How to write an opening and closing checklist – Restaurants bars and Cafes

How to write an opening and closing checklist – Restaurants bars and Cafes

In this article, we will discuss what a checklist is, why you need them and how to write your own opening and closing checklists to set your team up for a profitable day. 

Quote checklist

It doesn’t matter if you work in a restaurant, café or bar, and it doesn’t matter if you are a server, bartender, chef or manager.   A key ingredient to the success of any workplace running smoothly, efficiently, and consistently is to make sure that each employee can complete their job to the standards of the business and at the right time.

To make sure this happens, one of the easiest and most effective tools every business can use is the humble Operational Checklist.

What is a checklist?

A checklist is a written document that identifies a series of essential tasks (day to day and ad-hoc) that need to be done, in a specific sequence (i.e. setting up a bar area, ordering items from suppliers and closing the takeaway coffee station etc.).    Employees can follow the list to complete each task and then mark them off as they are done.

A well written checklist will provide direction for employees, ensuring that essential tasks are done, and help to eliminate confusion.  This leads to increased productivity, promotes teamwork, maximizes cleanliness, creates accountability, and makes management easier.

Examples of important checklists 

Every restaurant, bar and café is unique, with different operational needs and standards, this means that although there are certain tasks that all venues might do (like opening the bar area, set up the coffee machine).  How they do these tasks will be different.

This means that each venue must have a library of checklists that have been tailored to the establishment’s needs based on the hours of operation, style of venue and the operational expectations of managers and owners. 

Essential checklists a venue may have might include:   

  • Opening and closing a venue
  • Daily food preparation
  • Function and events procedures
  • Weekly stock ordering
  • Fire and evacuation safety procedures

Benefits of using a checklist

A well written checklist that is used properly will help to ensure:

The consistency of tasks – Employees have a guide on what to do, this means that they can set up and close the venue the same way. 

The important things get done first – A checklist enables employees to complete their tasks in a logical sequence and based on priority, ensuring that the important and time sensitive tasks are done first. 

Everyone knows their responsibilities – When tasks are written down, each team member can follow the checklist to complete their job, without having to ask ‘What next’.

Jobs can be checked if they are done properly – Management and other employees can check that jobs are done to the standards of the business by reviewing the checklist and looking at how the jobs were completed, as well as identifying what still needs to be done. 

Increased safety and security – High risk tasks are completed in a logical sequence to ensure a safe work environment (i.e. locking doors, Setting up the till, doing the banking or setting alarms). 

Personal accountability – Each team member takes ownership of their tasks, this also ensures they keep accountable to the rest of the team. 

Improved productivity – When tasks are done correctly, and in sequence, this supports the rest of the team as there is no need for them to stop what they are doing because something hasn’t been done.

Without having a checklist written down the business runs the risk of tasks not being done properly or at all, which increases the workloads for other team members, and impacts their ability to provide great service.

What makes a good checklist 

In his book ‘The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right author Atul Gawande wrote

“Good checklists, on the other hand 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.  Under conditions of complexity, not only are checklists a help, they are required for success.

checklist manifesto book image

Check out a summary of the book here  

A checklist is a summary of tasks, it is not a full set of instructions, instead, it is only part of a tool kit of resources that help instruct employees what to do and how to do it.  In the tool kit you should find: 

Policies and procedures provide an overview of the roles and responsibilities of team members and what they need to do in the workplace

Checklists provide a quick summary of the tasks that need to be done to complete a job

Work instructions provide more specific instructions on how to do key tasks

Image - Tools for a productive workplace

The checklists will most often be paper based or automated online through a PC tablet, or laptop computer.  Where team members mark each task off as they are completed. 

Each checklist should be simple in its structure, easy to read and to understand.  It should have adequate information to tell the employee what to do and written using action-based statements like:

  • Collect the till
  • Prepare the the espresso machine 
  • Place the bar mats onto the bar top
  • Clean the menus 
  • Image_What makes a good checklist

    Check out this article The ultimate guide to creating a checklist  

    Get YourFree checklist template here

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    How to write an effective and user-friendly checklist

    Writing a checklist and a procedure is very similar.  You will need several sheets of paper and a pen and some time to prepare; the process can be done in two stages. 

    Stage 1 – Identify the tasks

    On a sheet of paper

    Write down the job name (i.e. opening/ closing the venue)

    1. Write which employee/ team need to complete the task (i.e. morning crew, bartenders etc.)
    2. Draw 8 – 10 equal size boxes onto the paper   
    3. Write down the names of the large tasks necessary to complete the job as a title in each box (i.e. turn on the lights, prepare the till, set up the bussing station prepare the coffee station etc.)
    4. write down all the steps that need to be done to complete each task under the task name
    5. Complete all the tasks and steps needed to complete the job
    6. Number each task in the order they should be completed
    7. Number each of the steps in the task in the sequence they should be completed

    Note: If you’re not sure where to begin, start at a particular area or server station and write down tasks to “open” that station and work your way through the venue.

    Stage 2 – Prioritise the tasks

    On the second sheet of paper

    1. Write the tasks and steps down in the sequence they should be completed
    2. Print out and laminate your checklists to protect them from spills and tears
    3. Distribute the checklist to the team

    Note: When writing the tasks and steps

    • use action-based phrases (i.e. Prepare the till, Set up the outdoor area, Set up the bussing station etc.
    • be specific and clear

    Writing your opening and closing checklist (restaurant, cafes and bars) 

    Ensuring your restaurant is ready for action is crucial.  The opening shift is responsible for getting the day’s main preparation done.  Some tasks to consider for a venue opening checklist include:

  • Turn on lights and music
  • Turn on your Point of Sale system (POS) and sign in
  • Count the starting money float in your till drawer
  • Clean the bathrooms and refill the hand soaps and paper towels
  • Prepare the bussing stations
  • Prepare the bar
  • Prepare the coffee machine
  • Prepare the outside area
  • Align the tables and chairs
  • Stock the cutlery, glassware, dishes and napkins for each server station
  • Place your table settings
  • Fill your sanitation/ cleaning buckets
  • Check daily specials or menu items with the kitchen
  • Unlock doors and flip your sign to “Open”
  • The closing checklist is equally as important for the final shift to complete, as it helps set the opening team members up for success.  If a venue isn’t closed properly, the opening team has to play catch up and will be scrambling to get everything done in time for service, which will negatively impact the customer experience.

    Some tasks to add to a closing checklist may include:

  • Wipe down / sanitise menus
  • Wipe down / sanitise tables, chairs
  • Wipe down and sanitise surfaces where guests have been during the shift
  • Close the bussing stations
  • Close down the bar
  • Close down the coffee machine
  • Close down the outside area
  • Cover and label all perishable food items and place them into the cool room
  • Refill all condiments and salt and pepper mills
  • Take out all trash and restock bags
  • Close out your register and count your cash drawers to the report
  • Fold and replace table linens
  • Sweep, vacuum, and mop all applicable floors
  • Fill the sanitiser spray bottles  
  • Fill in the management handover document
  • Close and lock the doors
  • Flip the sign to “Closed”
  • So, there we have it, in this article we discussed ‘How to write an opening and closing checklist’.  What are your thoughts?  Do you agree or disagree, or do you have your own ideas and experiences you can share with your peers.  


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