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Nick Henderson Sep 15, 2021 3:49:00 PM 6 min read

7 limitations of paper checklists

Paper checklists have no place in a kitchen. Yes, we said it ... But hear us out.

We’re talking about those grubby, laminated paper checklists that are always getting in your way.

It's time to ditch them and step into the future of kitchen operations. 

Food safety is top priority, we get that. The potential cost of food safety breaches to restaurant groups, hotels, caterers or any food service business can be enormous. One incident can be detrimental to your reputation, hit revenue and quite possibly put your entire business at risk. So, when the stakes are so high, why rely on outdated forms of reporting?

Strong food safety and health & safety management systems are essential in this industry, with processes and procedures documented, monitored and recorded, providing evidence of compliance to the highest standards.

“Goodbye scrappy pen and paper in commercial kitchens” – these are the words of one of our happy customers, which highlights the reality that paper has no place in the modern kitchen.

So what are the limitations of paper checklists?

1. Paper checklists don't empower staff

Paper-checklists are simply a ticking off exercise:

  • Clean the surfaces  ✔️
  • Check the temperature in the freezer  ✔️

They provide staff with no guidance on how they should be doing it or what to do if readings are out of range. This means that best practice cannot be followed, and any issues may not be picked up until days or weeks later, if at all. 

2. Paper checklists hit productivity

Your busy staff should be focusing on value adding activities, not finding and filling in paper checklists. Mundane tasks like this should be a thing of the past. And for management, inspecting and analysing these checklists takes up valuable time, up to 1-2 hours a day in a typical small catering business. Time is also wasted preparing these records for inspection and storing them is another added cost. An example, one of our clients who ditched paper checklists for our intelligent operations platform saved 20,00 hours in a year, freeing them to reinvest that time back into the business.

3. You can’t trust a paper checklist

Who filled in the paper checklist? What time did they do it? We’ll never know for sure, and therein lies the problem. Imagine you’re a busy chef in the thick of it during service. Are you going to focus on getting these orders out to your customers who are getting dangerously close to hangry levels or are you going to stop what you’re doing because it’s time to check the fridges and freezers? You say you’ll get around to it, but the customers keep coming and the moment never comes. It’s unavoidable, but when the environmental health officer calls – that’s what they’ll be checking.

4. Zero visibility

On paper, there is nothing to remind staff on when they should perform a check, or to alert managers that a vital inspection has not been carried out. If there is a problem you may not know until much later, leading to more problems. If you're managing multiple sites, you have zero visibility of what’s happening across your business. This is dark operations. It's what we like to refer to as the enemy. Paperwork, siloed spreadsheets and clunky tech make it impossible to understand and analyse what’s happening on your frontline.

5. Paper checklists provide no data

Paper checklists are difficult to compare and analyse. As a manager, you have no real-time view of how your business is performing. Collecting data allows you and your staff to spot trends, such as a dip or rise in the performance of a team, function or site. The issue is multiplied for larger chains with a network of sites – relying on paper means regional managers have no way of knowing what is happening on the ground, in real-time. Take our client bp as an example: the data generated by the Checkit platform provides valuable insight for cooking recommendations. bp is improving  customer experience and reducing waste by using data to make smarter choices across their network of sites.

6. Discourages collaboration

It’s important to have a system that encourages collaboration paper checklists are too restrictive. If you have teams spread across a network of sites, how can they effectively communicate and collaborate using pen and paper? Information gets siloed, usually one or two people know (or think they know) how things are done, what needs to be done and by who. Now imagine you’re a new starter – it’s even worse.

A paper checklist doesn’t have the same power as technology to guide and coach staff through procedures, quickly and efficiently, even if they’re new joiners.

7. Connectivity issues

You may see a theme emerging here throughout these points – an intelligent operation involves connectivity across several moving parts.

A major problem with paper checklists is that connectivity is impeded. Valuable data is hidden away in drawers, creating silos where information can’t be shared, analysed, or collaborated over. When digging out data for an audit, inspection or meeting, teams panic.

This can lead to an environment where you become reactive rather than proactive because valuable information isn’t flowing. For example, imagine a freezer malfunction occurring five minutes after it was checked by a staff member just finishing his or her shift. It goes unnoticed until the morning and £800 worth of food must be discarded.

There has to be a better way.

The answer is to ditch these paper checklists and harness the power of technology and data.

Upgrading to digital tools makes the food safety and health & safety management process simpler, more efficient and linked more closely to the needs of the business. By removing mundane tasks and paper checks, it also frees up your staff to focus on value-adding activities for your business and customers.

By using a combination of apps, handheld devices, monitoring sensors and temperature probes, data is automatically timestamped and tagged to a specific location. Automatic monitoring means no stock is ever wasted from a fridge malfunction. Alerts go straight to your phone, and to local team members as required.

More importantly, switching to a guided digital assistant makes the process interactive, supporting staff through the process of completing a task and what steps to take if an issue arises. This takes the pressure off the hands of your employees. As the data is collected and shared in real-time, issues can be spotted early and dealt with promptly, before they escalate into something worse.

No more scrambling for spreadsheets and paperwork when the environmental health officer comes knocking, replacing paper checklists to an automatic set of digital records ensures compliance to the highest level 24/7.

Food service businesses have invested heavily in technology to enhance the customer experience, from online booking platforms and mobile apps, yet technology seems to stop at the kitchen door. This workforce is craving better technology to help them do their jobs more efficiently.

These are just seven reasons addressing the limitations of paper checklists, deskless workers are completely aware that the outdated, non-digital task management tools they currently have are damaging their productivity, and three-quarters of them believe they could perform to a higher standard if they had access to better technology.


Nick Henderson

Content & Communications Manager at Checkit