Lean Pizza?


I was able to have dinner at the famous Pizzeria Uno in Chicago on Friday. It had been too long since I've had really good Chicago stuffed pizza — REAL Chicago pizza, not the fake bready stuff that too many places try to pass off as “Chicago” pizza. Nothing “lean” (skinny) about these cheese and sausage stuffed pies (picture isn't Unos, but representative of the style).

These pizzas normally take 45 minutes to cook (or really, it's 45 minutes from order to table, including the different waiting times between order and eating). It's the same delay, same cooking time, if it's Uno's or the wonderful Oregano's chain in the Phoenix area, where I used to live.

There was a wait for a table at Uno's. That wasn't surprising. What WAS surprising was that they took our pizza order at the hostess stand when we put our name down for the table list.


The idea of taking your order allows two of these times to overlap, the “waiting for table” and the “pizza fulfillment” times to overlap. We waited 30 minutes for our table, got seated, and the pizza arrived about 20 minutes later, after we ate salad. Perfect timing. This seems like a “lean solutions” type concept, to remove time from the process.

This was good for us, the customer (reducing total time) and good for the restaurant, I suppose, increasing table turns, which means more money in the restaurant biz.

This is good for the restaurant, unless they make more money on the drinks they sell while the wait. I've always suspected that the famous Pizzeria Bianco, also in Phoenix (but not deep dish), makes more money on customers buying wine at the bar they own next door than they do making pizza. Pizza creates the queue of customers that drink, easily spending $20 per person while waiting for food that costs about $10 per person. I don't think that's why Bianco's is in business, to make money off of drinks (it's the passion for pizza). Unintended consequence, I suppose. If Bianco's had you order ahead, like Uno's, they'd probably reduce profits.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Another factor – capacity. In the short run restaurants have fixed capacity (number of tables). Think constraint management. If the tables are all full at peak times, how to increase revenue? 1) the bar – generate revenue out of people waiting for tables. 2) increase throughput – shorten the time people spend at the tables. Taking the order at the hostess stand makes sense.

    Of course for restaurants that specialize in ambiance and leisurely dining, increasing table turnover may be contrary to their value offering! I don’t know why, but in Europe people like to spend 2-3 hours dining. Trying to speed this up would probably offend the customers.

  2. I am currently reading “Lean Solutions,” and I think the authors would recommend that a pizzeria offer a variety of dining styles that would serve the customers’ ever-changing needs.

    1) When customers are in a hurry (lunchtime maybe), they want a walk-up NYC style pizzeria.

    2) When they are taking the kids out for a fun meal, they may prefer the Pizzeria Uno style of taking the order ahead of time.

    3) Finally, when customers want to enjoy an extended dining experience, they may prefer to have drinks at the bar before ordering.

    Most restaurants already offer these options in the form of take-out service to your car (option 1), general dining (option 2), and dining at and around the bar (option 3). Maybe a better way to do it would be to have separate facilities in the right locations (option 1 type places near work, option 2 type places near home, option 3 type places near social spots).

  3. I think the “Lean Pizza” discussion is great. I like Pizza and also was intrigued by the concepts presented in “Lean Solutions”. Here is another “Lean Pizza” concept related to leveling production. I read about a chain, I think in Europe, that posts variable pricing on the web where you can place an order for pickup or delivery. The price is raised when they have plenty of orders to keep the flow through oven at full production and the price is lowered when there is open capacity. The idea may not be valid for premium pizza like the establishements described above, but it seems like a great idea for “commodity level” pizza chains. I know a lot of families check for the best pizza coupon and place an order with any of a number of chains. A website that posted a variable price might draw a lot of cusomers, especially during off peak hours as customers learn when the best prices are posted.

  4. The variable pricing would be a great way to level out demand (for a commodity delivery place). Price sensitive customers could eat dinner early or late (or order early and reheat their pizza), while customers who didn’t care about cost could eat at peak times.

    People tend to get very upset about variable pricing, though. The media feeds the idea that it is “unfair”. Some sports teams charge more for weekend tickets, games versus top teams, etc. That was widely criticized, but it makes complete sense from a supply/demand perspective.

    People also sort of resent the airlines for their variable pricing.

    I think you have to try to sell your customers on how the idea of pricing to level helps save them money (great for a Wal-Mart type low-cost focused company).

  5. If your goal is to get food as fuel, then cutting the time down is great. If your goal is to enjoy conversation and time with friends, then you were cheated.

  6. Amazing the most amount of responses to an article revolves around food. Also interesting to note that most of the Lean Consultants use food analogy’s.

  7. Yes, it’s interesting that there was so much debate on this. I put a question mark in the title on purpose — “Lean Pizza?”

    I think one lesson from this is that there is not ONE right answer in an industry. The good point has been raised twice about how certain customers value different things. At Uno’s, I appreciated the efficient service. I had X amount of time with my friends, I was going to spend that time at the table or at the bar. I was in no rush, but it was OK. They didn’t rush us away from the table, they were just being efficient, I sensed.

    With Pizzeria Bianco, the long wait and the wine is part of the experience for me, the anticipation of the pizza is worth something. Totally different experience, different rules apply.

    As much as I’d say automaker X shouldn’t directly copy automaker Y, I think the same applies for pizzerias (or restaurants) copying other ones. You have to make the right decisions for your own customers. Uno’s and Bianco’s are BOTH doing something right obviously.

  8. This wasn’t pizza, but recently I was in Cork, Ireland and ate a wagamama – a noodle bar. On the menu they tell you “Your order is taken on an electric handheld and zapped through to the kitchen by radio signal where it is cooked immediately because we want to ensure the freshness of your food. This means that some dishes may arrive before others. The aim is, don’t wait – just tuck in and share. Enjoy the wagamama experience.” I appreciated the communication (educated me as a customer), the JIT delivery and the use of technology.


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