Digital Checklists: The Ultimate Guide for Restaurants

Checklists are a simple but powerful tool in every industry. They’re often a catalyst for productivity and accountability, and the tool many people rely on to ensure that things get done. It’s common to underestimate the efficiency, accountability, and collaboration that checklists can bring to your team. Let this serve as your guide for everything you need to know before and after you switch your operations from paper to digital checklists. Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • Why restaurant checklists are important
  • What exactly is a digital checklist?
  • Must-have digital checklist features
  • Choosing the right device
  • Changes you’ll see after switching
  • Unexpected benefits of using digital checklists in your restaurant
Why Restaurant Checklists are Important

Chances are, if you’re in the restaurant business, you’re extremely familiar with checklists. They are the backbone of your restaurant’s health and safety compliance. Whether it’s a standard restaurant cleaning checklist, opening/closing checklist, or less frequent monthly task lists, these are the tools your employees use to ensure that food safety, cleanliness, and customer service are impeccable.

Traditionally, restaurant checklists have been stacks of papers or a physical workbook. While these options are better than nothing, they create significant manual work both for yourself and your employees.

Why Should My Restaurant Use Digital Checklists?

While paper checklists might work for employees in an office setting, restaurants are a fast-moving and often hectic environment. The tools employees use both in and out of the kitchen need to be nimble and durable.

If an employee is checking the cleanliness of kitchen equipment and sets the paper checklist down to perform this task, something small but common on a kitchen counter like oil splatter could compromise or even ruin the data that has been recorded on that paper.

paper log books

But, there’s a better solution made specifically for restaurant environments that not only helps to avoid these common issues but also provides a lot of operational benefits both for employees and managers. This is the digital checklist.

What Exactly is a Digital Checklist?

So, what is a digital checklist? It can take a few different forms, but in the context of restaurants, it’s generally part of an operations platform that runs on a durable, rugged device like an encased tablet. The general idea really is as simple as it sounds: taking a paper checklist and transporting it onto a digital device. 

Besides the environmental reasons that make digital a better fit for restaurants, it’s especially impactful for multi-unit franchise restaurants. If you manage more than one restaurant location, using a digital checklist solution will provide a level and quality of insights and data that simply isn’t possible when using pen and paper.

multi location operations

Digital checklists also create a new layer of employee accountability, encouraging team members to get tasks done correctly, and on time. Squadle customers who have switched from paper books to digital checklists saw a 20% improvement in task completion rate, jumping from 80% to 100%. implementation.

Increase in completion rate from digital checklist solution

Digital tools offer more accountability.  Employees can easily use digital tools to keep a record of their inspections, such as taking photos of clean equipment, walk-in coolers at proper temperature, etc.  That way, there’s an electronic (and easily accessible) record that the tasks were done correctly, and there’s a digital record that shows who completed the safety inspection and when.

Aaron Cohen, Modern Restaurant Management
Must-Have Digital Checklist Features

Now that it’s clear what a digital checklist is, it’s important to acknowledge that there are several options out there, and choosing the right digital checklist solution is very important.

Although it’s tempting to make a decision based on price, if your goal in switching to a digital solution is to increase efficiency and transparency, your decision should really be based on features that can address your restaurant’s specific needs and usability.

The system you choose should be intuitive and easy to use. If the average kitchen worker can’t learn the system with just a few minutes of training, it’s too complicated.

Tom Woodbury, Food Safety Magazine

And while it’s true that all restaurants are unique and will need different abilities from the tools they use, there are some basic features that any digital checklist should have:

Features of a digital restaurant checklist

Read more on each of these features here: Important Features of a Digital Checklist

Choosing the Right Device

Once you decide on a digital checklist system that has all of the features you need, you’ll be presented with another choice: using your own device or getting one through the checklist provider. 

Most systems run on devices like tablets, and most checklist providers will offer a managed device from their own inventory or allow you to bring your own and configure it as needed. 

While you may have a strong opinion off the bat about which option is more desirable for your operation’s setup, it’s imperative to understand the day-to-day differences between the two.

Think about it like starting a new job where you have the option to either go out and buy your own laptop, or to use one provided by your employer:

At first, it would seem like buying your own laptop would allow you more freedom. Since you are the sole owner of the device, your employer could not control what you can and cannot do with it. You can log into personal accounts, download software of your own choice, use it when you travel, etc. 

But, let’s say you run into a significant tech issue one day and need to call IT. Unfortunately, they will be limited in the help they can offer, because they may not be familiar with the type of laptop you’ve chosen, and because they have no standardized or easy way to gain access to your operating system. Additionally, anytime your company chooses to use a new software or system, you will need to take on the responsibility and effort of setting it up for yourself.

Managed device for digital restaurant checklist

As one of the top digital food safety providers, we recommend using a managed device rather than using your own. Read our reasoning where we break down the major pros/cons in this post: Choosing the Right Device for Your Food Safety System

Changes You’ll See After Switching to Digital Restaurant Checklists

At this point, you may be thinking that getting up and running with digital checklists sounds like a lot of effort. Leaving a traditional pen and paper process that you and your whole team are comfortable with can feel daunting, or even counterproductive.

In reality, as long as you choose a system that offers training resources and strong customer support as part of their onboarding process, you will experience little to no downtime during the transition.

A top-notch onboarding process is an extremely important point. Choosing a digital food safety and checklist system with a poor onboarding experience can actually be counterproductive. If the training process is insufficient, or employees are left without appropriate support resources when questions and issues arise, their tasks will be marked incorrectly or skipped altogether. If your data is incorrect or non-existent, the value of using a digital solution is lost altogether.

Additionally, as your workforce becomes younger, your operations need to accommodate. Providing tools that are more in line with this generation’s experiences and familiarity with technology means they will learn and become productive in a shorter period of time.

So, what changes can you expect to see in your operations? You’ll notice that a lot of things become easier and more streamlined, but most noticeably:

Improvements after using digital restaurant checklists

Do your research to ensure that the digital food safety platform you choose makes the transition simple, and results in little to no downtime for your stores. By replacing systems of the past (or pretty much any process still relying on pen and paper) with digital solutions, you engage and encourage employees who are more familiar with technology and who rely on it to work effectively.

What to Expect When Switching from Paper to Digital Checklists
Unexpected Benefits of Using Digital Checklists in Your Restaurant

While the benefits outlined above are important, (and what most owners are looking to get out of a digital checklist), there are also some more subtle effects. Your digital checklist can also become:

  • A resource for employees to grow and build their skill sets
  • An easy way to recognize high-performing employees
  • A simpler way to train new employees
Employee growth and recognition

Once your teams become acclimated and committed to using a digital system, you will have constant and reliable data. Over time, you can leverage this data to strengthen your operations.

In an office setting, measuring employee growth and performance is easy with quarterly goals, peer feedback, and physical oversight from a manager. Because restaurant employees perform at such a fast pace and share tasks from one shift to another, it can be difficult to isolate one team member’s positive performance or growing skillset.

And paper checklists don’t make this any easier. Digital checklists attribute completed tasks back to individual team members, often with photo evidence showing the quality of work.

When employees know their work is being observed and evaluated, it motivates them to do their best. And when they know they can be recognized by management for positive patterns in the quality of their work, every task becomes an opportunity.

Read about these benefits in more detail: Lesser-Known Benefits of Using Digital Checklists

Employee recognition is a method of support that helps employees know their contributions are recognized and appreciated. Employees want to know how they are doing, and recognizing employees demonstrates what success looks like.

Clair Hastwell, Great Place to Work
Final Thoughts

To sum up, if you’re interested in creating more efficient, reliable, and compliant operations in your stores, digital checklists are the key. In a world of pen and paper, back of the house processes are filled with error, inefficiency, and wasted time. 

If you’re looking for more resources, be sure to download the PDF version of this guide, which includes some bonus content to guide you through this decision process.

When working with pencil-and-paper checklists, you’re at the mercy of your workers. With digital solutions, every worker who uses the system becomes a consistent and reliable part of your food safety process.

Food Safety Magazine

Download the PDF