Shortening queues in the hospital cafeteria

At the Palamós Hospital cafeteria, peaks in service were occurring, causing queues among both staff and external visitors. By applying Lean problem solving methodology, waiting times were shortened by between 54% and 70%. As a result, customer satisfaction improved and sales increased by 7.3%.

Person responsible for the Good Practice

Xavier Garcia

Quality and Environment Manager



The project was carried out by Emporhotel, a company that provides the catering services at Palamós Hospital. It was implemented in the hospital cafeteria in the mornings, with support from the hospital quality team.

The cafeteria tables for hospital staff were separated from those for external customers, but the self-service bar was open to everyone. This situation caused too many queues, as staff would arrive in groups to have breakfast and produce peaks in service, which then created discomfort among customers and workers. The cafeteria staff at that time were unable to manage the situation effectively.

Lean methodology was used to solve the problems in the hospital cafeteria. With the help of the A3 tool, the situation was analysed during the morning shift, including schedules, task distribution and the staff’s problems. This information was complemented with observation of the work place (Gemba), providing information on the physical space, thereby corroborating our prior information.

In addition, the following data was analysed:

▪      How often a customer came in (Takt Time).
▪      Time between a customer arriving to the moment they left with their order (Lead Time)
▪      Waiting time for service.
▪      Out of the total number of customers, what percentage was external to the hospital and how many were hospital staff.
▪      Consumption data.
▪      Demand peaks.
▪      Products in highest demand.
▪      The tasks carried out by the waiters were identified and the time they spent on them were monitored (Cycle Time).

All this information, along with an observation process, helped detect the causes of the chaos. It was concluded that waiters lacked space and their task assignment was not clear enough.
To solve the situation, standards were established, with the help of the workers, and the workplace was reorganised. As a result, there was greater organisation, everyone knew what they had to do at any given moment and stress levels were reduced.

To confirm that the new standards were being followed and were working, workplace observations with the team repeated for two more days, so adjustments could be made and the first PDCA round (plan, do, check and act) finalised.

The results have been very good, as queues have gone down, morning shift sales have increased and both waiters and the customers are happier.



Coinciding with the hospital staff’s breakfast time, peaks in service were occurring the cafeteria that were overwhelming the staff and causing the following problems:

▪      Dirty cups and plates were building up in the bars
▪      Snacks were running out and had to be made to order.
▪      Queues were developing, with an average 6 minutes’ waiting time.
▪      Customers were being lost, as were some hospital staff, as they preferred not to wait and chose to go elsewhere.
▪      Waiters were stressed and over-worked.

For this reason two objectives were set: reducing waiting times to improve workers’ and customers’ satisfaction and optimising waiters' tasks. Both objectives were to be met within 2 months.



Time optimisation. Waiting times decreased between 54% and 70%, i.e. from 6 minutes on average at the start (11 minutes at peak times) to 1.5 - 2.3 minutes on average after implementing the project.

Employee satisfaction . Increased significantly. Data based on random questions during the morning shift without a formal survey.

Customer satisfaction. Increased significantly. Data based on random questions during the morning shift without a formal survey.

Increase in turnover. In two months, sales in the morning shift increased by 7.3%.

Management scopes

Develop the organisation's capacity

Manage with agility




10.001 - 25.000€


It is recommendable to provide initial training in Lean methodology for the team that will lead the project so they can become familiar with and master the tools used later during the process.

▪      It is essential that the project be carried out by a cross-departmental team of workers. It is also important to involve the supervisor to ensure leadership for the teams and implementation of all the measures agreed upon during the project.
▪      All the data and analysis extracted from the project should be verified in the workplace, i.e. assumptions should not be made based on experience; instead, information must be corroborated at first hand.
▪      Finally, it is very important to use regular audits to ensure that application of the new solutions is maintained (new standards, relocation of the workplace, new schedules, etc.).


Miquel Ortega

Fran Tejero

Lalis Fontcuberta

Cristina Fontcuberta

Supplier / Partner

Comtec Quality, SA

Strategy and management consulting company

Published on*** 25 Sep 2018


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