Sunday, April 19, 2009

Process Improvement and the Chaat Cafe

My favorite Indian restaurant is a 20 minute walk from my house. It has the most wonderful Indian snacks/appetizers and of course kulfi. It is also a thoroughly confusing place. I will try to describe the changes in process that I have seen over the last 18 months – since it opened.

First, some background. It is set up with three major "stations" where things are cooked. The flat top where the dosas, parathas and other flatbread dishes are prepared. The drink area (lassis, etc.) and the chaat area (samosa, golgappe, etc.)

Version 1.

You wander into the restaurant, decide what you are going to have and fill out a 2 part form in front of the station. Hand it to the cook. The cook makes the dish and when ready calls out over the speakers. You go and collect it from the counter. When time to pay, you take the white parts (tops) of the 2 part form to the register. They total up the bill, you pay and leave. Problem – this didn't scale well because we could never hear the loudspeaker announcements. Well we could hear that there was an announcement, but not what was being said.

First Process Improvement

Numbers were attached to each table. Your table number was required to be placed on the bottom of the form. Problem then was you had to select your table prior to placing an order. How do you keep it while ordering? Can someone else grab it? Much chaos ensued. Advantage was that the loudspeaker announcer just had to call the table number. You still handed your forms to the cooks, etc. There is still the possibility that unscrupulous diners would forget the white chits or (as I have to admit to having done) throwing one away by mistake when clearing away the dishes. So my guess is that auditing showed some yellow chits (what the cooks did) which didn't have matching pair white chits. And no way of running down the offenders until much too late. Everyone seems to pay cash there!

Second Process Improvement

Technology was introduced! Central order taking was introduced. So now, the restaurant has done away with the need to grab a table before creating an order. It has introduced a central ordering location. The forms, however are essentially the same and are not at the central location. The forms are still in front of the cooking stations. So you fill the form out at the cooking station and carry it to the central ordering facility. There (if you have not already been given one) you are given a vibrating pager. Presumably local in-restaurant network only. This is similar to the pagers often used in restaurants to tell you when your table is ready. When you place the order (on the 2 part form) you enter the number of the pager device. Now when each part of your order is ready, the pager device goes off. As you collect the dish, you need to stop by central ordering, so they can turn the thing off. If you fail to do that, it keeps vibrating and you have no indication when another part of your order is ready. Also, unknown to the first time user, the device will be used for computing the bill, so if you are looking for individual receipts, you need one vibrator each.

When you go to pay, you hand your vibrator to the checkout clerk. This automatically brings up the bill. I haven't seen the behind the scenes magic that does this yet. They also have an accordion file into which they put all the yellow copies into the slot numbered with the same number as the vibrating pager. You pay and leave…

So what you may ask?

This is an interesting exercise in changing processes and system state knowledge to adapt to conditions. In the first 2 iterations all the state was pushed to the diners (white copies) and that state information was used for "billing" and "payments". In the final case we see an audit database (the accordion file) and a shared key (vibrator number and slot number).

So by looking at what was causing trouble (what Policies and Values were not being dealt with correctly), the store restaurant owner instituted quite significant changes that make the process of ordering/getting the food/eating it/paying for it (the order to burp process) a great deal more streamlined. Very little automation needed, almost no effect on the primary Value of the place – "Somewhere that serves high quality, tasty, vegetarian chaat with a flavor of home."

It has been fun to watch this humble restaurant put so much thought and effort into helping itself run smoothly and maintain a great connection with its customers. Would that we in IT be as effective.

2 comments:

Nigel said...

It sounds like a little bit of drafting work around Events & Content (both normal and 'unusual' e.g. individual receipts) might've helped. But its good to see experimentation and feedback at work - a lesson in 'agile iterations' :-)

RJN said...

I'll keep my perspective simple - at the start of this venture someone had an idea using forms, it wasn't thought through or engineered properly but everyone jumped into the process. The rest has been improvements based on trial and error in trying to manage their supply chain and reduce risks.