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February 2001

Welcome to Throughput Capacity Management

By Emily Pacifico, Contributing Editor

If you’re like most people in facilities design, you already have the general idea,
and maybe a pretty good one, on throughput: Match up the kitchen, the menu, the
service system and the seating capacity. Nothing exactly new there.

And if you’re with one of the really big quick-service outfits, maybe you’ve refined that
idea to a near-science. But for most of the industry, throughput analysis remains, shall
we say, imprecise. So even if you have a smooth-running facility, you know it’s, well,
smooth. But you still don’t know how smooth and fast it could be.

Harrumph, you say? Challenge yourself. You know, for example, your checks or covers
by daypart. You probably know your sales mix by food product. But do you know your mix
by cook station? Ask yourself how much product gets grilled per hour, for example. Now
figure the variances by daypart. Now compare that to your grill area capacity. Now, how
do those factors relate to your seating capacity?

Or how about your service system? Think through how you coordinate your
busser-server-runner routine in the context of your layout, and figure out how that
system influences not only sales but speed of table turns. You get the idea. The factors
impacting your throughput are far too numerous to list here.

Say Yes, I Want More…Or Less

But what if you could get hold of a set of tools that would let you measure and analyze
every aspect of your operation, from production workload to service delivery to
equipment placement? And what if the results led to increased peak period table turns
by as much as, say, 25%, and, without adding staff, increased kitchen throughput
speed by hundreds of dollars per hour?  

Those are just two of the potential benefits of applying a rigorous, systematic approach
to “tuning” design and operations that Brian Sill, FCSI, has been working on. He calls
the process Throughput Capacity Management.

Sill’s been on the circuit for a year or more now, showing operators and facilities
consultants alike what he’s found out about fine-tuning foodservice—and urging
everyone to take a second look at their operations. Along the way, he’s conducted
panel discussions around the country with execs from such clients as UK-based Bass
Restaurant Group, which runs five concepts and 460-plus units; Metromedia Family
Steakhouses, parent to Ponderosa and Bonanza Steakhouses; and Red Robin,
describing what TCM studies have done for them.

“TCM’s a process for quantifying brand standards and reworking them to achieve their
full potential,” says Sill, principal and cofounder of Deterministics, a management
systems and foodservice consulting firm based in Kirkland, Wash. Or, described
another way, “TCM is industrial design for foodservice opera­tions.”

Defining your positioning in precise terms—your food product, your sales mix, your
service product and your customers’ expectations—is the first part of TCM. And getting
your layout and service systems really in line is the second part.

You Can’t Manage What You Can’t Measure

The general principals of TCM aren’t new, exactly. What’s new, though, are the
specifics tailored to the restaurant industry, Sill says. As a formalized discipline, with
very concrete mathematical tenets and measurement criteria, TCM is the culmination
of years of R&D by Sill. A veteran of the foodservice industry for almost 30 years, he long
ago came to the conclusion that “every work position, process or facility in a restaurant
has a capacity that can be measured, and therefore, managed.” Or, more simply put, “If
you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it!”

Sill describes TCM as a discipline (note that word, discipline) that incorporates three key
elements: new measurement tools, predictive brand standards, and understanding true

Sounds a little intimidating, maybe. But Sill maintains that you don’t need to be an
engineer to re-engineer your business. TCM brand management tools, simple powers of
observation, a stopwatch, and standardized process steps are the basics of this new

So, how do you determine the full potential of your foodservice operation? Sill advocates
a three-step process to achieve a balance of the right people, doing the right things, at
the right times to grow the business. Step one is to measure your existing resource
capacities in labor, production and back-of-house design and equipment. Are they doing
what they’re supposed to be doing, or are people doing things in their own way, and
every way? (Sill’s term for this is “service variation.”) 

Step two is to measure your guest demand patterns, satisfaction and dissatisfaction, and
how guests choose to interact with your particular brand. The third step is to calculate
ideal production and service levels by factoring step one with step two, balancing supply
with demand.

“The trick for us is to identify those key areas of data collec­tion and measurement that
can be easily trained, then automate the capacity calculations with software so that you
don’t need to be a statistician or industrial engineer to learn the answer,” he says.
Sounds challenging, but Sill notes the TCM software does most of the work, automating
the capacity calculations, taking the guesswork out of the equations. 

Better Work, Better Retention

Once you’ve measured your true potential, the next step is to take a close look at how
work is performed via “Work Study Technique,” which enables an operation to control its
service variation. “The study of work in the TCM discipline serves to clarify the purpose of
work, or the lack thereof,” he says.  

One of the many measurable benefits of TCM has been the reduction of employee
turnover, which Sill attributes to reducing divisions of labor and redesigning work
assignments and stations to encourage employees to connect with what they do. The
Work Study Technique’s a simple process that doesn’t have to require a huge
investment of time, but can open your eyes to wasted time and motion. 

As for back-of-house specifics, smooth kitchen flow is critical to success. The finest
cooks and the best equipment won’t offset the potential profit killers of poor design and
too much (or too little) labor.  

An Eye To Cook Deployment

Sill says his software calculates cook deployment at back of the house, and enables the
operator to, among other things, explore alternatives to relieve congestion at peak times,
more convenient equipment placement, and changes to the facility design itself. In fact,
innovative equipment changes can include right sizing of chargrills, expo areas, server
stations, buffet stations, fryer and microwave cooking batteries, as well as simplifying
tabletop designs. In summary, Sill says, “If you put deployment modeling into the hands
of those who control design decisions, TCM is the connection between innovation and implementation.” 

He points out that this tactic can cost money if it reveals that reconfiguring food­service
equipment could maximize the use of floor space­, or even conclude that some
equipment may need to be added, deleted or changed. However, in the long run, the
in­vestment in making the necessary changes will be recouped rapidly with the resulting
new throughput. 

Big Customers, Big Names

Cook deployment modeling, a core technique of TCM, can profoundly impact
back-of-house operations—as found when Metromedia decided to reinvent Ponderosa
from the oversaturated mid-scale budget steakhouse segment to the fast family casual
segment. A new prototype in Johnstown, Pa., came under review. A capacity analysis of
the new design revealed that ovens shared by the buffet cooks and line cooks caused
considerable cross trafficking in production areas. Access to the single walk-in also
resulted in extensive walk time as cooks gathered their raw ingredients for production.
Bottlenecks occurred frequently at the buffet fryer area, while the cookline fryers were

After studying the cook deployment model of the new prototype, the ovens were
consolidated into the highest use area and undercounter refrigerated and frozen storage
was added to reduce steps and save worker time. All fryers were consolidated into a
single station with improved worker and equipment utilization. 

These three relatively simple changes, indicated by the TCM cook deployment model,
resulted in a 33% reduction in cook labor in the prototype kitchen. No need to elaborate
on the impact in reducing worker stress, not to mention the obvious plus-profit

Sauté-Less In Seattle

It’s not always possible to rearrange ovens and fryers, tear out walls or buy different
equipment, of course. TCM advocates taking a holistic approach to any foodservice
operation and, rather than “thinking outside the box,” Sill suggests looking at what’s
happening inside the box. The TCM discipline teaches you to look at all the possible
solutions, from menu to method. There’s usually more than one way to fix a bottleneck.

A perfect example of benefits reaped through TCM is the Seattle Space Needle
restaurant, a popular stop for tourists and locals alike. Sill was brought in to solve a
problem bottleneck at the sauté position there during peak periods. Applying the TCM
discipline, he determined that 37% of all guests ordered items prepared at the sauté
station, which greatly exceeded the daily capacity of the station. This impacted everything
from recipe integrity to delivery speed and, ultimately, guest satisfaction.  

If you’re familiar with this famous Seattle landmark, you can guess that adding more
space to the kitchen to accommodate another sauté station was definitely not an option.
So with no room at the inn, so to speak, TCM showed that by reworking the menu, the
demand for sauté was reduced, and as an added bonus, the new menu increased the
use of the broiler station which was previously under-utilized. 

More With Less

With the powerful tools that TCM techniques exert on design and equipment placement,
what facility designer—operator or consultant—wouldn’t adopt them into the design

“The real beauty of TCM is the leverage it affords the whole organization,” Sill says.
“Once you know your workload distribution from a menu and facility design standpoint,
this is the same information used in your daily labor scheduling process that assures
your payback in design efficiencies are realized.”

The challenge for the future is clear, says Sill. “With thousands of oversized and tired
kitchens out there, the new launching pad is to measure existing workflows and devise
design strategies that improve your throughput and reduce equipment, square footage
and personnel requirements—to do more with less”.

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