Jason Petro, owner of Red Star Pizza Company in Seymour, Indiana, borrows from a popular sales mantra in his approach to closing procedures: “Always be closing.” With a limited staff, it’s a method that has served his small pizzeria well.
“The main thing is time management,” Petro says. “You know what needs to be done. You just got to get it done as soon as possible.” The best way he has found to accomplish this is to make efficient use of his various day parts and his employees’ time while he has them available. “We have a closing checklist,” Petro says. “It’s loose but we have it tiered so that we can get some of it done early and some of it done later.”
Cleaning is one task Petro likes to have completed well before closing. Red Star’s dining room closes at 10 p.m. and his staff may begin the cleanup as early as 7:30 p.m. after the peak of the dinner rush. He makes pre-closing tasks part of staff members’ side work.
Petro warns that his style requires a caveat — pre-closing tasks cannot interfere with the quality of food or the customer’s dining experience.
Adhering to a pre-close technique allows Petro to begin cutting staff members early, leaving himself and a delivery driver to handle the remainder of the closing process.
In 2012, Petro began offering late night delivery service a few days a week. Since he prefers to do his dough prep after closing, he added a delivery driver to help. It allows Petro to concentrate on dough, while the other closer cuts produce, stocks the prep table, reorganizes dough balls by time and date, gathers trash and handles orders and delivery. Since Red Star only offers delivery after 10 p.m., Petro says he feels it’s safer and, without walk-in traffic, they can focus on prepping for the next day.
Carmelo Lamotta, owner of LaMotta’s Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria in Ft. Myers, Florida, applies safety protocols during closing. “I make sure the doors are all locked before I do registers,” he says.
He also wants to be certain his employees are safe. “If the girls walk out to their cars, someone has to watch or walk out with them,” he says. Lamotta takes advantage of that time when the dinner crowd dies down to run through his food-ordering checklist and begin cutting employees.
Inventory counts at night gives you enough time that if you have to put in a rush order with distributors or make a run to the market in the morning you can do it before lunch service. It solves the problem before it becomes one.
After closing, Lamotta’s team focuses on cleaning and prepping for the next day. They clean and disinfect sensitive areas, like around soda machines and beer taps (which attract insects). They pour hot water and bleach down all drains, and three nights a week they hose down the floors with hot water to loosen grease on tiles and in the grout.
Paul Gainor, owner of Pizza Zone in Spring, Texas, operates a carryout and delivery store. His crew floats between the counter area and kitchen. “When it starts to slow down some of the inside people will go to the back and start washing dishes and get the back cleaned up and generally just cleaning the place,” he says.
For night employees who are not designated closers, Gainor leaves their schedules open-ended to create flexibility for late rushes and early lulls. Up to an hour before closing the only employees left will be a manager and two drivers.
Each closer walks through Pizza Zone with their checklist to be sure nothing is overlooked. A manager will conduct a sweep of the restaurant, double-checking that tasks are completed. Security is also top-of-mind with Gainor. He instructs his team to leave registers open after the drawers are pulled for the night. “It’s a good tip because if you leave your cash drawer closed then people are going to get a crowbar and break it open to see if there is money in there,” he says.
He says it’s also important to scan the restaurant to make sure there isn’t anything on that will trip motion sensors, such as fans. It’s a lesson he has learned with a few wakeup calls in the middle of the night from his security system.
Communication with the morning team is vital. Gainor leaves notes for the opening manager when something was not completed or if the store is out of an item.
A well-executed closing comes down to efficiently managing time and resources. Evaluate your procedures to see if there are better, faster ways of finishing tasks. Says Petro: “After you do something for a long time, you can always figure out a better way to do it.”
Just as checklists are vital to opening, they are instrumental to a successful closing, especially with many of the cleaning duties being performed after closing. Below are items that commonly appear on a pizzeria’s closing checklist:
- Check server/counter staff side work and area nightly and weekly special duties. Cut appropriate staff as business slows.
- Turn off open sign and lock doors.
- Turn off all dining area sound and video systems.
- Check restrooms to see if they are empty and clean.
- Pull registers and count drawers.
- Run end of day reports.
- Balance cash.
- Prepare paperwork for the next day.
- Complete deposits.
- Place all money in a time-delay safe.
- Empty steam and prep tables.
- Clean walk-ins —be sure product is properly stored.
- Turn off ovens, warmers and other kitchen appliances and empty crumb trays. <
- Wash all dishes.
- Wash and sanitize work areas and sinks.
- Sweep and mop floor — rinsing and storing mop and buckets properly.
- Inspect freezers and refrigerators to make sure they are closed tightly and the seals are functioning properly and the temperature reads appropriately.
- Conduct a security check of the interior and lot.
- Empty all trash and sanitize receptacles.
- Secure and lock back door.
- Do a final walk-through dining room and kitchen to verify closing checklist.
- Set security alarm and lock doors.
Denise Greer is associate editor of Pizza Today.