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Walk into the kitchen of a successful restaurant. You’ll see a restaurant prep list attached to clipboards at each station, and busy prep cooks checking off items as they work. Look closer and you will notice words like “par” and “inventory” on the lists. If the back of your house doesn’t look like this, don’t sweat it. We’ve got you covered with restaurant prep list 101.

What’s a Prep List?

Let’s start with what a restaurant prep list is not. It’s not a restaurant checklist! That’s another form you should create that provides a to-do list for each station – with prepping just one of the tasks to accomplish. A restaurant prep list is also NOT a list of what’s needed before opening (a common misconception).

A true restaurant prep list is a list of food items and needed quantities that must be prepared for each cook’s station for that particular day of the week. It shouldn’t be handwritten, but instead a form created in Excel or another spreadsheet software. Many of today’s POS systems and management tools even offer a pre-made prep list for restaurant managers that interface with inventory. Ask your POS supplier if they have a template to start with, or use our suggestions below.

Be sure to create your restaurant prep list based on the station – not the recipe. Most successfully operating kitchens don’t build stations around recipes. Instead, stations are created for the type of prep being done (grill, saute, salad, dessert, etc.).

Why Do I Need a Prep List?

  1. Increase Guest Satisfaction

    Do you like happy guests? Then you need a prep list for restaurant cooks in your kitchen, no excuses. A well written restaurant prep list will ensure that your kitchen doesn’t run out of menu items, or serve up food that includes spoiled ingredients (usually the result of a sneaky cook who thinks prepping everything at the start of the week will save time).  When items are properly prepped according to the list, everything is ready for the line chef, so guests receive their food faster.

  2. Stay on Par to Save on Food Costs

    It’s good to be under par on the golf course, but not in the kitchen. When it comes to your restaurant prep list, par refers to the ideal amount of prepped food needed to meet guest demand. Par will be different based on day of the week, and daypart. When you create your restaurant prep list, include a column for “slow par” and “busy par” or a “weekend par” and “weekday par.” By staying on par, you’ll save on food costs by ensuring you don’t over prep food that just goes to waste.

  3. Staff Management

    A solid restaurant prep list should be detailed enough that any cook could step into a station and know exactly what to do. If one of your cooks calls in sick, and you don’t have a restaurant prep list on hand, your kitchen is going to get chaotic fast. Plus, a good prep sheet keeps your cooks focused and on task. Prep lists can help management and head chefs keep staff accountable for their performance (see more below on How to Use a Restaurant Prep List).

  4. Menu Optimization

    When you notice that your prep cook is hitting the par set for a particular ingredient on the restaurant prep list – like a Mexican crab cake – yet the cooler is constantly full of leftover crab, you gain valuable insight into your menu. No one is ordering that crab cake, and you’re wasting money and displeasing guests. At the same time, if your prep cooks are meeting par, yet you’re selling out of that flatiron steak every time you put it on special… time to increase par and consider adding flatiron steak to your permanent menu.

What’s the Best Way to Create a Prep List?

The more detailed your restaurant prep list, the more effective it will be. Detailed does not mean complicated. The following items should be included in your spreadsheet. Here’s a step by step way to create a user-friendly prep list for restaurant cooks and managers:

  1. NAME
    Every restaurant prep list should include space at the top for the prep cook’s name. Again, this goes back to accountability and ownership.
    The name of the station should go up at the top of the restaurant prep list along with the name.
  3. ITEMS
    The items will be listed in the first column of your spreadsheet based on all items prepped at that particular station.
  4. ON HAND
    The next column should be left blank, this is where the prep cook will list out the quantities of items already prepped.
  5. PAR
    Par is the quantity needed per item, this will be pre-filled in by you or your head cook before you print the spreadsheet. Remember to put two columns on your restaurant prep list: one for slow, and another for busy times.
  6. NEED
    This next column is filled in by the prep cook. It is the amount they must prep to meet par. The figure is obtained by subtracting the ON HAND amount from par, whatever the difference is, that’s what must be prepped.
  7. UNIT
    How will the items be measured and what utensil will be used for measuring? Indicate this on the prep sheet.

Additional categories to consider adding to your restaurant prep list include where the items are stored after prep: the freezer? Or is it shelf-stable? (This information should mesh with your pull-thaw spreadsheet, another essential document your kitchen needs!). Don’t forget to keep space on your spreadsheet for specials that can be hand-written in if needed.

How Do I Use the Restaurant Prep List?

You should require cooks to check off items on the restaurant prep list and sporadically review their lists. When a cook is under performing, you or your head line cook can look to their prep lists to see where they’re slowing down.

The prep list should be a living document. Don’t set – and forget – your par numbers, as these will change based on menu item popularity, seasonality, and other factors.

While it may take some time to set up your restaurant prep list in Excel, or even customize an existing template, a good prep list could save you thousands of dollars per year in food and labor costs. You may realize that your prep cooks are able to handle more than one station, so you can cut down on over staffing. As the saying goes, you can’t improve what you can’t measure. So take a few hours to work with your chefs to create a winning restaurant prep list.
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