Open Letter to Todd English, Restaurateur
My wife and I are both big fans of your The Olives Table cookbook, your television shows, and your Olives restaurant in Las Vegas. We most recently had a chance to enjoy the wonderful pizzas at your Figs location in Boston’s Beacon Hill.
I am a fanatical pizza lover and even make pizzas in a wood-burning oven in my backyard. My other passion is my professional life, as a practitioner of a quality and process improvement methodology called “Lean” based on the Toyota Production System (applying this “manufacturing system” with success in hospitals, go figure).
Last Saturday, we had a chance to sit at the bar right next to where the pizzas were being made. What we saw, other than looking and tasting delicious, was a glaring process improvement opportunity that would benefit your restaurant, your patrons, and your staff members (“Todd’s Squad”).
As the pizzas come out of the brick oven, they are kept on the wooden pizza peel where they are cut with a rolling cutter. The pizza is then transferred to a serving platter by sliding the pizza off of the peel onto the platter.
As shown in the picture to the left, the “platter” is a cleverly re-purposed baking sheet turned upside down. The problem is that the sheet is a bit smaller than the pizza itself. The pizzamakers struggle a bit with each cut pizza, trying to keep the edge pieces from falling off (or at the least having to reposition them).
Finally, we saw what appeared to be the inevitable… two pieces from one pizza fell off the tray onto the floor, ruining a fig and prosciutto pizza. This delays the customer’s order and results in a few dollars of materials waste and additional labor required to make a new pizza ($$ off your bottom line). Now maybe this only happens in 1 out of every 1000 pizzas, so maybe it’s not a problem that’s going to put you out of business or anger too many customers with slow service. Or maybe it happens a few times a week? Do you have data on this?
What struck me, in particular, was the frustration on the faces of your Todd’s Squad members. They weren’t happy that they dropped the pieces, even though it’s (hopefully) not coming out of their paycheck. This is a systemic problem, the type that isn’t easily cured by asking Todd’s Squad to “be more careful.” I’m not sure what, if any, response there is from management to the pizza slice dropping problem. I hope any response is constructive…
Here’s a chance to engage Todd’s Squad in some problem solving and prevention, as the Toyota methodology teaches us. Each problem (“we dropped a pizza”) is seen as an opportunity for improvement. We can ask:
- Why did that happen?
- What can we do to prevent it from ever happening again?
I can offer suggestions — ideally, Todd’s Squad are the ones to ask since they work with the pizzas every day. One idea might be to get custom platters or pans made that would fit your pizzas. This adds cost and expense to the restaurant. Toyota leaders are fanatical about preaching “creativity over capital,” so maybe there’s a way of fixing this that costs less (or costs nothing).
Some lower cost ideas might include making the pizza slightly smaller so it fits better on the platter. This would “save money” as there would be less material cost for each pizza, but would customers feel “ripped off” with a slightly smaller pizza? Would you have to charge less? Your pizza, even at $18, feels like an incredible value actually. $18 for a slightly smaller pizza might be OK… but this would be a concern. Given the high rent in the Beacon Hill area, you probably wouldn’t want to do something that would cut revenue, such as charging $17 for a smaller pizza.
Another idea might be to build a small “lip” on the edge of the butcher’s block surface that they set the baking sheet/platter onto when transferring the pizza. This way, if a piece falls off the platter, it might not fall onto the floor as it did Saturday.
Ultimately, I don’t know what the best solution is because I don’t work at Figs. I’d encourage you to build a culture where the “everyday” problems like the one I described are solved with creativity, ideas that come from Todd’s Squad. That should make the Squad happy and also help Todd’s bottom line.
With warmest regards,