Written by: Alister McMaster, Six Sigma Green Belt (SSGB), Lean Six Sigma Sensei (LSSS)
After having surgery and being confined to the bedroom for two weeks recovering, my wife called me and said she wanted to get out of the house for dinner. We decided to visit a restaurant in our area that was easy on the pockets and provided a great ambience.
As we approached the restaurant, I saw a line stretching outside the door and asked my wife if she was sure she wanted to eat there. After confirming, I parked and we added our names to the waiting list.
I was pleased the restaurant offered samples to guests who were waiting, (a Six Sigma value add) but as we stood overlooking the dining room floor, I saw several dirty tables waiting for the busboy to clean, many of them left unattended for more than 15 minutes (a waste and defect).
I started to measure the time between a guest leaving to when staff cleaned the table, to when another guest was seated. I couldn’t help but think, ‘how is it that this many tables are empty and uncleaned? The restaurant has customers waiting in excess of 30 minutes, but there are empty tables capable of seating up to eight.’ While I measured the long wait time inefficiency, several people left the restaurant.
Once seated, I looked through the menu and found an option to reserve a table using the restaurant’s app, as well as the option to order ahead (both value adds, but the lack of customer-focused communication created another defect). I shook my head in disbelief as to why this information wasn’t communicated beforehand.
Someone invested money, time and market research, and years of planning went into this restaurant. But, like many businesses without a Six Sigma foundation, it was littered with inefficiencies and missed opportunities for growth.
For example, I witnessed a first-time guest ask a hostess about the long wait times. The response, “Friday nights aren’t a good night to visit,” shocked me. The response implied that the restaurant was incapable of seating guests in a timely manner, and it potentially alienated a customer from ever attending the restaurant again.
Consider how many more customers the restaurant could have serviced if they eliminated their defects and improved their communication. That’s where Six Sigma could have helped.
Restaurant Makeover – Six Sigma Edition
Six Sigma, and especially Lean, help organizations cut out unnecessary steps in a process until only what is absolutely vital to the process remains. There are a number of Six Sigma tools that could help restaurants identify defects and improve them (5S, team charter, Pareto chart), but adopting the DMAIC methodology is likely the most efficient way to help restaurants minimize defects, while improving their quality and productivity.
In the case of this restaurant, one of the biggest wastes was long wait times caused by poor communication between the team manager, wait staff and cleanup crew. In restaurants, time is money and each waste and defect reduces profits and hurts customer retention. For Six Sigma to be successful, it requires complete buy-in from the top down.
Overall, it’s the team leader’s job (generally a Six Sigma Black Belt or Master Black Belt) to mentor the rest of the team (Green Belts, Yellow Belts and others) and delegate tasks. This includes monitoring the dining room floor and communicating to the wait staff when a guest is ready to pay, and the wait staff relaying the message to the cleaning crew to clear off the table so it’s ready for the next guest. Secondly, the team leader could encourage hostesses to provide guests with a menu while they wait, while also promoting the order ahead option.
Then, the manager could work with the kitchen crew to optimize the process of getting food out to the guests. Increased communication across all cross functional teams can help fix poor processes, while improving customer satisfaction and team efficiency. A Six Sigma kitchen, dining room and waiting room reduces wait times and helps create a more enjoyable dining experience for the customers, which in turn, increases profit for the business.
Continuously Improve with Six Sigma
Six Sigma started in the manufacturing industry, but its principles are applicable to practically any career field. Personally, I’ve never worked for a business that didn’t have a use for Six Sigma. Sometimes we are too close to a situation to see the big picture and we need a new perspective. Six Sigma helps companies laser focus on what’s important and wasteful, and then continuously improve the business until no waste exists. Applying the methodology helps businesses adapt to changes in the industry, without having to downsize or negatively impact the workforce. If you are looking for a way to improve an outdated process and make your business more efficient, I would strongly consider implementing Six Sigma.