Opening your eyes to waste in Lean hospitality

Updated: Oct 16, 2020

In my last blog post, I stated that “Lean is a culture which values workers’ contribution to improving quality and productivity”. At the heart of Lean is identifying and systematically reducing waste. But waste is more than physical stuff which goes into the bin.

What is waste

Eric Reis, author of The Lean Startup says “Lean thinking defines value as providing benefit to the customer. Everything else is waste.” It seems easier to define what waste is not than to describe what it is. However, I will have a go: Waste consumes resources without generating value for the customer.

For something to be of value to the customer (and therefore not waste), it must fulfil three criteria:

  1. The customer must want to pay for it;

  2. We need to change it; and

  3. We have to get it right the first time.

Reducing waste really matters. The impact of shining a light on all your processes with the aim of maximising customer value cannot be underestimated. Understanding waste is the beginning of your Lean transformation and puts you on the road to financial and operational success.

Here are some waste examples:

Think about all you do during the day which your customers would not pay for.

Categories of waste

Waste can be categorised into eight general areas:

1. Transport

Transportation waste means moving product, tools, supplies etc about more than necessary. A well-stocked trolley in a housekeeping department prevents hours of wasted transportation of products between the linen store and bedrooms.

2. Inventory

When our supplier offers a slim discount on an extra delivery of Champagne it is tempting to take up the offer...just in case. This is a perfect example of ‘anti-Lean’ inventory. Firstly we act as a warehouse for our suppliers - thereby wasting our own space. Secondly we waste our cash by buying something we do not currently need and finally all inventory deteriorates. Lean is focussed on “Just-In-Time” delivery.

3. Motion

Motion as waste is movements by staff which don’t add value and can even cause injuries. Reaching and bending should be minimised by having everything you need at your fingertips. Rummaging through a drawer for a particular knife is wasted motion.

4. Waiting

Waiting occurs when we delay delivering value to the customer. I once worked with a chef who liked to call the wait staff a minute before his plates were ready to serve. He wanted to avoid food waiting for the server, but instead traded one waste for another.

5. Overproduction

Making too much or too early is one of the most serious wastes. Prepping excessive food is an extremely common error amounting to double waste - waste in the work undertaken and the physical product being discarded as it goes out of date.

6. Overprocessing

Where overproduction can be easy to see, overprocessing is not as obvious as it involves doing more to a product than adding value. I once worked with a chef who was obsessed with making little towers of crisscrossed salad garnish on each plate. The lettuce tower would generally topple over on the way to the table and certainly wasn’t something the customer would have paid more for.

7. Defects

A defect occurs anytime your guest’s expectations are not met. This could be cold food, a long wait for drinks, a dirty wine glass or a surly check-in. The list is endless. Each and every defect generates waste - waste in time and money rectifying the problem, waste in retraining and waste in lost customers (although in most cases your customer will never let you know that your product or service did not live up to their expectations.)

8. Wasted talent

We have a huge inventory of untapped talent and creativity in every organisation. Lean thinking capitalises on this resource to drive a hotel or restaurant forward. Ken Blanchard said, “none of us is as smart as all of us.”


Muri is a special waste case and is generally thought of separately from the eight areas above. Muri is a Japanese term which loosely translates to overburdening, unreasonableness or excessiveness. This is rife in the hospitality industry. We tell ourselves that overburdening of our people by putting in the hours is the nature of our industry. This is contrary to Lean and leads to a waste of talent and creativity. Improving and transforming a hospitality business takes thought and training. If your workforce is constantly turning over and forever working too many hours they will not live up to their potential as Lean thinkers - and doers.

Opening my eyes to waste in my restaurant

I have hundreds of examples of waste reduction in the Lean transformation of my hotel and restaurant. One which springs to mind is the service of condiments.

Options include bottles, ramekins and single use sachets which are all fraught with waste. Our preference was ramekins and service staff would need to ask if the table wanted condiments (and often forgot). Then they would deliver inconsistent amounts. Mayo and mustard required spooning which was messy and of course wasteful.

During one of our regular quality meetings, we took a hard look at how we served condiments alongside customer feedback. Together we came up with a Lean solution:

  1. When the servers took the order they asked what condiments the table would like, entered it into the EPOS and this printed at the bar with the drinks.

  2. The condiments were dispensed into ramekins by the bartender using FIFO Portion Pal bottles which eliminated mess, inconsistency and residual waste.

  3. The ramekins were placed on the service bar with the order docket and they arrived at the table before the food, eliminating many return trips to tables.

In later posts, I will discuss how to plan and measure process changes to ensure we are reaching our goals.

What next

When you learn to see waste, you will see it everywhere. You will see waste when you check-in for your flight, when you buy your groceries, when you go to the doctor’s surgery, in your own home and at your kid’s school. Because it becomes obvious, you will tolerate it less. Most importantly, you will see it in your own business and you will want to eliminate it. When you systematically attack waste, you will improve your EBITDA in your hotel and restaurant and naturally increase your company's value.

Lean is an incredibly important mindset which will set your company on a course for transformation. However, it is by no means the only way to improve your hospitality business and is not always the best way. Before I continue to delve into Lean, my next blog post highlights what we do in the first days of transforming a distressed hospitality business.

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