Server Side Work Checklist: Why You Need One & How to Use It

By: Michelle Mire

5 Minute Read

Aug 09, 2018

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server side work checklist

With 90% of all U.S. restaurants having less than 50 total employees and 70% of these restaurants being standalone entities, it’s no wonder that running a restaurant is a little like running a family home. 

And just like at home, no one loves chores, but they have to be done, and things go much more smoothly when everyone chips in. 

Enter the concept of server side work.

Server sidework, most commonly known called 'sidework', are chore-like responsibilities assigned to each front of house member to be completed before their scheduled shift ends. It goes without saying that customer service is a fundamental aspect of any server’s skill set. Attending to details, like ensuring that the salt shakers are full or that menus are wiped down, is integral to the overall guest experience and operation of your business.

It’s also no news that restaurants live or die by margins. When utilized correctly, a server side work checklist will help you make the most of every dollar you spend on wages.

In a restaurant, your side work is more apt to be completed well when translated into a checklist.

Free Resource: Try Our Restaurant Scheduling Template [Customizable]

Why You Should Use a Checklist for Server Side Work

Doesn't checking something off of your checklist feel so satisfying? According to the eLearning Coach, checklists are, “One of the most brilliant cognitive aids devised by some very smart humans.” Relatively inexpensive to create and easy to use, checklists are effective way to streamline to-do lists, prevent things from being overlooked and - best of all - reduce labor costs that can account for up to 20% of your operating budget.

Fact: The use of checklists can decrease human error by more than 33%. (In the healthcare industry, deaths were lowered by 47% with the use of checklists in operating rooms.)

To see all the benefits, check out this infographic from mobile forms (aka checklists) gurus IntouchCheck.

server side work checklist

How to Make a Server Side Work Checklist 

Now that you know the benefits, you can start creating some side work checklists of your own. The basic tools are relatively inexpensive. 

If you’re a pen and paper person, you can start there. 

If you’re a computer person, you can use a basic word processing or spreadsheet application.

To start, outline the tasks that need to be completed. Be specific — start with one particular area, like tabletop presentation. After that, work your way around the restaurant and start taking note of side work tasks. Let's look at an example of table side work. 

1) List all the things that need to be done, for example:

  • Ensure the condiments are all in order.
  • Fill salt and pepper shakers.
  • Stock sugar and sweetener packets.
  • Check for cleanliness or damage. 
  • Report if inventory is low on any item. 
  • Place or replace tabletop ads.
  • For more ideas, check out our blog on server duties in case you forgot any.

2) Consider how your checklist can be formatted for ease of use.

  • Give it a test run and see if things are in a logical order.
  • Combine similar steps or actions — or simplify complex tasks by breaking out essential steps.
  • Check for templates and see if anyone has done the heavy lifting for you.

3) Always refine your checklist.

  • Keep things simple — Atul Gawande, MD, author of The Checklist Manifesto notes “A good checklist is precise, efficient, and easy to use even in the most difficult situations.” In other words, you don’t need a 10-page checklist on how to refill a ketchup bottle. 
  • Be open to feedback — If your servers have questions, comments, or ideas, make time to listen. After all, they’re the ones doing the work. 
  • Rinse, repeat, and refine — If you left something off, go back and add it on. If something isn’t logical, rethink it. Since they can be updated easily, checklists are a great tool as long as you put in the right effort.

What Does the Ideal Checklist Look Like?

Every server side work checklist will be different depending on the restaurant. Here's one you can start with and work off of.

Table Work

  • Clean tables after use
  • Wipe down all chairs/booths after work
  • Sweep from under the table
  • Set tables once they're turned
  • Refill salt, pepper, condiments, and/or sweeteners
  • Restock napkins
  • Re-light candles
  • Straighten out table tents

Behind-the-Scenes Work

  • Sanitize counters
  • Clean around the restaurant's POS
  • Refill receipt paper
  • Stock the drink station with cups, lids, and fresh coffee
  • Wipe down windows
  • Tidy up the menus

Not Occupied? Lend a Hand Elsewhere

  • Assist other servers and bussers with their table or running
  • If you have a large party coming in, start re-arranging the tables
  • Help the host(ess) with seating if there's a line up front
  • See if the bartenders need an extra set of hands
  • Ask the BOH staff if they need something prepped or garnished

Are There Any Checklist Apps to Make This Easier?

As a matter of fact there are. With CHECKLIChecklistIntouchInsightJoltManifestlyWunderlist, and similar apps, you can turn your staff’s smartphone addiction from a recipe for distraction into a tool of the trade.

A Checklist of What to Keep in Mind About Server Side Work 

Restaurant Business’ Advice Guy, Jonathan Deutsch, notes that while side work is, in most instances, considered part of the job, employers should be careful to ensure that side work accounts for no more than 20% of a server’s time. If the ratio goes higher than this, the employee may be categorized as a dual employee, which then makes wage calculations, like the tip credit, even more complicated.

If you expect your servers to perform side work, you should also be open and upfront about it during the hiring and onboarding process. For seasoned restaurant workers, side work may not come as a surprise. But for newbies it might be something they haven’t encountered before. As long as you set the tone and keep side work simple, straightforward, and within reason, you should be in good shape.

Do you use a server side work checklist in your restaurant? Let us know in the comments below!

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