Editor's Desk

By Michael Hughes

Unconstraining excellent eats

Industrial engineers always seem to be able to find something to improve.

It's like they took Murphy's Law (anything that can go wrong will) and added a corollary that even if you think nothing is wrong, something probably is. Or, at the very least, something isn't functioning optimally.

This month's cover story, "Unlocking the Service Sector," tells such a tale (along with doubling as an opportunity to make our magazine cover resemble Bon Appétit, complete with morsels of tasty, juicy steak). James F. Cox III combines something most every sentient being enjoys – eating – with what every restaurant requires to ensure sustainability – make customers happy. Cox applies the theory of constraints, popularized in IE circles years ago via Eliyahu Goldratt's novel The Goal, to a nearby restaurant.

To management, things seemed fine. People were always waiting to get in, a data point seen as a hallmark of quality in the restaurant industry. But the manager did admit that 6 percent of steaks were returned. Overcooked orders were replaced, and a few minutes on the grill rectified undercooked beef.

A bit of math calculated that the few minutes spent fixing problematic orders cost the restaurant about $680,000 in net profits each year – a figure big enough to grab any chef's grill tongs.

The constraint, in many cases, came from cooking hunks of meat to ambiguous definitions of rare, medium rare, medium, medium well or well-done. Such words can mean different thing to different people. The twofold solution involved using meat thermometers to calculate the doneness of steaks and training the wait staff to explain to customers exactly what a medium rare ribeye meant.

Cox and his wife still visit the restaurant in question on occasion, and the wait staff praises the system that helps them get more turns on their tables and better tips.

So click here and examine for yourself. Perhaps you can take a bite out of your organization's biggest constraint.

Michael Hughes is managing editor of IIE. Reach him at mhughes@iienet.org or (770) 349-1110.