Whatever You Do, Don’t Stop The Barista

One morning recently, I was in a queue for a coffee. I was observing the process and noticed that they had systemised it quite well. They had two extra people to help the barista – one before and one after.

The person in front of the barista was taking the orders and placing the cups in sequence. Many cafes do this. However, this specific café did something extra. The orders were taken in batches and after a certain number they paused. Once those were almost done, the next batch of orders were taken. This is different to what many cafés do – taking as orders continuously. They were careful not to load up the front of the line with too much work-in-process (WIP) which in turn can have negative impacts – the worst is overwhelming the barista!

The person after the barista, prepared the sauces / lids (depending on in-house or take-away), washed the milk containers, ensured sufficient supply of all milk types, added garnishing, and finishing touches, called out the customer names to despatch the final product off the counter quickly. This was different. Not many cafés do this part.

They’ve created this system to protect the barista’s time and workload – the most critical and constrained process in coffee making. This way, the barista can concentrate and deliver more coffees.

The book “The Goal” by Eliyahu M. Goldratt, talks about the concept of Theory-of-Constraints (TOC). Goldratt outlines a process to maximise the throughput of constrained processes. I noticed the following TOC principles at this café:

  • Exploiting Constraints: removing, re-allocating, or redesigning the constraint process.
  • Subordinating Non-Constraints: aligning the non-constraint elements (before and after) of the process to support the constraint.

The aim is to reduce the workload on the constraint and never to stop it. The outcome is increased throughput and overall efficiency.

What are the constraints in your workplace? How is this process being supported? Any opportunities to further optimise it?

That’s my name being called. Got to go and pick up my coffee…

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