I was in Boston this weekend with my wife and we were told the best place for breakfast was Paramount’s. As we waited in line to order food, I noticed their sign told us to “Please Order and Pay before being seated”. They claimed not saving a table “ensures all customers will have a table when needed” and although “it may seem hard to believe, it’s been working well since 1937”. Like much in lean this seemed counterintuitive. I decided to do a few time observations while we waited in line. Fortunately, my wife puts up with my curiosity.
Customers came out of the breakfast line and cashier every 90 seconds. So, customers needed a table every 90 seconds (Takt Time). I watched several tables that were filled before we sat down and the time to eat was about 18 minutes. (This is not the type of place where you bring the paper and the server keeps filling your coffee. )
If customers were sitting down at a table every 90 seconds and it takes 18 minutes to eat, the restaurant would need 12 tables to balance the seating capacity with customer requirements (Cycle Time/Takt Time). The restaurant has 14 tables. So, the overall system Cycle Time (think "drop off rate") was less than Takt Time. I convinced myself, and my wife, why their seating policy worked.
I am confident that Paramount’s system works and that now...and in the future, we will not have to save a table. One should always be available (assuming no substantial change in Takt Time). I wonder if when they started in 1937 they fully understood why it worked. Oh well, perhaps all that really matters is that their breakfast is outstanding and customers keep returning.