Weekend Process: Conference Tea and Coffee Service

My blogging has been pretty sparse lately, really just conference blogging, although I have a lot of good posts about products and ideas that are half-finished. I also like to occasionally post about some process that I experience that’s either really good or really bad, and will try to get to those on a weekend when I’m feeling a bit more relaxed about writing.

Today, my weekend process is about the tea and coffee service at conferences, as pictured below:

Conference tea

This happened to be at the TIBCO conference at the Aria hotel in Las Vegas, but this same scene is repeated in most places where I see tea and coffee service. I realize that I’m in the minority as a tea drinker, but check out the flow (from right to left) since it has a detrimental impact on you coffee drinkers, too:

  1. First, grab a cup. That makes total sense as the place to start. If it’s a cardboard cup, also grab a cup sleeve so that you don’t burn your fingers. But wait – the lids are also here. What do you do with a lid at this point, when there is nothing in your cup yet? The options include:
    • Ignore the lids, then backtrack later and cut through the line to get one.
    • Pick one up and put it in your pocket or bag.
    • Pick one up, then put it down again every time you need your hand for something else, such as filling your cup or adding condiments.
  2. Coffee and hot water. If you’re a coffee drinker, that’s great. If you’re a tea drinker that likes to add the tea bag first before the water, you’re out of luck, because the tea bags are down the line with the cream and sugar. Tea options include:
    • Step out of line, find a bag, then return to the line, probably at the beginning again.
    • Resign yourself to an inferior cup of tea, and fill your cup with hot water with the hope of reaching the tea bags before the water cools too much.
    • Pull a tea bag out of your pocket or bag and add it to your cup (this is why you will see me at conferences stuffing tea bags into my pocket), although that can get you labeled as a bit of an eccentric.
  3. Cream, sugar and other condiments. Plus the tea bags. By now, if you’re a coffee drinker and have a cardboard cup, you might be realizing that you don’t have a lid. If you’re a tea drinker, not only do you not have a lid, but you’re trying to push a tea bag down into the prefilled cup of hot water. If you carried your cup with you from step 1, it’s likely been put down and picked up several times already to get to this step, or even lost along the way.

This process contains a number of unnecessary interrupting events that cause loopbacks, and doesn’t do much for helping with crowd flow.

I have seen this done once correctly, although I can’t recall the hotel or conference center that did it. Their coffee/tea service was organized as follows:

  1. Cups, cup sleeves and tea bags.
  2. Coffee and hot water urns.
  3. Cream, sugar and other condiments.
  4. Cup lids.

Steps 3 and 4 could be combined, but better left separate for those who take their drink without cream or sugar, and can therefore bypass the usually time-consuming step 3 altogether.

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