I am not a fan of digital checklists for restaurants. Today’s video explains why I still prefer paper checklists.

To learn more please either watch the video above, read the transcript or listen to the podcast below.

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I absolutely hate digital checklists. I think they suck for restaurants and there’s a couple of reasons why. First, I want to tell you about one of the best-run brands that I’ve ever eaten at. I eat at this restaurant all the time, I grew up on it, and it’s called In-N-Out. They are a corporation that has about 370 locations and they still use paper checklists. Another one of my favorite restaurants is called Rudy’s Country Store BBQ here in Central Texas. Every time I walk in, I see their managers walking around with clipboards using paper checklists. 

Why I Don’t Like Digital Checklists

The technology for digital checklists is phenomenal. If you choose to go that route, there are some brands out there that do a great job and I’d be happy to recommend a few. But in general, I don’t like digital checklists and the reason I don’t like them includes:

1) The path of least resistance. There’s a really good chance your staff does not want to follow checklists. Your staff wants as little accountability as possible and they don’t want to be documented. Now that you’re making them digital, it provides even more accountability and it makes your staff even more nervous. Paper checklists provide a path of least resistance from a standpoint that it’s just so easy to pick up a piece of paper and check stuff off as you go. Everyone’s got a pen on them and knows how to check things off; however, when we start getting tablets involved then things change dramatically. 

2) You need a tablet for every single station. If you’re executing checklists properly you’re supposed to have a checklist for every single station (usually 1 person per station). A checklist for grill, fryer, pantry, saute, expo, cashier 1 and 2, server 1 and 2, host, etc. We’re talking about 10 tablets in your restaurant, do you really want to invest in that much technology? Or you could ask them to use their own phones, but you’re trying to get your staff off of their personal phones and now you’re asking them to use it.

3) Do you really want your staff walking around the restaurant with tablets? Greasy hands, oily fingers, water everywhere, hot and sharp – it’s a mess! It’s not conducive to digital tablets. If you spend all of this money on 10 digital tablets, do you really want your staff walking around getting those things dirty and dropping them? 

4) Staff is less likely to complete digital checklists on time. What I mean by that is whenever I audit a restaurant’s systems and they’re using digital checklists, one of the things I find is someone will wait until it’s time to open their station say at 11:00, they’ll pull up the opening checklist tablet then check it all off. That doesn’t do anyone any good. The whole point of a checklist is to operate in real-time. When I used to come in as a chef in the restaurants, if I got there at 9:00 or 9:15 in the morning the first thing I did was walk to each station and pick up their clipboard with their checklists. I could see in real-time where they are at, are they on pace, are they behind, moving quick enough, moving too slow, are they not going to get all their work done, or are they heading to help someone else? If we wait at our office until 11:00 and then a reminder comes up on our phone that says “the grill hasn’t finished their checklist”, what good does it do you? There are customers walking in the front door. That’s what information I needed 2 hours ago. To me, it’s about real-time and you just don’t get that real-time effectiveness with digital. A couple more quick points here: I think it’s harder to keep your checklists updated when they’re digital because it’s more intimidating and there’s more work to do. 

5) I don’t like the type of accountability digital checklists provide. It’s not about getting someone in trouble. What I prefer is having a checklist issued as a tool to help you get your job done. Providing a list of the things that make sure that your fryer station is always set up, perfect for service, and help make sure you don’t forget anything. Isn’t that what you want? Your staff wants to be prepared, have a smooth and successful shift. You may think they don’t but trust me, they do. When we start making it about time, accountability, and all this other stuff they freak out – I don’t blame them. What I would prefer is a non-intimidating piece of paper, a little tool that you can use to help you get set up. That I could just check in on and see how you’re doing. Then at the end of the week, we’re gonna crumble them up then throw them out because we don’t need to keep ’em. This isn’t about accountability for 6 weeks ago to fire someone, this is about being ready for service now. 

Where Digital Checklists are OK

I joked earlier and said they sucked but they actually don’t, they’re great. I just don’t like to use them, except for 2 cases.

1) Legal compliance. I used paper checklists for temperature logs and I would keep them on record for 6 months in case anything ever happened, but maybe that’s a little harder for some people to do. Now, they have Bluetooth thermometers that record results in certain software. Maybe your 2-3 times a day temperature logs should be done digitally by a manager, records are kept, etc. 

2) Maintenance purposes. There’s a lot of great maintenance programs out there that are not necessarily checklist programs. For example, putting barcodes on equipment that allow service providers to scan and fill in service records. If certain pieces of equipment need to be serviced at certain intervals like once every 3 months or once every 6 months, reminders can pop up. You can either service it yourselves and scan a barcode or you can bring someone else in to do it for you.

Those are the 2 major exceptions to the rule. When I audit restaurants, I stress getting rid of digital checklists. I just did this about a month ago with a local restaurant here in town. They fought me a lot on this but now they’re using paper and they’re happier. They’re still using digital for temperature logs and for maintenance records. 

I hope today was helpful to you. I think this is a really important topic and I get asked this question all the time. 

We’re starting something new at The Restaurant Boss! Every time we release a new blog video, the following week we will do a Facebook live where I’m going to go into even more depth on the post and answer questions from people who are live on the call. Join us

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