If you don't understand WIP limits, ask your waiter

March 26, 2022
An hour wait, with open tables. Why?

Last night, to mark our last dinner in the US before returning to Amsterdam today, my wife and son and I went to dinner at a nice Italian restaurant in Galveston, Texas, with my brother-in-law and his family.

We arrived around 5pm, and had to wait just over an hour for our party of 8 to be seated.

While we were waiting near the host’s stand, we could see into the dining room. There were many empty tables. Probably half of the tables were empty at any given time. Other would-be guests kept arriving, and asking for a seat. Parties of 2 were routinely told 45 minutes to wait. Parties of 5 or more were given times of up to 2 and a half hours.

All the while with empty tables.

What gives?

The hostess on duty kept explaining to the new arrivals, “We’re extremely understaffed right now. We do have tables, but we don’t have enough staff to serve the tables.”

This is a perfect example of a WIP limit.

A less experienced hostess may have tried to seat the dining room to capacity. But what would be the result?

That 2-hour wait at the host’s stand would become a 2-hour wait at the table.

Actually, it’s worse than that. The wait at the table would inevitably have been longer. Perhaps double or even worse, because serving too many tables is harder and slower than serving at or below the waiter’s capacity (I can say this from experience, having been a waiter for several years in my younger days).

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