If Restaurants Were Like Hospitals

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We’ve all been to brunch on Saturday or Sunday. You know it must be good if there is a line of people out the door, waiting for a table. Sometimes it’s frustrating because you’ll see empty tables in the restaurant, yet people are waiting.

Why are they waiting? Why can’t they fill up the tables?

The Reason? The kitchen is backed up.

When the kitchen is backed up, you’ll be forced to wait for a long time for your food, and restaurants have a goal to get you in and out to turn the table over quickly. The more tables they turn over, the more customers they can get, and more money can be made. Restaurants thrive on repeat business, so customer experience is extremely important. Making customers wait for a table allows the customer experience to run smoothly. They control their flow by matching demand to capacity.

 Wait – hospitals don’t match demand to capacity? 

The simple answer: no. Hospitals don’t have much control over their capacity, unless they turn patients away (which they try not to do, but sadly, is happening more frequently right now).

 Once the patients arrive, those who are the sickest get beds the soonest. Imagine if you went to a restaurant and you got a table based on who was the hungriest? And, hospitals will fill their rooms to capacity, regardless of whether or not the rest of the hospital is backed up. If the hospital doesn’t have any beds (or staff) available, patients stay in the emergency room. Discharges rarely happen at night, so if a patient needs to be admitted at night and there aren’t any beds available for them to be admitted to, they’ll stay in the emergency room for the whole night. They sometimes have to wait until noon the following day to get a bed.

 If that were a restaurant? You would be seated and then the kitchen would close. You would have to wait at your table until the kitchen opened back up and then you’d have to wait for the other patrons to leave before they could start cooking your food. That kind of service would never be tolerated for any other type of customer, yet patients, families, and staff tolerate it every day.

The point here is that no one likes waiting, but waiting is worse once you are in the process. If we design our hospital flows with a goal of moving patients seamlessly through the process, we’ll see happier patients, better outcomes, and far better financial statements.

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