CASE STUDY – This hotel in Spain has been able to leverage Lean Thinking in its restaurant to successfully adapt to the new Covid-19 regulations enforced in the country, becoming more efficient along the way.
Words: César Sancho, Nadiria Consulting
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought dramatic change to the hotel and restaurant sector, forcing organizations around the world to adopt ever more stringent measures that aim to guarantee the safety of guests and staff. As you would imagine, this has created several problems for companies in this industry and with the problems have come many misconceptions – like the idea that activities that typically provided great added value, like the open buffet, have to disappear.
Before jumping to conclusions, it’s important to truly understand the situation at hand and look for ways to reinvent yourselves while focusing on the continuous improvement of your processes. By doing so, there is no reason you should give up value-added offering that guests like and that bring great benefit to a hotel or restaurant. This is what I have recently learned while coaching a hotel in the town of Calpe, near Benidorm, as they strived to adapt to the new regulation introduced by the Spanish Tourism Quality Institute (ICTE in Spanish) without abandoning traditionally popular offerings.
If this weren’t challenging enough, we also had to find a way to convince people that it actually wasn’t necessary to hire more staff or increase operating costs to effectively and rapidly adapt to the “new normal”. The application of Lean Thinking in this hotel in Calpe demonstrated as much and led to great results.
LEAN FOR SAFETY
The premise was that applying the lean methodology in the hotel restaurant under these new circumstances would have to, first of all, guarantee the safety of everyone in the hotel, but also improve the quality of service to ensure guests wouldn’t feel overwhelmed by the many changes that had to happen all at once.
We also aimed to achieve maximum efficiency in the preparation of meals, in service and in the delivery to guests (to reduce or eliminate waiting) and, why not, keep costs under control, minimizing them as much as possible. Throughout the project, we engaged the front-line staff to show them how important they were to the success of our experiments and shared successes with them at all times.
We completely reviewed processes and greatly improved the way the restaurant is run by relying on the fundamental lean concept of PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) – the true enabler of continuous improvement. Over the course of a month, we trained staff in the new standards, observed the work, planned the necessary changes and adjusted the processes whenever necessary. Eventually, we reached the conclusion that we had to drastically change our production system, making it akin to an industrial – rather than a service – process.
One of the most impactful changes we implemented was a switch from a push system to a pull system, another staple of Lean Thinking. Traditionally, restaurants (most organizations, really) rely on a push system and prepare vast amounts of food to ensure there is enough for the upcoming meal. This approach, however, is not the most efficient: in fact, it generates overproduction, waste and higher costs and forces us to carry unnecessary stock.
Implementing a pull system – meaning that the production pace is set by the demand – in our hotel restaurant meant that meals now start with minimum amounts of food that are gradually replenished as dictated by real customer demand. This way, production output fluctuates in line with occupation in the restaurant, which ensures we don’t end up with more food than we need at the end of the meal.
CHANGING HOW FOOD IS SERVED
The idea of the “assisted buffet” aimed to rethink the restaurant’s offering by boosting quality while eliminating anything that doesn’t provide value to the guests. It entailed moving more than 90% of the kitchen into self-managing and self-sufficient stations in the dining area, which resulted in a space that not only allows the team to more easily abide to the new sanitary regulations but also provides several advantages for both guests and staff.
Some of the advantages included:
- the ability to offer fresh products and a beautifully presented buffet from the beginning of the service to the end;
- preventing clients from having to wait for food to be replenished;
- balancing the workload across different teams and stations. After observing customer behavior and optimizing space and processes, the team decided to place some of the most popular items in the buffet at different stations across the dining hall, which distributed the workload more evenly as guests began to spread out to a number of locations (and not just one).
PEOPLE DEVELOPMENT, THE KEY TO EFFECTIVE CHANGE
Changing processes is not enough; it’s also necessary to ensure everyone carries them out in the same way. This is why throughout the project we really focused on people development, teaching employees the work standards we created (another fundamental element of lean system) to eliminate variability in production and service.
Importantly, all teams were provided with the skills they need to work effectively in all stations: all recipes were outlined and put in writing on Job Instruction sheets, together with photos and production times.
When we completed the training, it was great to see how all employees were able to prepare all dishes in the same way and following the same takt time. This way, if at any point during service a line forms at one of the stations, any employee is capable of offering help in preparing the necessary dish in the same way as his colleagues. Consistency is key.
The application of Lean Thinking in the hotel restaurant led to a 70% reduction in overproduction compared to pre-Covid levels – and therefore to considerable savings. Moreover, we noticed that after the changes clients tend to consume food more responsibly and don’t go for second servings as much as before, which resulted in a 20% reduction in the volumes purchased (and in the amount of utensils and plates that need to be washed).
The new, pull-based production system means that the same work can now be performed by a workforce that is 5% smaller than last year, in the face of the same occupancy. From an internal customer point of view, we are noticing that less people are needed in the kitchen and that the team’s work is now better planned, calmer and less demanding. More importantly, we are thrilled to see team members constantly making suggestions on what changes should come next to make work easier in the different areas.
The changes we made to the layout, merging kitchen and buffet, reduced the movement of cooks by a staggering 95% – such movement was not creating any value for customer and the time now available is used to keep production and service in optimal conditions at all times. Waiters also move much less than before, which increased the amount of time they spend caring for the guests.
Waiting times for clients at the assisted buffet stations has gone down 10% compared the pre-Covid situation. A takt time was established in all processes, based on real customer demand that is being adjusted through continuous observation at each station every day. It’s the flexibility of Lean Thinking! It’s important to remember that clients no longer need to wander around the dining hall perusing trays to see what’s on offer, because they can now count on the guidance of the team.
Overall, clients spend around 15% less time in the restaurant. Serving food more efficiently means that guests need to walk up to the buffet less often than before, which reduces their overall stay at the restaurant. A quicker table turnaround is of course great for business, but also for guests: cleaning, sanitizing and preparing table for the next party more quickly means that guests are now waiting less time (15%) to be seated.
Not surprisingly, customer satisfaction has increased markedly. In most comments, guests mention how safe they feel upon witnessing the restaurant’s safety measures and how the food is prepared right in front of them.
The health regulation introduced in the face of the coronavirus pandemic have created a lot of commotion in the restaurant business. Thousands of Euros have been invested to purchase plastic partitions and other protective items, to adapt layouts and, on many occasions, to hire more people to guarantee better service. However, what very few organizations have done is question the overall way of working. This case study demonstrates that Lean Thinking can be leveraged to make the most of an otherwise tragic situation to establish new processes that ensure safety while improving the guest experience and lowering operating costs. This is not the time to sacrifice quality or provide less value to customers: continuous improvement should always be our True North, even in times of crisis.
César Sancho is CEO and Founder of Nadiria Consulting. He has 25 years of experience working in the hospitality industry. As part of his education, he completed the Lean Practitioner Program offered by Instituto Lean Management in Barcelona.