Can Restaurant Chains Save Healthcare?

by Christopher Paul on January 25, 2013

Jason Kottke caught this piece from The New Yorker from last year and, being interested in operations, to say it piqued my interest would be an understatement. Jason highlighted a different piece of the article as it relates to healthcare – which is certainly something that could reduce costs and increase the quality of care for patients. But what I want to highlight from the article is a small bit on how a Cheesecake Factory restaurant works behind the scenes:

The kitchen design is the same in every restaurant, he explained. It’s laid out like a manufacturing facility, in which raw materials in the back of the plant come together as a finished product that rolls out the front. Along the back wall are the walk-in refrigerators and prep stations, where half a dozen people stood chopping and stirring and mixing. The next zone is where the cooking gets done—two parallel lines of countertop, forty-some feet long and just three shoe-lengths apart, with fifteen people pivoting in place between the stovetops and grills on the hot side and the neatly laid-out bins of fixings (sauces, garnishes, seasonings, and the like) on the cold side. The prep staff stock the pullout drawers beneath the counters with slabs of marinated meat and fish, serving-size baggies of pasta and crabmeat, steaming bowls of brown rice and mashed potatoes. Basically, the prep crew handles the parts, and the cooks do the assembly.

Computer monitors positioned head-high every few feet flashed the orders for a given station. Luz showed me the touch-screen tabs for the recipe for each order and a photo showing the proper presentation. The recipe has the ingredients on the left part of the screen and the steps on the right. A timer counts down to a target time for completion. The background turns from green to yellow as the order nears the target time and to red when it has exceeded it.

When I look at any industry – whether it be healthcare, software development, financial services, or hospitality, I think of it as a just a different kind of factory. Inputs, process, outputs. There are requirements, standards, measurements, and acceptable deviations (or not) from those plans. By treating everything like an assembly line, interesting things happen. You create a consistent product and experience which will define you.

Disney is famous for this. I read or watched on TV once[1] that Disney goes through great pains to manage the lines for their rides, attractions, and restaurants at their theme parks. There is a whole underground support system for the operations of the business that no one ever sees because it would distract from the “magic.” Likewise, they make sure their characters are never so close to a guest as to be seen in two places at once. Obviously, they have more than one Mickey but the children wouldn’t know it.

Apple, of course, is also famous for its operations. While it offloads the assembly to a 3rd party, it has its supply chain down to a near perfect science. Their retail stores aren’t much different. Good brands like Whole Foods, The Cheesecake Factory, BMW, Apple, and Disney know exactly how to deliver and monitor their products with as little waste as possible. If this philosophy were applied to other companies and industries (I’m looking at you transportation sector) with such rigor, I bet they’d have a better product at a lower cost.

via Kottke

  1. I wish I could remember where I saw it. It could have been Modern Marvels on The History Channel.  ↩

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