposit Logs, Station opening and closing, prep lists, cooling logs, oven checks, equipment checks, temperature logs, etc..

At two hours a day, 363 days a year, that is the equivalent of 18 (40 hour) weeks a year your team is spending doing checklists. Quick math that is about 36% of full time employees year spent doing checklists. Making sure the checklists can be completed quickly, accurately, and that you achieve your business goals of running safe and inviting restaurants is paramount to your business.

Checklists are the most important administrative activity in your restaurant because they are the driver of food safety, operations consistency, and customer satisfaction.

Now let’s talk about the wasted money at Corporate because of checklist systems that can’t dynamically create checklists and audits for their locations. We are working with a client and their system administrator was spending 20 hours a week managing their audits and daily checklists on one of our competitors software before coming to OpsAnalitica. This 20 hours was in addition to their other responsibilities.

They had to have several versions of every checklist in the system. They had to have, in some cases, hundreds of redundant questions to account for deficiencies in our competitors platform. All this added up to a ton of extra time trying to conform their business to their checklist program vs. having checklist software that worked with their business.

20 hours a week of admin time, that is insane. The worse part was, they didn’t always make the changes they wanted to because the software was hard to administrate. They missed out on opportunities to get better data, to make better operating decisions, because their software wasn’t up to the task.

Why is OpsAnalitica able to create dynamic checklists when our competitors can’t. First, we were built from day one to be a daily checklist platform when most of our competitors started off as audit platforms. We knew that daily checklists did more to drive behavior change at the restaurant level then audits did and that was learned from years of restaurant management experience from the store to the corporate level. Daily checklists are harder to build and require more nuance than a one size fits all audit solution.

  • The OpsLogic Engine, is our secret sauce. It allows us to create the logic that drives dynamic checklist creation. I’m not going to get into more detail here other than to say that we have the most advanced logic engine in the space today, we are making huge investments to make it more powerful and it going to change how you run your business.
  • One last point about our OpsLogic engine, it goes beyond just yes no questions. We are writing logic that ensures your food safety and quality goals are met. Take cheese sauce as an example: sure it needs to be warmer than 135 but it needs to be less than 165 or it breaks and you have to throw it away. This increases food cost and is equivalent to throwing money in the garbage.

    An Intelligent OpsAnalitica checklist is going to flag that question in real-time and provide the employee with directions, “Cheese sauce too warm, in danger of breaking, reduce temp immediately, take photo to document”. By the way that corrective action is required.

    One of the phrases we use a lot over here at OpsAnalitica is “We take the guesswork out of running the restaurants.” This has never been more true with our Dynamic Checklist creation and OpsLogic engine. To learn more about what we can do to help you run your business and to get a pricing quote, please fill out this form.