Category Archives: Service Industry

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.

STK Restaurant Focuses on the Customer

A few weeks ago, I was in Las Vega, NV for a conference.  One night a colleague and I at the STK restaurant in the new Cosmopolitan Casino.  The food was phenomenal.  Just an incredible meal.

The meal is not the reason for writing about the restaurant though.  The service is excellent also.  But, the service wasn’t your traditional restaurant service.  It was choreographed to be efficient and provide the customer with incredible service.

Typical restaurant service, no matter how nice the restaurant, is to have one waitress/waiter and maybe someone different bring out your food.

Not at STK.  We had 2 waitresses and at least 3 servers.  That is a total of five people servicing us and the area we sat in.

There was NEVER any confusion about what was going on at our table and we were never asked the same questions twice.  In fact, everything ran so smoothly that we were almost done with our meal when I asked my colleague if she noticed the five different people serving us.

At one point, one waitress came up to our table and asked, “I know (waitress’ name) is getting you more drinks.  Is there anything else I can get you right now?”  They had communicated enough to know what one was doing for our table so as not to repeat it.  Keep in mind, they are doing this for a section of the restaurant.  Not just us.

As we finished our appetizer and had five minutes to chat, a server came over and asked if we were ready for our main course.  He did not ask if we were done with the appetizer.  He specifically asked if we were ready for our main course.  His focus was on what we, as the customer, wanted.  We replied, “yes.”  The server removed our appetizer plates and utensils.  Within 60 seconds, a second server was at our table setting the utensils for the main course.  Within 2 minutes of him leaving a third server brought our food out.  In 3 minutes our table was cleared, reset and food brought to us by 3 different people.

These are just a couple of examples of how the restaurant focused on the customer and serving their needs in a very efficient way.

The process guy in me asked the waitress at the end how they do it.  She said they have a plan and understand how long it takes for the food to be prepared.  They have a wall where the drink station is and communicate on an ongoing basis throughout the night where no one can see so it is seamless to the customer.

This was a great of example of Lean’s #1 focus…delivering value to the customer.  The seamless effort and great service along with the great food made it an incredible experience.