A Well Oiled Machine: Opening Procedures

Photo by Josh KeownThe hours before opening — while sometimes hectic — are the few times in a busy pizzeria’s day when customers are not continually walking in and the phone is not ringing like crazy. It’s the perfect opportunity to lead the day in a positive and profitable direction. Paul Gainor, owner of Pizza Zone with two locations in Spring, Texas, uses the time to get ready for the day’s rush — making sure the prep table is stocked, turning on the ovens and vent hoods, checking voicemail and the fax machine (which prints the shop’s online orders), pulling dough out of the refrigerator, heating the pizza sauce, counting the safe, bringing all of the washed utensils (pizza cutters, cheese cups, scale, etc.) to their stations, checking inventory and ordering food.

Dough is also made before opening at Pizza Zone. Gainor says mornings are the best time for dough production because there are limited distractions during the delicate process.

It’s the most obvious — but vital — things, he says, that most frequently get overlooked, such as turning on the “Open” sign and remembering to unlock the front door.

That’s where a trusty checklist comes in handy. “The most important thing is that people follow the checklist,” Gainor says. “Otherwise things get forgotten. Give some incentive to your employees that they better use the checklist or they will be in trouble.” He verbally reprimands employees for ignoring items on the sheet. Habitual offenders can even lose out on raises.

Carmelo Lamotta of LaMotta’s Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria, Fort Myers, Florida, says there is no excuse for missing a task that is on the checklist. Having his employees initial each item leaves little room for rebuttal. The sheet is broken down into daily tasks as well as the schedule for weekly and monthly duties.

Lamotta handles many of the kitchen opening duties with one helper. “It saves on labor and it saves on waste and food cost because I control the food cost.”

In addition to kitchen prep, Lamotta brings a server in 30 minutes prior to opening to prepare the dining room. “Hygiene is No.1 for me,” he says. The server is responsible for making sure tables and chairs are sanitized, the floor is swept, menus and special inserts are wiped down, windows are cleaned and everything is stocked in the counter and service areas.

Morning is also a good time to take advantage of the quiet to hold meetings and training sessions. Run through the numbers of the previous day, highlighting the positives and negatives and things like recognizing employees for exceptional service.

Have a new menu item? Use mornings to introduce the new dish to your lunch staff so they can more effectively promote it. The tasting also gives the kitchen crew practice, without having to focus on other entrées.

With a small staff, Jason Petro, owner of The Red Star Pizza Company in Seymour, Indiana, handles opening differently. While Petro focuses on closing duties, his wife, Nicole, opens the restaurant. Petro relies on his evening and closing staff to tackle many of the tasks that some operators would consider opening duties.

The goal, Petro says, is to get everything ready for the next morning so that Nicole can come in one hour prior to open to turn on the ovens and then make a bank run or other errands that need to be completed. Occasionally, he leaves Nicole tasks written on their large checklist wipe boards in the kitchen to be completed before opening.

The Petros also make use of their midday lull to prepare for Red Star’s dinner rush instead of prepping for the entire day prior to open.

There are a number of approaches to take to make daily operations run smoothly. Make a game plan, be ready and execute.

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Checklists not only give you a reminder of all of the tasks that need to be completed, it also provides you with accountability when staff members initial each item that is finished. Common tasks on an opening checklist include:

  • Check the exterior for security breaches and litter.
  • Unlock doors for staff, disarm alarm and lock doors upon entering. u Conduct an interior security walk-through.
  • Turn on ovens.
  • Double check food orders and inventory levels to be sure the pizzeria is ready for the day’s business.
  • Check manager’s log from previous night. Make sure employees clocked out appropriately and review labor hours.
  • Check voicemails, e-mails and faxes for advanced orders and employee schedule conflicts.
  • Scan the labor schedule to be sure you have enough employees scheduled for each shift.
  • Inspect freezer and refrigerator units for proper temperature readings.
  • Check appearance of kitchen and dining room, cross-checking with nightly checklist.
  • Make appropriate amount of dough and verify prepped dough has been rotated for use.
  • Set up steam table and make line and start prep work.
  • Count the safe and assign drawers.
  • Check deposit slips.
  • Verify there is enough cash and change for the day’s operation.
  • Go to the bank to make last night’s deposit and get change.
  • Review specials and be sure they are displayed in the store.
  • Check the restaurant calendar for large parties and/or catering.
  • Be sure the dining room temperature is comfortable.
  • Turn on lights, fans and television and sound systems.
  • Take out the trash and pick up litter.
  • Conduct an opening meeting with instructions, training and motivation.
  • Do final walk-through of dining room and verify opening checklist.
  • Turn on open sign and unlock doors for customers.

Denise Greer is associate editor of Pizza Today.

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