It’s been said that cleanliness is next to godliness – but in today’s service industry, there’s a more direct line between cleanliness and success. It is no longer just local, state and federal agencies supplying regulations that must be followed in order to stay in business; today’s customers patronize only businesses they believe to be clean and safe. In other words, cleanliness is no longer just a matter of compliance; it’s a matter of trust.
So the question for restaurant management is this: What is being done in your restaurant kitchen to ensure your business is earning that trust as well as remaining compliant with public health and safety requirements?
The Power of the Checklist
Complying with these guidelines and regulations requires much elbow grease and attention to detail over time. Restaurants have traditionally built checklists to help them keep track of all the details and to maintain a record of compliance that they can provide at audit. These checklists specify what to clean during and after each shift, at the end of each day, every week, every month, every quarter, and annually.
Each kitchen checklist has numerous items, and each one must be checked off. For example, your kitchen likely has checklists and procedures to give your entire kitchen space and equipment a deep cleaning over the course of one month. (By the way, always check each manufacturer’s operation manual for equipment cleaning instructions.) These checklists are usually kept on a clipboard or in the office, where each employee who helps with the cleaning has to take the time to go find and fill out each form.
The Downside of the Paper Checklist
We’re clearly talking about a lot of little checkmarks and initials to keep track of – assuming each checklist is fully and correctly filled out. And, to be honest, they may not be. It’s easy for busy employees to lose sight of the fact that these checklists are legal compliance documents that track important job responsibilities. They may skip filling out the lists or, worse, they may fill out a list all at once or even in advance – essentially lying on the forms, which can put your business at great risk.
Further, these checklists maintain a great deal of time-sensitive detail. For instance, if your quarterly schedule includes cleaning the condenser coils on refrigeration units, employees could do it whenever they have time during the quarter. But if your paper checklist isn’t properly notated, how will you know whether they did it? Further, it’s not something that should be left longer than 90 days, so how will you set a reminder to clean them again in three months or less? Maintaining a safe kitchen might require cleaning those coils twice during one quarterly checklist.
Along the same lines, it’s time-consuming and difficult to collect, review and file the checklists from just one location, let alone collate them from multiple locations. It can take days or weeks (not months, we hope!) to determine if employees have failed on any checklist and that remedial action needs to be taken. In that time, what poor procedures have been damaging the cleanliness and safety of your kitchen?
It takes even more time for managers to build an action plan and assign the plan (and the paper) to any employee for completion. Then, how much time does the manager invest in setting reminders to follow up and ensure the plan has been completed?
In short, checklists are crucial to your business – but paper checklists can actually detract from effectively running your business. Let’s take a lot at what digitizing these checklists can do.
The Benefits of Digitizing
Implementing a digital, mobile auditing app allows you to create every checklist, every procedure, every audit template online, where they’re available to every employee and easily accessible through any mobile device. This means your employees access the right checklist every time, with information on not only what to clean and when, but the best practices on how. Completing the checklist is a matter of a few clicks and swipes; it’s also easy to add photos and videos. Why spend time trying to describe the weird sound that equipment is making when they can easily upload a video?
Digital checklists also make it easy to respond to any changes in safety or compliance measures like those we experienced in 2020. Your operational team updates the checklist with new procedures, requirements or deadlines only once, and the updates automatically roll throughout your organization in real time. Every shift in every location is always up to date.
From the operational perspective, digital checklists bring great peace of mind. You no longer have to wonder if cleaning is taking place on schedule and if your employees are filling out the checklists correctly. Every time an employee updates a form, the app automatically notes who filled it out and time-stamps and geolocates the entry, which becomes your official record of compliance. This builds accountability for your employees and makes it easy for your managers to see the current status of any checklist in real time. Action plans can be built from templates in a matter of minutes and assigned to the relevant employees, who receive notification of each plan and its deadlines. Automated reminders keep everyone on track; when the plan is completed, the app immediately notifies the distribution list.
Finally, a great auditing app isn’t just a set of digital checklists. It will also make it easy to get all your audit forms, data, employee training, and more centralized online and easily accessible. Pulling information for a public health inspector becomes a matter of minutes.
Building Trust with Customers
Excellence begets excellence – and a digital, mobile audit app helps you ensure operational excellence. When your kitchen is clean and stays clean, it becomes a point of pride with your employees – and that pride can expand into the quality of the food they create as well as their customer service efforts. It’s this combination of quality, consistency and customer service that builds the relationship of trust with customers. They know that your establishment provides a clean, safe environment with excellent food and great customer service. And who doesn’t become a repeat customer of a place like that?