Lunch Room Lean

Rick Bohan
12.12.2014

One of the fun parts about lean consulting (as compared with implementing lean for a single employer) is that I get to see a variety of environments and figure out how the lean tools can be applied.  A few months ago, a couple of colleagues and I got a state grant to help two school districts implement lean concepts and tools in three of their support services departments: buildings and grounds, transportation (the buses), and, yes, the cafeterias.

I’ve especially enjoyed working with the lunch room ladies.  We’re not far down the road but it’s an exciting place to implement lean tools.  I visited the lunch rooms during morning prep and production and service to the students.  I’m telling you, it’s a faster paced environment than you might suspect.

Here are some of the factors that make the kitchens fun for a lean practitioner:

  • There’s no such thing as a late delivery.  Those kids are storming through those lunch room doors at 10:45 whether the food is ready or not.
  • The lunch rooms I visited make about 80 breakfasts, then turn around and make a few hundred lunches.
  • The flow of work is constant from the moment the lunch ladies arrive early in the morning until the cafeteria and kitchen is cleaned up after the last student walks out of the lunchroom.  There are no breaks.
  • Small problems compound quickly.  Can’t find an instant read thermometer to check the temp of the meat loaf?  That might mean the meat loaf cools and has to go back into the warmer.  That might mean the main meal won’t be ready when those students line up with their trays.
  • One of the lunch rooms I visited had five different stations, each with it’s own menu.  That’s a lot more variety than I was accustomed to back in my day.
  • Menus change regularly.  That means raw materials and production processes change regularly.

I could go on.

Right now we’re working to improve the procurement process.  Then we’ll be moving on to the production processes.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

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