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From Port to Plate: How Legal Sea Foods Is Improving Through Lean

by Lean Leaper
August 6, 2018

From Port to Plate: How Legal Sea Foods Is Improving Through Lean

by Lean Leaper
August 6, 2018 | Comments (3)

Legal Sea Foods is working with LEI to help launch a movement to change everything about the way traditional restaurants work. Legal, a family business founded in 1950, with more than 30 locations, has been working with LEI for the past four years to change the way restaurants work. In everything from greeting and seating guests to re-thinking how they organize their walk-in coolers and schedule shifts, lean is having a huge impact on everything it does.

In this recent podcast, Executive Chef Rich Vellante and LEI Senior Coach Josh Howell discuss some of the challenges that Legal has addressed using the ingredients of lean. While few restaurants today apply lean explicitly, the food industry represents a huge opportunity for improvement. Many of the lessons learned at Legal have broader relevance for other restaurants and food purveyors, as these two discuss.

For example, the Legal Crossing restaurant is located across the street from the Boston Opera House, which creates a surge of pre-theater guests all wanting their food at roughly the same time. Vallente says through an in-depth kaizen event, they were able to break down the problem. “We realized that there is a takt, there are cycle times, there are lead times and we have to really understand what they are. So what  is the sequence, who is involved in that sequence,” he says, adding, “you literally can figure out how often people come in and how long they stay and how quickly you have to seat them.” Such an outlook enabled the time to “come up with a model of what to measure, what you can control, and what you can’t control.”

This work helped them explore the meaning of what they observed, and to come up with “aha moments” about whether hosts should seat every customer and which servers should be assigned to guests. Seeing the work in careful detail was eye-opening, says Rich. The team realized that “We have to rethink this legacy model of how we approach this.”

Subsequent experiments helped them rethink who should seat guests, how servers should be assigned to tables, and other small improvements that boosted overall performance. Vallente says that even the staunchest resisters of change now concede that the feeling of being overwhelmed has leveled off. And, after two years of a 4.1 rating from Open Table, Legal Crossing has boosted its score over the most recent period to 4.4.

For more on this story, check out the WLEI Podcast

Richard Vellante, Legal Sea Foods' Executive Chef will be giving a free presentation at LEI headquarters this August 21, 2018. Drinks and snacks will be provided. To register please go to https://www.eventbrite.com/e/why-yes-chef-is-no-longer-the-answer-a-new-view-on-restaurant-ops-tickets-48432413653


The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
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3 Comments | Post a Comment
Mark Graban August 06, 2018
1 Person AGREES with this comment

I'm impressed that they would do what it takes to meet pre-theater customer needs (that bulk arrival of customers) instead of just saying "it can't be done."

That detailed level of process design... starting with customer needs and being driven to figure it out... we need more of that in healthcare. 

"The way we've always done it" or "It can't be done better" are dangerous traps for any organization.

Thanks for sharing the story.

I'd, of course, love to see a Run Chart of their Yelp score over time with multiple data points instead of just a two-data point comparison ;-)

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Joe Loucks August 16, 2018

I loved this podcast.  My wife works in the food service industry, and one of her contemporaries is fond of saying to me, "You can't kaizen food."  To which, I usually reply, "Sure you can!  Do you order more than you need?  Do you over-prep?  Are you saying your processes could not be improved?"  The Legal example, shows that these tools and Lean thinking can be applied nearly anywhere, and that they work!  Thank you for a great case study.

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Carmen Cunha August 16, 2018

I work in fast food. A lot of waste happens like: inventory:

Inventory thrown away because timimg was due.

Cause: lack of FIFO visual management. (People rush into dry store room/freezer/chiller/heater and grab what they need with NO time to check dates on boxes. Solution: a green hard small washable card/metal on the pile/ rack/drawer that has to go first. The card moves, not the product piles that keep coming 4 times  a week.



for information on when products ordered by cashiers do not come in the expected 10 seconds.

Solution: comunication! If an ingredient is missing, the kitchen tells cashiers "waiting 5 min on this ingredient"


When cashiers redo a customer order after doing it and THEN discovering an ingredient/ product is missing or late. They unbuild the order, putting ingredients/products back in hot/cold front storage,and when all is there, they build it again.


Also, thry don't unbuild the order when the information of lack/delay is given, the customer complains their food  is going cold just standing there, and cashiers bin it and rebuild the order ehen all Products/ingrefiingr ate ready for that order or orders for the same customer.

Solution: only build tge order/orders for same customer when ALL products/ingrefieing are there or, having that information of lack or delay, let the customer decide if other options ( if he accepts another ingredient instead or if he wants to wait). 



Wrong product given to customer most frequently when special orders (no sauce, different sauce, no lettuce, extra lettuce, etc) then has to be binned and fone again. Reprocessing and waiting add to defects waste.

Solution: comunication (stickers (color or with info) or kitchen shouting that special order is in the shute, besides the slready existing special orders lane in the shute, but when peaks happens, special orders happen too. Checking the special product adds to this waste. The cashirt OPENS the sandwich box to check if that certsin sauce, or that slice of cheese is there, othereiso he will have a complaint in seconds, has to ask for nrw product, other customers in the queue put to hold to take a complaint and the bad service impression it created on all customers in the queue.

Motion: stocking up dry ingredients/ packaging in peak moments and only one at a time, not taking and bringing back in the same walk, a lot of spaguetti walking to build deliveroo orders because order in on one side of restaurant, computer for the deliveroo order is on the other side of the redtsurant and kerping order hot untill deliveroo arrives is in the middle of the kitchen, picking it again from the middle of the kitchen when deliveroo arrives, and it comes in the door on the othet side of the kitchen.

Solution: put deliveroo computer and hot storage all next to the door they come in, stocking up very fully off peak minutes, taking and bringing stuff every time people walk to and from storage area. Bringing more stock with a tray, a box, etc to maximize walks for stocking up front.


Delivery truck arrives and is placed in one area for counting, then placed in stock area, far from utilisation area. Examples bib syrup are heavy boxes that are moved/transported 3 times before used. Same applies to 12 big bottle cases.


Solution: when taken out from truck goes dtrsighs to place buy separated to be counted and FIFO management, using the green card to separate what already exists to be used first.

Over producing:

when too much short time byproducts are made and have to do them again because they were wasted because time of conservation expired. 


Solution: make smaller batches of byproducts more frequently. Having time to do them by not wasting time doing things that add no value to the customer, like transporting, inventory sesrching and waste,  motion walking back and forth too many times, waiting for products or information, over producing and then wasting, over processing and last but not the least,not using people's skills, potential, ideas because they thoroughly know what happens in their stations and can suggest solutions as soon as they learn to see waste.

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