Changing Glass vs. Pouring a Glass


One thing I observed at the Stars/Red Wings playoff game last Wednesday is that the arena crew could pretty much swap out one of the pieces of plexiglass behind the net faster than the concession crew could pour a glass of beer.

Two players crashed into the boards…. something got cracked or dislodged. A crew came out and, with almost-NASCAR pit crew efficiency, they replaced the glass. You could tell it was designed for a quick swap out and the team must have practiced. This isn't required every game, but thankfully they could keep the delay from being no longer than a normal TV timeout.

Now the concession stand… they are particularly bad at the American Airlines Center. They're learning their operational approach from their namesake airline, I'm guessing. Why do concession stands insist on “pouring to order” when customers order beer during an intermission? The typical process:

  1. Customer orders
  2. Employee starts to pour beer
  3. Employee waits for foam to subside
  4. Employee continues pouring
  5. Employee waits again for form to subside
  6. Employee finishes beer
  7. Customer pays
It seems like some simple kaizen could improve the efficiency of the whole operation without adding people — good for the arena (more revenue, since fewer customers would walk away from a slow line) and good for the customers (less waiting).
If you separated the work of pouring beer and taking payment, you could have someone pouring two beers in parallel, taking advantage of the “waiting” time on one beer to pour the other. Have that one beer pourer handing beers to multiple register attendants.
Another idea — when you know things are going to be busy (such as pre-game or intermission), why not have a simple “beer kanban?” You could keep a few beers “in process” between the pouring and the register. The beers would keep moving (as long as you had First-In-First-Out) and you'd have a beer that had been poured pretty freshly. Really, what's the difference in a Miller Lite that's JUST been poured or one that was poured 60 seconds ago. They're still bad beer.
I don't know all of the answers, obviously. It's just frustrating to see the lack of kaizen in a setting as simple as a beer and hot dog stand. The concession stand is just as slow each game and each year. There's no sign of improvement. I wonder if they think they are as good as they can get or if nobody is challenging them to improve? Is nobody allowing them to improve? Dr. Deming would say that everybody is entitled to being able to find joy in their work — even if that work is pouring beer, eh?

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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. My friend: (1) When we make the same amount regardless of how hard, fast or efficient we work, we tend to work not as hard, fast and efficient. (2) People that are perceptive-enough to figure this out aren’t usually pouring beers at a concession stand in the first place.

  2. Nathan- You said:

    “(2) People that are perceptive-enough to figure this out aren’t usually pouring beers at a concession stand in the first place.”

    What a rude, thoughtless comment to make. That’s straight out of Frederick Taylor, who thought people were “stupid” or they would have otherwise found better jobs than shoveling coal or whatever it was.

    If someone has a simple job (pouring beer), then they are likely to find a better way of doing that simple thing. There’s a lot of creativity and ability in people, even in the uneducated or those in “bad” jobs.

    Don’t be so closed minded to think they couldn’t come up with improvements if asked. Quick and Easy Kaizen wouldn’t work there? Give me a break.


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