Monday, April 11, 2011

Lean at the Imperial Grill -- and at Starbucks

By Pascal Dennis

Had a good time in Dallas at the LEI Transformation Summit. I gave a presentation on Big Company Disease (and The Remedy), which people seemed to enjoy.

I much enjoyed the Starbuck team's presentation on their Lean transformation work. Took me back to my dad's restaurant, The Imperial Grill, where I grew up & which figures in all my books.

You can't succeed in a family-owned restaurant -- or a Starbucks if you don't apply Lean fundamentals.

Waste & value, visual management, standardized work, 5 S, close connection to the customers, simple replenishment pull and so on are simply common sense.  At the Imperial Grill I experienced each form of waste viscerally. Motion waste, for example, means sore feet.

The best waiters and waitresses effortlessly serve multiple tables with minimal motion.

They always add value whenever they move -- by greeting a customer, clearing a table, or closing out a tab.

Waiting waste means unhappy customers who don’t come back. Conveyance waste means unnecessary trips to the farmers market to get our meat and produce. Correction or scrap waste means making the wrong thing, or overcooking something, and having to throw it out. Over-processing means too many steps in a process, so you fall behind -- a killer during the breakfast and lunch rush. Inventory waste means carrying more raw materials than you need, which means either throwing stuff out when it goes bad, or buying a bigger fridge. Knowledge waste means wasting your time doing the above when you could be improving the business.

My senseis taught me that overproduction is the worst form of waste -- because it entails every other kind of waste. At the Imperial Grill, making more than we could sell meant was unthinkable, a sure way of going out of business. My parents understood value and waste in their guts, and had a deep connection with their customers. As a result, the Imperial Grill thrived against tough competition from national restaurant chains.

My folks are retired now and the Imperial Grill has given way to luxury condominiums. But it lives on in The Remedy and other books!


  1. Your story takes me back to my very first job as a wet behind the ears 16 year old. It was at a fast food chain (who shall remain nameless). They had an excellent process for taking know it all teenagers and transforming them into employees who followed the standard work but more importantly understood what drove value for their customers. Short lead times to place orders, clean tables, hot & fresh food.
    I learned quickly that your customers decide how much value you provide through their spending habits. Good value and they return; poor value and they go somewhere else.