CoInspect Collaborative Excellence Blog

Building the Perfect Line Check

Katie Knight on Feb 21, 2019 5:23:56 PM
Katie Knight


Listen up Restaurant Ops folks, you too, Food Safety executives. After working with and interviewing hundreds of restaurant employees, I have some news.  Your checklists are too long, they do not focus on the right content, and your teams are likely faking their answers and jeopardizing the health and safety of your customers and your business. YIKES.

Take a breath. There are some easy fixes. In fact, there’s an app for that.

Checklists are used across most verticals -- including the food service industry -- to teach and validate processes critical to success. As such, some experts in the field of checklist writing have emerged, including Dr. Atul Gawande, a Harvard surgeon and renowned author of The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. Gawande offers these words of advice, “Good checklists are precise. They are efficient, to the point, and easy to use even in the most difficult situations. They do not try to spell out everything. Instead, they provide reminders of only the most critical and important. Good checklists are, above all, practical.”

Checklists Should be Efficient

It can be time-consuming to monitor and validate in the back of house (BOH), but by setting up your checklists in ways that maximize efficiency, your management team can get back on the floor quickly -- without sacrificing accuracy.

Some key insights from our conversations and work across the industry:

  • The order of the questions is important. By categorizing questions into groups -- or ordering them in a way that mimics the restaurant layout -- you can maximize efficiency and reduce completion time.
  • Have your teams complete the work using tools they’re familiar with. In a restaurant industry full of young people, digital solutions like CoInspect remain key to completing work in a simple, timely, and accurate way.
  • Reduce question complexity by writing in simple, familiar language. Write questions in the same way you would communicate to your team in a conversation. Avoid complexities such as codes, lengthy explanations, or superfluous details. Better yet, say it with a picture. Embedding short descriptions and reference images (either good or bad) into your checklists are surefire ways to ensure the team member completing the checklist is clear on what to do.

Include Only the Most Critical & Important

In a food service situation, there are thousands of items we could be asking employees to monitor and check, but avoid this tactic. Focus on the most important things. Which questions are critical for food safety? Which items most affect the guest experience and your brand’s standards?  Focus on these.

In digital checklist world, you can get a bit more creative and include questions that may not fall under the filter of ‘most important,’ but you still would like them validated now and again.  Features such as CoInspect’s “SmartCheck” can help you gain efficiency without disrupting questions on your “priority” list.  It works by randomizing a large set of ‘nice to have’ questions that are randomly distributed and asked over the course of the week or month.

Practicality Reigns Supreme

The first step in determining practicality is identifying what the checklist is meant to accomplish. From there, you can better determine how it should be performed. Determine if you are planning a ‘Read-Do’ type check (Read the question, perform the action, check the box), or a ‘Do-Confirm’ (Perform all actions, answer a checklist to validate).

Let’s imagine you are writing a checklist for the opening front of house shift in a quick service restaurant and the goal is to make sure the lobby, cashier, and grab-and-go stations are ready for service. It would be impractical to have the staff grab the list and ‘Read-Do’ each item (Turn on the overhead lights - check, Turn on Grab & Go lights - check) versus running through standard opening procedure from memory and using the checklist as an ‘after the fact’ validation. By setting up the latter type of checklist, broad questions such as ‘all lights are turned on’ can be used -- a far more practical configuration that gets you the same outcome.

Determining when to perform the checklists, and who should complete them, are also key elements of overall practicality. Checklists should be able to be completed during a specified and realistic timeframe. A bathroom check listed at 12pm, while important, may not actually be possible during the lunch rush.

It matters who is completing the checklist. Even if your checklists can be performed by many members on your staff (and they should!), clear responsibility and accountability is key. Establishing a ‘Post Lunch Prep Checklist’ at 2:00pm to be done by the AM Manager when they’re off shift at 2:30pm may not be practical.

Our “How to Build a Checklist” Checklist

  • The checklist is short (less than 10 items is ideal, may not be possible)
  • Content covers the most critical and commonly overlooked items
  • Questions are ordered and/or organized in a way that makes sense
  • Language is clear and concise
  • How to perform is clear (Read-Do or Do-Confirm)
  • When to complete is practical
  • Person responsible to complete is clear and realistic

Katie Knight is a customer-centric technology and food service professional. She has traveled across the globe working with international teams to solve business-critical technology infrastructure challenges for both large corporations and emerging small businesses alike. She focuses on food safety and operational challenges facing US restaurants.  CoInspect software powers food safety, quality assurance, and standards management for restaurants and food manufacturers.  The company's obsession: Make software that is fast, flexible, and easy-to-use. For more information, visit or reach her at

Topics: Food Safety, restaurant line check, checklists