Canadian Pizza Magazine

Canadian Pizza feature: The value of checklists

By Julie Fitz-Gerald   

Features Business and Operations Staffing checklists julie fitzgerald restaurant checklists

Chart courtesy of Detroit Style Pizza Company

Using checklists to improve your pizzeria’s day-to-day operations can drive big results through improved teamwork, communication, organization and shared responsibility. When these areas of your business are running at peak performance, customer service soars, leading to increased sales and a profitable business.

Captain Chesley B. (Sully) Sullenberger III credited the use of checklists with the unbelievable landing of a US Airways jetliner on New York’s Hudson River in January 2009. After hitting a flock of geese and losing power to both engines, Capt. Sullenberger and his crew used checklists and extensive training to safely land the aircraft in a busy city centre and save all 155 people on board.

The dramatic events were quickly dubbed the “Miracle on the Hudson,” but as Dr. Atul Gawande notes in his book, The Checklist Manifesto, it was quick actions by the humans that saved the day. The co-pilot located the checklist designed for such an occurrence and began reading off each point to Capt. Sullenberger. Gawande says the checklist enabled the two to work as a cohesive team despite never having flown together.

These points are easily transferrable to the restaurant industry, where checklists can mean the difference between smooth sailing and disgruntled customers.


Checklists are crucial for success, says Diane Chiasson, president of Chiasson Consultants Inc., who has been working in the food industry for more than 35 years. “Employees need to know exactly what they’re going to be doing, not only verbally, but also in writing: an outline of responsibilities. Restaurant owners struggle to find adequate time for training, so training forms are a must-have for any business. Your forms will keep daily operations running smoothly and will keep employees accountable,” Chiasson says.

For a fast-paced pizzeria, ensuring a consistent, high-quality product with quick delivery is paramount to having repeat customers. “In a pizzeria business, it’s all about being fast,” she explains. “So to be able to ensure consistent, great-tasting pizza that arrives hot is really all about teamwork. Everyone from the restaurant owner to the staff needs to know and demonstrate the technique. This is crucial to the success of a business.”

Shawn Randazzo, president of Detroit Style Pizza Co. in St. Clair Shores, Mich., says he uses checklists for everything. “Even with 20-plus years of experience, I use a checklist for every position. I go in with a positive attitude and do the tasks that are in front of me. We have checklists and systems in place for everything and that promotes a really healthy environment because it creates a company where you can solve problems through the systems in place. We can hold staff more accountable if things aren’t done because it’s been made clear.”

Crowned Pizza Maker of the Year at the 2012 International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, Randazzo knows what it takes to create high-quality pies that keep customers lining up for more. Checklists are an important tool to ensuring his pizzeria runs smoothly day in and day out, and the benefits have been transformative. “The biggest thing is the peace of mind and the clarity as to what’s expected across the board, from what needs to be done and what position is responsible for what,” Randazzo says. “In the past when we didn’t have such a detailed system as we have now, things would be missed. Now, consistency, efficiency, productivity – all have been improved with our systems being evolved to the point they are.”

Checklists can be used for every position in your restaurant. They can set out recipes, health regulations, marketing promotions, prep work, driver responsibilities and closing requirements. Chiasson says that when these checks and balances are in place, owners can expect to recoup significant time and cost savings. “They will save time and money. It will give them extra time to do the things they normally don’t have time to do, allowing them to improve other areas of their business. Customers will tell others about the fast service, business will grow and employees will be happier.”

If you’re in the beginning stages of implementing a checklist system, Randazzo says, the first step should be to look at your operating stations. “Each station should have its own system of charts. Look at it as a station-to-station procedure. Have an iPad or piece of paper in each station and jot down the steps. Make a roadmap of what needs to be addressed at each station and create whatever systems are needed.”

Ensuring everyone is involved in the process is something that cannot be overlooked. “Get your staff involved. Their feedback is very important,” he says. “As owner, manager and operator, you can’t be in every position on an everyday basis. Those guys are your front lines; they’re going to know what issues are occurring on a daily basis and you can use that as a resource. It’s really important. Constantly encourage feedback.”

At Detroit Style Pizza, the checklist system is powered by, an online operations platform. Here’s how it works: iPads are placed in central locations around the store, providing employees with company checklists at the swipe of a finger. A big benefit of this technology-forward system is that it lets staff provide essential feedback and suggestions when tasks can be made more efficient. “The employees love the tabs and links. It’s a network of checklists and systems that are intertwined, focusing on a team effort and providing a complete expectation of all the tasks in the business,” Randazzo explains, adding that his employees have provided important suggestions that have brought greater efficiency to their processes.

Chiasson agrees that employee input is crucial to building comprehensive checklists. “Don’t ignore feedback from your staff, because they have insight about their own job and that insightful feedback can help add to your forms. I always ask, even the newest person, what they think. It’s good for them to know you care,” she says.

Once you have a checklist system in place, it’s vital to stick with it. Often, when staff and management feel they know the process by heart, they abandon the checklist, which quickly leads to missed steps. “There’s no point in getting a form and then deciding after three months that you know it by heart,” Chiasson explains. “Whether it’s back-of-the-house, recipes or operations; you have to be a stickler all the time.”

Julie Fitz-Gerald is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Canadian Pizza magazine.

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