For those that have followed the food cost control articles previously published by Seva Procurement, you are probably aware that we attempt to cover a wide range of related topics. We often run in to operators that are surprised that our articles don’t focus entirely on purchasing management as the key to food cost control, since this is the core focus of Seva Procurement. We strongly believe, however, that food cost control is not about procurement alone, but rather that it requires a holistic approach that examines all areas of an operation to manage this expense. This article is about one of these topics–executing routine line checks prior to the start of each shift.
The idea of the “line check,” which is often an integral function in quick-service and casual dining chains, had far more sophisticated beginnings. While the concept was most likely around before, Auguste Escoffier is most often credited as the one who codified the concept of the line check, though the terminology was a bit different–mise en place. For culinary students and graduates or fine-dining kitchen apprentices, the idea of mise en place is probably very familiar. Literally, mise en place is a French term meaning “in its place.” While a bit of a simplification, the goal of mise en place is to make sure that the staff is able to execute a flawless shift by ensuring product has been prepared to specification and that the product, supplies and equipment are ready and where they should be prior to the start of service. For example, Mise en place would check the quality and quantity of sauces on line, that the plates are polished and in sufficient supply, that the ovens are at the right temperature, etc. Chain concepts and casual operators have adopted this practice, often calling it a line check, and have trained managers to be able to execute it, as well, so it is not solely a function of a trained chef.
So, what effect does this practice have on food cost? In our opinion, line checks (both front of the house and back of the house) are the single most important practice that an operator can execute to ensure that a shift runs smoothly. Since bad shifts are costly shifts, the execution of line checks have a huge impact on food and other costs, as well as revenue. A few of the issues that line checks seek to address:
- Is there sufficient portioned product to cover the entire shift, or will we run out and start doing it “on the fly” during the shift–often using the product without portioning?
- Is a scale available for product that should be weighed during the shift? Spot checking French fry portions, for example.
- Have the weights of portioned and prepped products been checked to ensure the correct weight.
- Has the temperature of product in a bain-marie or steam table been checked to ensure the correct temperature, such as sauces, soups, pre-cooked vegetables or rice, or will the first guests be getting luke-warm food.
- Will steaks be overcooked because the grill is set too high?
- Is the fry oil old and dirty?
- Is the sanitizer in the dish machine empty?
- Will the kitchen printer run out of paper or ink?
These are just a few of the issues that executing restaurant line checks can help avoid. The goal of the line check is to ensure that a shift is “setup for success” with the necessary product, equipment and supplies so that things run smoothly and profitably. To be clear, there are many additional benefits to line checks other than food cost control, such as guest satisfaction, product quality, consistency, product safety and employee morale. Bad shifts negatively impact all areas of an operation, including the bottom line, and line checks are the best defense in ensuring that each shift stays on track. The following are recommendations on how you can execute your own line checks.
1) Line checks are designed to ensure shift preparedness, so a separate line check should be done before each shift/meal period.
2) Don’t use line checks as a way to “catch” your staff unprepared. Educate them on what you are looking for during the line check and then communicate when you will execute it. This provides staff with an opportunity to check their station prior to the line check.
3) Be consistent. To create positive staff behaviors, your staff needs to know that this practice is consistently executed so that proper preparation for shifts becomes routine.
4) Check portion sizes by using a scale
5) Use an excel spreadsheet printout to record the line check results and then save them in a three-ring binder.
6) Try using a line check kit to stay organized. The line check kit should include spoons (for tasting product to check quality), sanitizing naps, a thermometer/biotherm, line check forms and sanitizer test strips). Often, operators will keep all of these inside a metal contractors clipboard.
7) Check the freshness of all product, preferably by looking at a “day dot” sticker that has been used during the product preparation process and comparing it to the established product shelf life (hopefully your operation has adopted these practices).
Using the line check sheet that lists all product that should be ready for the shift, visually ensure sufficient supply. You should include all necessary items on the line check sheet. Chocolate syrup which is kept on the service line may seem small, but it won’t to the server who is scrambling to make chocolate milk during the dinner rush.
9) Taste and visually inspect as much of the prepared product as possible to make sure it is acceptable.
10) Take the temperature of chilled and hot product to ensure it is at an acceptable temperature.
11) Check the settings for all equipment–pay special attention to grills, broilers, ovens, flat tops and fryers.
12) Check refrigerator and freezer unit temperatures.