How to Use Checklists

If there is beauty in simplicity, than there aren’t many things more beautiful to the restaurant manager than a checklist. The benefits of checklists are obvious. In a business full of young managers and delegated tasks, the checklist streamlines the processes critical to daily operations. The checklist keeps employees anchored in a business that can be so full of distractions.

I have spent too many years in too many restaurants that have no concept of how to use checklists. They tend to be more common in corporate restaurants and tend to be used exclusively by managers, or employees assuming management tasks. In fact, there is no part of the restaurant that can’t be properly managed with a good checklist. For this reason, the checklist should be implemented in all of the following contexts:

  • Opening duties
  • Closing duties
  • Shift changes
  • Purchasing/Ordering
  • Setting up the front line
  • Pastries/dessert preparation
  • Afternoon prep work
  • End-of-shift cleaning

The checklist isn’t about more paperwork or complications. It is about simplicity and consistency in an environment where chaos can quickly take over.


Managers in most restaurants must delegate tasks to survive. The biggest reason they don’t is that they don’t trust their employees or believe the job will only get done the right way if they do it themselves. This means underutilized employees and overburdened managers, who may or may not have time to get the job done the right way.

Checklists are simple, basic, and uniform. They empower employees while streamlining processes. They let managers scan the completed paperwork instead of running through the building to survey the scene. When supervised by shift managers or senior employees, the checklist can ensure that the job will get done.


Consistency is the hallmark of any great restaurant. Consistent food and service starts with consistent processes on the floor and in the kitchen, and checklists are great for setting and meeting standards in both areas. Employees are more productive when they are on familiar ground when they walk in the door. This means no surprises and no making up ground because the previous shift forgot a few steps.

Checklists lead to standards that are met every time. This creates a culture based on cleanliness and precision, so that the emphasis is on anticipation and creativity instead of filling in the gaps and playing catch-up. This gets employees thinking about what they can do to improve the restaurant, instead of what they need to do to compensate for the performance of their coworkers.

Checklists should be posted clearly and laminated, and they should be supervised by a manager or senior employee. There are three primary contexts in which checklists should be used.

Front of the House

Servers should be given checklists for opening, closing, and midday shift change duties. Typical duties include cleaning and preparation for the upcoming shift. This should ensure that the dining room is clean and stocked for the upcoming shift, and that the kitchen and galley are prepped for service. The checklist is especially helpful for new servers and hostesses, who must quickly get familiar with their shift duties.

Back of the House

Setting up the line for service and prepping food for the next shift are two of the most important responsibilities in the back of the house. Two common missteps in most kitchens are:

  • Overburdening kitchen managers to ensure that work is done, and
  • Assuming a kitchen employee finished his prep work before leaving

A completed checklist should be all the manager needs to be certain that prep duties are complete. This is important for avoiding the worst-case scenario of reaching down for pre-portioned food during the height of the dinner rush only to find that it wasn’t completed. The checklist isn’t fool-proof, but it’s the best step for getting everyone on the same page.


A good ordering checklist can prevent under-ordering and help delegation to a trained kitchen employee. Checklists remove the guesswork when they correspond with accurate food counts (especially with important proteins). When checklists are updated daily, employees can refer to the checklist to know what they have in stock and what to expect during the next vendor delivery.

In each case, a checklist simplifies daily operations. They are time-savers and hallmarks of consistency, and should be used in each phase of the restaurant to get it running like clockwork.