Mar 11, 2022 • 6M

Restaurant microservices

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Ryan McQuen
Let me tell you a story.
Episode details

Restaurants had something in common with software architecture. The design trends of software in David's late 30s was one of 'microservices'. This meant that responsibilities were divided among several disparate programs. It was a continuation of the 1970s single responsibility principle ('Worse is better'). But instead of simple programs that focused on doing one thing, and doing it well, all running on one computer, the separation was more extreme. Run each program on its own computer. Now the term 'computer' was used lightly here. It wasn't as if these were physical computers purchased at some electronics store. Computers had started to virtualize computers in those days, which meant that several computers could exist on one computer, they were just slower.

So in the early days, you had many simple programs with specific intentions, now you had several virtual computers inside one computer, each with the capability of running multiple programs, but instead, choosing to run one program.

How did this relate to a restaurant? Let's pretend we have two restaurants. Giorgio's is an old-school Italian spot. Its stucco exterior colored like some ratio of sour cream mixed with safety orange paint and a touch of sand. Giorgio's manager, Pauly, despises change. The place turns a decent profit. The menu hasn't changed since they opened 43 years ago, and neither has the carpet. It was probably red and black at some point. They feature your standard noodles--including spaghetti--and breads, and bruschetta, and a decent wine list. Servers split the restaurant by sections like a pizza pie, but they don't sell pizza, due to a traumatic pizza incident in Giorgio's childhood. Each server takes care of all accommodations for a table: water refills, ordering, food delivery, beverage delivery, wine opening and presentation, clean up and busing, menu delivery, and high chair delivery. Pauly doesn't even bother hiring hosts or hostesses, he's kind of a cheapskate.

Sunrise is a modern pan-Latin fusion spot. Its model is vastly different. It doesn't even have a singular manager, but rather several co-managers. All guest tasks are split among separate workers. Water delivery is only done by the water delivery person(s). Food delivery is done by the food delivery person(s). Hosts handle seating and bring the menus with them.

An aerial view of Sunrise resembles Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater. The menus feature up-cycled material from the building that was torn down to build Sunrise. The bar is convexly curved and clear glass, with a frosted edge. Under-lit bottles line the back in every shade of neon. Sunrise's distributed model even carries to the kitchen. Where the garnish chef dresses polenta encrusted crab cakes with pomegranate pesto and shit like that.

Sunrise has been hemorrhaging money since before it opened, but they're playing the long game.

The board of directors for Sunrise all agree that the distributed service model makes for a finer dining experience. Patrons get their water faster, they get appetizers faster, and report a 10-15% increase in perceived attentiveness over the conventional single server method. They're also able to handle Friday and Saturday night dinner rushes without a significant degradation in RQ1, or an increase in TUFO, TTFFD, TTE, and, of course, TTFB2.

These are measured fanatically, with all co-managers paged when metrics fall below a pre-defined threshold, managers' bonuses are directly tied off their own responsiveness to these alerts.

Sunrise's model seemed infallible, minus, you know, the cost oppressiveness. But their efficiency seemed unmatched, until their signature 'every-table-gets-one' bread and butter basket was met with the trend of gluten conscious patrons. Every fourth patron seemed to have some unresolvable issue with Sunrise's bread and butter. Patrons incorrectly figured that telling the hostess and their order taker about how they were 'cutting back on gluten' was sufficient enough to avoid bread basket receipt, but overzealous basketeers--especially those on their first day--were all too eager to get their BPH3 up--resulting in an unforeseen communication crisis.

How could Sunrise centralize exclusions and special requests inside of their distributed model? It certainly didn't help how patrons reacted to even seeing the basket on their table. They demanded to see a manager, which meant that at least one co-manager, one assistant co-manager, and one assistant co-manager-in-training were summoned. Besides taking up so much physical space that food delivery paths all needed to be re-routed, this became such a burden that co-managers barely had time to do proper inventory checks, which had the cascading effect of Sunrise running out of all kinds of essential ingredients, somehow, bread and butter baskets never suffered supply issues. All this distraction pushed TTFFD, TTE, and TTFB through the roof, resulting in incessant paging of co-managers. So much so, that Sunrise now had a parking problem. Having 13 co-managers in the restaurant really ate up the primo parking spots, which hurt the business even more. Sunrise's online reviews, wavering at a 4.3 out of 5 average before what was internally referred to as the GI (gluten incident), were now at a staggering 2.7 out of 5.

Sunrise decided to remove the basket from their procedures entirely. This led to a brand new outrage from the Sunrise community, with social media groups creating their own backlash--the most popular of which was B.B.T.B. (bring back the basket), spearheaded by Justin Schrieffer, which included customers sharing their favorite bread basket stories, photos, and such on an incessant and particularly painful daily basis, leading to early onset of gray hair for Sunrise's CMO.


Responsiveness quotient: A direct measurement of TTFFD over TSE.


TUFO: Time until first order. TTFFD: Time to first food delivery. TTE: Time to eating. TTFB: Time to first bite. TSE: Time since entry.


Baskets per hour.