Chris Tripoli and Aaron Belleth
Every successful restaurant shift requires coordination, high energy, team spirit and a minimum of mistakes. Maintaining these four elements over the course of several hours is challenging under the best of circumstances, however, it is infinitely easier when the shift begins with a strong start, including planning and camaraderie.
In this article, we share tips on the basics of effective line checks and preshift meetings. When well organized, these two processes are brief and simple. Yet, they can set the pace for the hours ahead and make working in your restaurant more pleasant for your staff, your managers and you.
The Line Check
Every morning, in restaurant kitchens everywhere, managers and staff begin their day by following a variety of procedures and checklists. They have an opening checklist that lists important things to do, equipment items to check, orders to place, and staff station duties to assign. Kitchen managers have deliveries to check in, product preparation lists to complete, recipes to post and stations to set up. It may take three hours to fully prepare a kitchen for the day’s lunch shift. After the daily special has been decided, the preparation list completed and each station stocked, it is time for the most important check of them all: the line check. This is how we know if we prepared the recipes right, placed products in their proper place, and if the staff is ready to go.When the chef or kitchen manager calls for the line check, all kitchen staff members should be at their station with utensils ready and preparation lists completed. Mark Holley, executive chef of Pesce in Houston, says, “The line check is when we talk with staff; discuss shift goals, daily specials, and check to see that each station has enough stock to get through the rush.”
“A good line check motivates and informs the kitchen staff,” says Glenn Cates, a chef consultant, who is also based in Houston. “The cooks taste their sauces, dressings and toppings to make certain everything is fresh and on recipe.” Typically the line check starts 15-20 minutes before the shift is to begin. The manager may join the chef-kitchen manager for a look at each station as they make sure all products were made correctly, placed in the correct container, put in the right place on the line with adequate backup containers ready. This is the time to confirm that each station’s equipment is operating correctly and all necessary utensils are readily available. Managers will make note that all product is stored at proper temperatures, correctly portioned and labeled. The more staff is involved in their daily preshift line check the better. They learn more about each other’s stations and become better able to assist one another.
Line checks should be performed consistently. The use of a properly developed checklist is important as is following the same process from one station to the next. The top five items to confirm for all products during line check are:
• Quantity of product. Does amount meet the needs of the shift?
• Appearance. Is the food appealing and appetizing in its appearance?
• Freshness. When was the item prepared? Properly packed and dated?
• Taste/Texture. Does it taste right, and does it have the profile specified in the recipe?
• Temperature. Is hot food hot, and cold food cold? Was it checked with a thermometer?
The Line Check Checklist
Below we see a hypothetical line check checklist used in a concept called “Captain’s Burgers & Fries.” See “Kitchen Line Checklist.” Using this checklist at the beginning of the shift, the kitchen manager will confirm product and station readiness on all four stations: fry station, grill-bun station, assembly station and build station. Guided by this checklist, the kitchen manager will start by walking through the fry station with the fry station attendant, checking the temperature of the fryer and the quantity and quality of the french fries and seasoning mix. He will work with the grill attendant to confirm the quantity, freshness and quality of the burgers, turkey burgers, cheeses and buns. Following the checklist he will check the appearance, temperature and quantity of the tomatoes, pickles, onions, mushrooms and sauces on the assembly station. Finally, he makes certain that the sauces and seasoning on the build station are correctly portioned, placed in the containers and made to recipe.
Line checks make great training sessions. Restaurant operators we visited tell us they regularly schedule a server or counter-cashier to walk the line check with the kitchen manager. The more servers know about the taste, portion and appearance of the products that make up the menu, the easier it is for them to describe and sell to the guest.
Performing line checks before each lunch and dinner shift can reveal some unexpected surprises. We remember one line check in which we uncovered that the grill station prepped the day’s special “Hawaiian Chicken Ka-Bob” with canned pineapple rather than the fresh pineapple called for in the recipe. On another occasion, while checking the temperature of the produce items at the pantry station, we found that the refrigeration repairman who had worked on this station earlier had not reset its thermostat.
Just before a dinner shift line check we tasted the salsa and noticed something was wrong. Upon further review we learned the prep person had mistakenly used sugar instead of salt (ouch). Without doing daily kitchen line checks consistently you run the risk of missing important product-related items and starting your shift without your staff being properly prepared. There is no need to experiment on your guests when 15 minutes of following a short, well-organized checklist can help you and your kitchen staff be set for success.
The Preshift Service Meeting
Restaurant customer service consultant Jim Sullivan often says, “If the P&L is the war, the shift is the battle, and the preshift meeting is the battle plan.” Taking 10 minutes before every lunch and dinner shift to gather the entire front-of-the-house service staff (wait staff, door staff, bussers and bartenders) is the best way to share the battle plan of the day. The goal of the preshift service meeting is to focus the staff’s attention on great customer service. A good preshift meeting will actually improve the staff’s performance, increase their education of your products, energize and motivate them so that they may ensure that every guest leaves happy. A poor preshift meeting will fail to accomplish any of this. See “What Would Have Been Good is a Scenario Like This:” below.Let’s remember that even the best service staff doesn’t walk into the restaurant each morning with that focus. Instead they may be focused on the last song they heard on the radio, or the person they met the night before, or perhaps the fact that their rent is due in a couple of days or the boyfriend who hasn’t called. Without a preshift meeting to direct their focus, you take the risk that these other items will be the ones they will have on their mind while serving your guests.
Good preshift service meetings stay fresh and interesting. You do them regularly (before each shift) but they don’t become routine because you bring positive energy and mix things up. I suggest you hold them in different places, such as the kitchen, bar area, lobby, patio and the back dock. Have a short agenda that includes a message that fits into your weekly goals for sales and service. The message may have something to do with service steps, suggestive selling, promotions, new menu items, safety, teamwork or service training. See “Seven Steps for Effective Preshift Meetings” below.
By keeping these meetings short (10 minutes), well-focused and involving the service staff you will find preshift meetings can be quite effective. An informed staff that is involved seems to work better together, sell more and stay motivated longer. For best results, remember to stay on point and not try to put too much information into your preshift. This isn’t the opportunity to discuss company policies and procedures, or discipline the staff. Remember, the purpose is to inform, involve and motivate, so it is a great forum for public praise. On that note, be certain to congratulate those who are performing well. You should pull those aside that require constructive criticism for a private one-on-one consultation.
Since preshifts are short and meant to pep up and prep up the staff, it is important to eliminate distractions like cell phones. These meetings require your energy and attention. Developing topics for preshift meetings is a process that fits well within the manager’s monthly plan. Each period usually has goals set for revenue, per- person spending, marketing and promotions, etc. I recommend managers break their monthly goals and objectives into their weekly plan, discuss these each week during the managers meeting and select preshift meeting topics that help ensure the success of those goals.
Clearly defined goals will help managers remain consistent throughout the week. Each week may have different steps of service to review and marketing to promote. For best results, an agenda like the three steps below is recommended:
1. Open by creating positive energy,including a warm greeting.
2. Present the daily specials, with an opportunity to taste and describe.
3. Close with a sincere thank-you.
Let’s Get Happy
We know how important our people are to the success of any restaurant. Finding, training and retaining a good staff are getting more and more difficult to do. It seems that any time managers can get so much benefit out of so little time we would be happy to do it. So I say let’s be happy with our staff everyday before every shift doing kitchen line checks and preshift service meetings.
7 Steps for Effective Preshift Meetings
by Jim Sullivan1. Have a goal and share it. The main reason we have preshift meetings is so managers will identify and then share the focus of that shift with the team. If you don’t share a plan your team will naturally assume you don’t have one.
2. Keep it positive. A preshift meeting is not the time or place to discuss negative topics or pick on someone’s previous performance.
3. One meeting, oneissue. A common mistake managers make is trying to cover too many issues in a preshift meeting. Pick one area to emphasize and stick to it: service, selling, cleanliness, speed and accuracy are some examples. You’ll have plenty of other shifts this week and next to cover other important topics.
4. K.I.S.S. Keep it short and sweet. No preshift meeting should last longer than 10 minutes.
5. Skinny the monologue, fatten the dialogue. Interactivity makes any meeting more lively and effective. Remember the 20/80 rule: managers should speak for 20 percent of the preshift meeting; crew should speak for 80 percent of the meeting. Briefly and energetically present the objective, opportunities and goals for the shift. Now ask each person to repeat and review the shift goals one more time. Repetition is the mother of all learning.
6. Pump up the staggered shift crew too. When crew members arrive at staggered times because of labor and scheduling purposes, don’t forget to focus on and energize them too. This can be done in 30-second mini preshift meetings with each individual.
7. Generate electricity. And finally, remember that preshift meetings are perfect times to pump up the energy level of your kitchen and customer- facing teams before “the big game.” If you don’t demonstrate enthusiasm and focus, it’s unlikely that the team will initiate it on their own.
What Would Have Been Good is a Scenario Like This:
by Chris Tripoli
My first preshift meeting was a disaster. Although it was 27 years ago I remember it as if it were yesterday. I had just developed a new way for servers to select the station they would work.
They were to select numbers from a basket. Each number represented the station they would be assigned to work. The numbers corresponded to a chart representing the side duties of each station. The servers took much of the time discussing their selected number, the side duties and even traded among themselves. Before I knew it, time was up so I quickly clapped my hands and said lets all smile, help each other and have a great shift.
Who was I kidding? That was no preshift meeting. I didn’t accomplish anything that couldn’t have been put into a memo and posted on the employee bulletin board. I had failed Preshift 101.
Instead, we had used these valuable few moments on process and procedures, which was not good. What would have been good is a scenario like this:
Manager: He or she starts with a short, upbeat greeting such as, “Good morning beautiful people, lets take a look. I see smiles, name tags, clean aprons, and everyone has pens and scratch pads. Great, thank you. Today’s lunch special is the smoked prime rib French dip sandwich. I have one here, cut into little taste portions, take one and tell me what you think.”
Next, the manager encourages servers’ responses. By involving the service staff they begin to own the process and have a much better chance of retaining the information.
Servers: They respond to the manager’s questions and comment on portions, taste and price. Manager: He or she calls on a server to ask what appetizer might be best to suggest with this sandwich, and then calls on another to ask what dessert they would suggest the guest saves room for. Finally, he or she asks servers to set a goal for the amount of special sandwiches they will sell, and perhaps offers a contest and reward to the winner.
A short well-directed interchange like the above followed by staff participation helps get the service staff focused on what is most important: guest service and suggestive selling.