My son played football in high school, and one of the things that “football parents” were asked to do was to work at the stadium concession stand a few times during the season. Lucky me, I got to work at the cash register. This included filling orders for candy, gum, and drinks as well as passing out hot food items.

It quickly became apparent that we had a HUGE choice on hand. There were at least 7 flavors of hard candy, 6 types of candy bars, and 8 flavors of beverages. While (from a Lean perspective) this might lead to some inventory challenges, it also provided the customers with a great choice and selection, which is what they want, right?

Unfortunately, the impact was to slow the whole process down while kids and their parents hemmed and hawed about which flavor to pick, or which candy bar to choose. “Oh I don’t know, what flavors do you have? Could I hear those again? OK, I guess I’ll try… hmmm… grapefruit! Oh – you don’t have grapefruit? Could I hear those choices again?”

In hindsight, we could have posted up signs like the fast-food restaurants do, so that people coming up to the window could see and choose in advance. And, there may have been other solutions as well. Would one of those solutions have included… LIMITING the choices?

I was thinking about this the other day while in a local fast-food place. It occurred to me that in the beginning, you had basically a choice of 3 hamburgers and 4 soft drinks plus fries and a pre-made dessert. Everything was pre-made and when you ordered it, it was placed in a bag for you and then you left. However, as the menu has evolved over time, in the interest of keeping fresh choices in front of the customer and “giving them what they want,” it seems to me that we have also a) increased the selection time needed; b) increased the noise level (all those frappucino mixers!) and c) increased the wait time.

Now that we have an astounding number of choices, much less can be made up ahead of time, and so each order gets prepared individually. Yes, you can “have it your way.” But the cost is that it isn’t really fast food anymore, is it? Between waiting in line (counter or drive-through), moving through the selection process, paying, and waiting for the food, it can take just as long at the fast-food resteurants as at many other local places.

What do you think? Do you have any other experiences to share where the trade-off between complexity and speed is apparent?

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