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What Salt and Pepper Shakers Can Teach You About Process-Oriented Thinking

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On virtually every restaurant table in the world lies a salt and pepper shaker. A moment of contemplation reveals that this design makes for highly efficient workflow.

Salt and pepper are unusual resources in the world of food preparation since, unlike most ingredients, they do not require refrigeration and do not spoil after a few days or weeks of sitting out. When compared with other spices, salt and pepper are not particularly valuable. Leaving them unprotected on a table does not present an attractive prize for petty thieves. They are often used together, so although the raw ingredients might come from distant corners of the earth, they are presented, side-by-side, to the hungry patron. With their handy assistance for last-minute customization of food, it’s not surprising that salt and pepper shakers are everywhere.

Salt and Pepper

© Flickr user clifford.rodhe

In fact, this tradition makes it so that almost any change in this formula results in frustration. If the salt and pepper shakers are stored halfway across the table from each other, you are constantly asking your fellow diner to “pass the salt.” Though the addition of either substance can be done by the chef, it limits a patron’s ability to control the last-minute customization of their food and increases the establishment’s liability. Furthermore, changing the delivery technology from shakers to say, open bowls filled with spices, will not only attract the concern of the health department but will probably lead to more messes for waitstaff to clean up.

Needless to say, the current salt and pepper system is highly effective, but not necessarily perfect. In recent years, some may have noticed several innovations to the classic shakers. With a desire for pepper to be freshly ground, an integrated crushing mechanism is often provided. Instead of having the shakers stand solemnly on the table, plastic or wire racks now neatly hold the entire range of powdered and liquid toppings. With the recent interest in nutritional awareness, many eateries have also taken note to the health concerns of patrons, and therefore now offer salt alternatives. The opportunity to improve workflow is everywhere.

If your business seems as well-solved as salt and pepper, we urge you to reconsider the circumstances. There are always opportunities to work smarter. The challenge is finding the most impactful choices and implementing changes that actually stick.

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