Wasting Food

A couple weeks back one of the Lean folks that I follow, tweeted about cream being brought along with coffee even though it wasn’t wanted and called this waste.  It made me think about coffee and restaurants quite a bit more than I really wanted.  For the record, I’m pretty sure that the tweet was likely at some level sarcastic and I don’t intend to argue the specific point here so I didn’t bother to look back at who typed it or the exact wording.  If it was your tweet and you’re offended, please don’t be.  Or, if you want credit, let me know and I’ll go look it up.

I started to think about this and I wondered at what level bringing cream with coffee to a person that drinks black coffee is waste.  For the person drinking the coffee, it’s clearly wasteful because they aren’t going to use it and the container is likely in the way.  For the restaurant, you are paying money for ingredients that aren’t adding anything to the customer experience.  On a single point level, that seems to fit the definition of waste to a “T”…so we should form a six sigma project team or set up a 5 day kaizen event to address it, right?  Well, maybe the answer is a bit more nuanced than that.

For the sake of this discussion, let’s assume that these made up facts describe the business condition for our dairy wasting enterprise for their breakfast service:

The restaurant serves an average of 100 customers every morning and each customer has an average ticket of $10 for their food and drinks.  Of these 100 customers, 90% order coffee and 20% like their coffee black.  For each coffee ordered, the input cost of the cream is $0.25.  Let’s add an efficiency loss of 1 minute for every time the server has to retrieve cream when the table wants it, but doesn’t have it.

Putting all of this together in simple Excel math, the restaurant earns $1,000 for the breakfast service and spends $22.50 of that on cream for coffee.   Not all of that $22.50 is waste because 80% will use it, putting the actual cost of the waste at $4.50 worth of cream that doesn’t get used.  That’s around 0.5% of your revenue, not an insignificant amount in the restaurant business.  But, let’s look a step farther…the servers will spend 72 minutes of customer service time retrieving the cream for the tables, impacting the service for at least those 72 diners.  Now, as a restaurant owner, you’re looking at saving $4.50 per breakfast and making it easier for 18 of your customers vs. spending that extra $4.50 and being more efficient for 72 of your customers.  I’d probably make the case that most of the 100 are influenced by the higher workload on the server, but I’m not going to run it through a simulation program to get a pattern.

Don’t like the original estimates, okay…let’s cut the number of customers to 50, assume all order coffee and half like it black.  That moves your wasted cost of cream to $6.25 and number of customers impacted to 25.  Your decision point seems a bit tougher here.

I guess what I’m trying to say through this simplistic example is that, in a lot of cases, the context of defining waste is a bit of a gray area.  Not everything fits in to the handy TIMWOOD’s the same way.  Ideally the cream/no cream quandary is able to be solved with no waste on either side.  I’ve never been a server nor have I ever owned a restaurant, so I’m not sure what the better solution might be in this case.  As a customer, it’s kind of interesting to look at situations like this and realize that just because I don’t want something doesn’t mean it’s wasteful for the provider.  I guess it’s kind of like buying a car where in order to get some feature you do want you end up with some you don’t because it’s more efficient for the manufacturers to build to standard levels of trim and features.

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Posted on September 13, 2013, in Learning, Service Industry, Waste. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. This is interesting, I tend to think about these things a lot (probably a waste of my time). But, In this very simple example if you chose not to deliver the cream for every cup of coffee, then you create a 70% defect rate in the new process in that the server will have to complete rework in order to retrieve it each time it is then requested. So both extremes are wasteful, the current being the more favorable and less wasteful. But by applying some mistake proofing, standard work, and JIT ideas you could add 1 second of time to the “Obtaining the order” cycle of work to ask, “would you like cream with your coffee?”, so at this point you would only bring cream when it is needed and in the amount needed and you would do some defect prevention.

  2. This is interesting; I tend to think about these things a lot (probably a waste of my time). But, In this very simple example if you chose not to deliver the cream for every cup of coffee, then you create a 70% defect rate in the new process in that the server will have to complete rework in order to retrieve it each time it is then requested. So both extremes are wasteful, the current being the more favorable and less wasteful. But by applying some mistake proofing, standard work, and JIT ideas you could add 1 second of time to the “Obtaining the order” cycle of work to ask, “would you like cream with your coffee?”, so at this point you would only bring cream when it is needed and in the amount needed and you would do some defect prevention.

  3. That’s a great point on asking the question of if the customer wants cream or not. I’m sure I’m overthinking this process…I just started thinking about what could possibly be the business case where it would be a net positive for the restaurant in providing something that wasn’t necessarily a value add for the customer.

    I also completely left part of my background thinking out of how I went down this path in the first place. One of the topics I’ve been studying lately is the brain and the cognitive process. I was going down the mental path of assuming that the majority of the usual customer base uses cream. In that case, not bringing cream would be a break from the normal process and the server would have to remember which customer wanted what combination of coffee and cream. That extra decision point and memory usage would increase the cognitive load on the server and potentially drive more errors. In that case, having a standard work that included not having to make the decision would reduce the burden on the employee. Probably a stretch, but it’s something that might be a consideration if the restaurant was busy enough.

    Then again, maybe the server just knew that coffee was from the bottom of a pot that had been sitting around for an hour and the customer would need something extra to help choke it down.

    Thanks for the comment

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