How to Create Kitchen Opening and Closing Checklists

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AJ BeltisAuthor

Why Do Kitchen Checklists Matter?

Anyone outside of the industry may be surprised to hear how much work goes into prepping and closing the kitchen every day.

Ingredients need to be readied in the morning, then stored at the end of the day. Ovens and refrigerators need to be set at precise temperatures for consistency. Surfaces and supplies need to be cleaned constantly for the safety of your guests and your team.

So much more goes into kitchen opening and closing than people realise. Restaurant kitchen opening checklists and kitchen closing checklists are the crux of back-of-house organisation.

As a restaurateur, it's your job to make these duties as clear, simple, and repeatable as possible for your team so they can focus their efforts on making delicious food for your guests, which remains one of the most important factors guests use to in choose a restaurant.

You may be of the opinion that after years of experience in the industry, a kitchen checklist might not be necessary for you. Here are five reasons why a kitchen checklist is necessary.

  1. They're clear and concise. We all forget something here and there. Checklists make that an impossibility with clearly-laid out tasks and instructions for your team to follow.

  2. They're organised. Need one set of hands putting food in the walk-in and another set of hands prepping the work station? Not to worry. Break up the kitchen checklist tasks as you see fit, pending on the size of your crew, kitchen, and list of duties.

  3. They're easy-to-use. Any restaurant employee - from the owner to a dishwasher - can follow a checklist if it's simple enough.

  4. They're easily adjustable. Adding another task to your restaurant closing procedure? Add it to the list and print out a new copy for tomorrow.

  5. They're not just for you. If you have the best processes in the world, document them. Otherwise, your team may never know the best course of action.

Convinced? Perfect. Let's move on to setting up your kitchen opening checklist and kitchen closing checklist.

How to Set Up a Kitchen Opening Checklist

The purpose of a kitchen opening checklist is for the kitchen crew to get all their ducks in a row. In the morning, there's usually a new supply of food delivered that needs to be stored, as well as food that needs to be taken out of storage to prep for the day.

With so many moving pieces, it's almost inevitable for something to slip through the cracks. Here's how to develop a system to keep that from happening.

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Step 1: Identify the Tasks

Sit down with your back-of-house staff and have them tell you everything they do in the morning. Talk to your connections in the industry and have them explain what they do to open their kitchen. Observe your kitchen crew prepping the back of house and take note of their activities.

Some common kitchen opening tasks include:

  • Identifying and reporting 86'ed menu items.

  • Handling pre-opening deliveries.

  • Prepping kitchen utensils and readying cooking supplies.

  • Turning on/pre-heating stoves, ovens, fryers, and heaters.

  • Restocking ingredient stations for line cooks.

  • Prepping food and taking perishables out of the walk-in.

Once you've everything that needs to be done, you'll have all the contents for your checklist. But where do you put them?

Step 2: Organise Your Tasks

Whether your kitchen is opened by one dedicated chef or an assembly of professionals, it's beneficial to break up your kitchen checklist by section and task.

For example, if you're trying to expedite the kitchen prep process with your checklist, you probably wouldn't put "marinate the chicken" in between "turn on the ovens and set to 225ºC" and "organise all morning deliveries."

Instead, you'd probably put it in a section of the checklist next to other food prep-related items.

Go through the list of tasks and find common threads between line items. Bucket them together by priority, task relatedness, proximity, etc.

Step 3: Create the Kitchen Opening Checklist

Once you have all of your to-do items organised, list them on an Excel sheet and use that as your printable kitchen opening checklist. Save a copy for your records to re-print every week and adjust when procedures are changed.

Make sure you leave space at the bottom for comments and a signature by whomever reviewed the tasks so errors and notes can be promptly followed up on.

How to Set Up a Kitchen Closing Checklist

The process for setting up the kitchen closing checklist is very similar to the process for the opening checklist.

However, unlike the opening checklist, the closing checklist has a larger emphasis safety and health.

Because food is stored overnight and the premise is left unattended, simple missteps could lead to big problems. Leaving an oven or stove on or not shutting a refrigerator door tightly could damage your building or spoil your food.

Take extra precaution in setting up this list to ensure mini (or major) crises don't happen.

Step 1: Identify the Tasks

Observe your back-of-house crew as they close for the night. Take note of any loose ends you want to tie up with the kitchen closing checklist.

Common kitchen closing checklist tasks include:

  • Turn off all lights, ovens, grills, stoves, and hot surfaces.

  • Safely store cooking utensils, glasses, and dishes.

  • Wrap, date, and store all remaining food that can be used later.

  • Take out the rubbish.

  • Sanitise all surfaces and clean all floors.

  • Wipe down the kitchen display screen.

Step 2: Organise Your Tasks

Like your opening checklist, it's helpful to structure your kitchen closing checklists by common threads. Because there are more tasks to tackle at closing than opening, this organisation is crucial.

Cleaning, safety, and general are all categories you can organise your closing tasks into.

Step 3: Create the Kitchen Closing Checklist

Once everything is good to go, list the tasks on an Excel sheet and use that as your printable kitchen closing checklist. As before, leave space for comments and a signature by whomever reviewed the tasks so errors and notes can be followed up on.

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