Guest Column - July/August 2006
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Optimizing Staffing Levels in Food Courts: A Case Study at Mountain Creek

Operational Excellence

By Shannon Mcsweeney

The team structure

An important part of OE is the selection and training of Black Belts, like Hession, who become experts in Lean Six Sigma and lead the team-based process improvement projects. Working with Black Belts, Green Belts are responsible for implementing or "replicating" the OE pilot projects in their zones. A Project Sponsor acts as the owner of the project, selects the project team, serves as a mentor for the Black Belt, and resolves any conflicts or roadblocks to success.

OE will be one of the largest training and education efforts in the history of LTG and will provide the skills and experience required to successfully complete the Lean Six Sigma projects. LTG's most senior leaders and the Black Belt candidates have received more than 2,000 person days of training on OE and the Lean Six Sigma methodology, including four to six months of classroom training plus continued coaching from Master Black Belts. A second wave of Black Belt candidates currently are being trained across LTG for the next set of initiatives.

Mountain Creek's project

At Mountain Creek, the pilot project was "Optimizing Staffing Levels in Food Courts," led by Black Belt Hession and Project Sponsor Frank DeBerry, director of Resort Operations. Simply stated, the goal was to support growth in EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization) by decreasing labor 1 percent in food courts through the more efficient utilization of staff.

The team focused on cooks, which accounted for the highest labor costs, and then calculated the maximum and staggered output demand, as well as the maximum production capacity of the existing process. Over several months, they charted each step in the process and the time required to complete each individual task, then organized the tasks into a repetitive process that can be recreated easily by food-court cooks, finding opportunities to cross currently defined roles and combine tasks performed to decrease head count and maximize efficiency.

For example, the Food & Beverage staff charted each individual step and the time required for a cook to prepare and serve burgers, chicken fingers, pizza and fries. After doing a statistical analysis of key measurements and variables, Hession found that 60 percent of a cook's time was "downtime," that is, waiting for hamburgers to cook. The team then set out to increase efficiency by finding and testing solutions to the root causes and identifying the two to three variables that would have the biggest impact. After determining specific actions that could be handled more efficiently, solutions were implemented through a new streamlined process that maximized efficiency and reduced downtime. For example, while burgers are in the broiler, the cook fills and drops fries and chicken fingers into the fryer, then unloads the burgers, places them on buns already waiting, then wraps the finished burgers.

The new process was rolled out during a few weeks of training, with special focus on getting the staff's acceptance. According to Hession, this "change management" was one of the keys to the success of the project, ensuring the front-line stakeholders understood the benefits.

"At first they thought it was just more work, but by the end, they really liked that we had an organized process and strong plan to handle business volumes," he says.

By building a more efficient process for each task and better organizing the work space, one cook could now perform multiple duties in less time, allowing fewer cooks to prepare a greater amount of food in the same amount of time, thereby reducing head count (from six cooks to one cook) and vastly increasing efficiency.

As the last step, the team then documented its results and built a replication package that details the standard operating procedures, which are being replicated across all Intrawest resorts. This will result in a 1 percent decrease in food-court labor across all Intrawest resorts. "OE has given Mountain Creek and Intrawest the chance to look at processes and make decisions based on facts instead of gut feelings," Hession says. "Our food court will better handle peak demand with less people, working with less effort."


Shannon McSweeney is communications manager for Mountain Creek in Vernon, N.J. For more information, visit