FANCY A DRINK? You’ll need to understand lean principles

Three short stories follow:

The Long Bar

The writer grew up in Newcastle–upon-Tyne, North East England. It’s a cold place but a warm place. In fact it’s freezing, but it’s a party town. People there like a drink.

In the cult 1971 gangster movie Get Carter, which is set in and around the Tyne, the underworld character played by Sir Michael Caine takes the train from London to Newcastle to avenge the killing of a family member. The opening credits, with its iconic music, end as the train crosses the bridge over the river and the viewer sees the equally iconic Tyne Bridge, precursor of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and also built by Dorman Long, before rounding the long curve into Newcastle Central Station with its view of the not so New Castle.

Where would an avenger start to find the information needed to seek out his quarry?

Well in a party town the best place to start is in a pub. And so he did. Immediately across Neville Street from the station is the Long Bar. It’s called the Long Bar because it is long. So long that it has two entrances, one on Neville Street and one on Westgate Road. But it’s not very wide. The film director depicted a (then) smoke filled bar with our hero asking drinkers for information.

And there were a lot of drinkers; and a lot of bartenders. Imagine a bar 100 yards long and 8 yards wide. That’s a Long Bar.   (ed: the writer’s memory may be inaccurate, as he has not formally measured the length and width of the bar. Measurement error is the subject of other articles)

Lean design was in place, in at least this bar, in Newcastle long before lean principles were in vogue. The walking distance, and parts travelled distance (the beer to you and me) for barman and customer was minimised, virtually to zero, as every drinker could stand at the bar, order his tipple, hand over his money, receive his drink, consume it and repeat the cycle in the shortest possible service delivery time. Customer repurchase intent was high.

And not only the intent. Geordie drinkers acted upon their instincts. No messing. Times were hard but good and Cockney villains could get what information they needed to exact their revenge in a timely manner.

The writer went back to his home town to see his beloved football team and arranged to meet a friend in the Long Bar. Only it wasn’t long anymore. It was wide. And they had seats outside. The friend wanted to sit and have a drink outside. In August in Newcastle? Madness! It took ages to get served. And Newcastle Brown Ale isn’t made in Newcastle anymore. Milwaukee I think. Or Vladivostok? Lots of marketing, not much lean.

 (ed: The Long Bar has since been renamed The Waiting Rooms!!!)

The Golf Club

The writer doesn’t play football anymore. Golf. Fast forward to a nice golf and country club in the home counties. Invitation guest day.  Hot sunny day. No wind. Nice round. 39 Stableford points. Chance of a prize.

“Can I get you a drink chaps?” Spike bar. “Let’s sit outside. What would you like? You must be thirsty?”

One of the guests was a former chief executive of Holiday Inn Europe and a member at Walton Heath golf club, ranked 28th in the top 100 in UK and Ireland and a former Ryder Cup venue. Another guest was on the food and beverage committee at Hankley Common, a lovely golf course in heather and pine ranked 50th in the same top 100. The third was group human resources director for a world renowned contract catering company, Compass Group, where 254,000 employees were serving food and beverages every day to schools, hospitals, armies and companies, but not to this golf club.

“I’m sorry sir it’s waiter and waitress service”.

18 minutes later someone in a nice uniform came over and entered the drinks order into a hand held computer. 14 minutes later the writer called the manager as still no drinks had arrived.  The group watched the bar staff carry trays full of drinks from table to table, whereupon anyone who recognised even one drink from an order of four would shout “yes mine”, thus creating rework and incorrect orders. The walking distance and parts travelled distance (assorted drinks, tray, and a heavy hand held computer) created a veritable spaghetti diagram as the waiters and waitresses weaved their way between the tables.  Ten further minutes elapsed, which felt like a life time of personal embarrassment as a host.

The overall process cycle time was 42 minutes, to which was added time answering emails next day along the theme of “Nice day, shame about the service”.

The computers are gone now, and it’s not too onerous to walk up to the bar and order four drinks and a tray. Quite often two rounds are consumed. Speaking as an accountant, sales up costs down sounds like a good use of lean principles.

The Thai restaurant- a true story

A group of 9 students and their lean instructor went out for a Thai meal in Falmouth, Cornwall. Lovely place. You should go. Falmouth and the restaurant. Both.

The group arrived just before 8pm and were thirsty but the restaurant was quite busy. Time for kanban, because some of the group wanted to get the highlights of the Champions league football on TV after the meal and it was quite a long walk by the harbour back to the hotel.

“How many beers each do you reckon, guys?” Four.

The waiter came over with the menus. “Can I get you some drinks?” “Yes please. Forty pints of Singha please. But we want 10 now at 8 ok, please; 10 at eight thirty, 10 more at 9 o’clock and the last 10 pints at nine thirty”.

“We’ll be out by 10 o’clock so you can bring the bill when you get a free moment, any time between nine thirty and ten, and we’ll pay up straight away”.  A 30 minute Takt time in operation hopefully. Let’s see what happened…..

The first ten pints duly arrived, but two of the faster drinkers in the group drank up. They tried to get another beer at about twenty past eight, but the waiter was busy.  He looked across and tried to rush over to help.  He soon got the message, and so did the faster drinkers. Slow down. They were politely advised the order had been placed and the delivery time had been agreed. The message got through. No more money was available for “extra” orders or amended delivery times.

At eight thirty the second ten pints arrived, (not without a bit of friendly gesturing to the waiter and his colleague at eight twenty five). A new problem arose. Two slower drinkers were now faced with one and a quarter pints each to consume on a crowded table.

By nine o’clock the diners had self-regulated their drinking speed. The waiter was beginning to realise he would not be interrupted by this group of ten, provided he delivered ten pints at half hour intervals. By the time of the nine thirty delivery the party had gained the position of preferred customers. Sure enough the beers arrived at precisely nine thirty to much cheering and ten completely empty glasses were removed at the same time. 5S at work. The bill arrived and the party left at precisely 10pm and got back to the hotel in time to see Liverpool win away (unlikely as that may seem).

Lean gets in your blood (stream) if you keep your eyes open and practice simple examples in your everyday personal and working lives.

Have fun! Try it next time you go out with your mates.



Colm Doran
Managing Director

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *