Sunday, August 24, 2008

You Can Observe a Lot Just by Watching 2

In an earlier article, I quoted one of the great philosophers of our time, Yogi Berra: "You can observe a lot just by watching."

I had an interesting observational experience this week. I was dining at an upscale steak house I'd been to before, and noticed again an inordinate amount of attention by the wait staff to polishing wine glasses. Yes, polishing wine glasses.

The waiters themselves, when not serving customers (key words), were moving from unoccupied table to unoccupied table in their respective areas, picking up the wine glasses one at a time, holding them up to the light, and then polishing them.

I was struck by how similar a restaurant is to a manufacturing process. You have suppliers upstream who provide either raw materials, tooling or fixturing (in this case, a wine glass is probably fixturing). And what you want from those suppliers is a product or part that's ready to go into the production process.

For some reason, the wine glasses delivered to these tables presumably weren't ready to go to production. Apparently that had not only been noticed, but also decided, and also accepted as a limitation of the suppliers (kitchen help).

I say that because waiters are likely the hignest leverage employees in an upscale restaurant -- the most likely to make a difference in the customer experience and the customer's repeat business. and also the most expensive, in terms of net hourly wage (including tips). Perhaps the managers make more, but not always.

Clearly, polishing glassware is not the best and highest use of a waiter's time. They would have been far more effective being more attentive and accessible to customers. Yet they were apparenly culturalized to inspect and polish glassware (with great fanfare and visiblity).

Now, one could argue that's all a marketing ploy -- to make the customers keenly aware of how much care is being taken to be sure he has a microscopically-polished wine glass always available. So what? Is that the typical customer's primary concern in a restaurant -- wine glass polishing? Maybe it's the food? Maybe it's the service? I've just never worried that much about the glassware, myself.

So, what do we have here? A dysfunctional organization, in my opinion. We have the hignest-paid, most valuable employee in the enterprise doing something (polishing glasses) that should be done by someone paid 1/4 as much. A far more effective solution would be to investigate the root cause for why the wine glasses don't get set in the first place ready for customer consumption. And fix whatever problem that is. Push that problem back up the supply chain. If a waiter finds a "defective" wine glass, he should be able to get that problem corrected by the supplier, rather than fixing it himself, shouldn't he? Otherwise the supplier never gets any feedback or gets any better, does he?

Have a look around your organization. Look for "re"-anything. Anything that's being re-inspected, reworked, repolished or redone. And there you'll find an opportunity. Push that opportunity upstream -- back where it came from, and get it fixed at that point.

If you've spotted a "Re-anything" in your business, please click "Comment" below and share it with us.

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Terry Weaver

Chief Executive Boards International

Chief Executive Boards International: Freedom for business owners & CEOs -- Less Work, More Money, More Freedom to enjoy it

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