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8 “Lean” Tips For Hosting A Large Holiday Gathering

Lean Holiday Gathering

Hosting a large holiday gathering can be a stressful event.  Believe it or not, you can apply the principles of lean manufacturing and the “7 deadly wastes” to change that.  Now, you may not associate relatives and pumpkin pie with Henry Ford’s assembly line or the Toyota Production System.  However, with a light-hearted, lean mindset and best practices, you can minimize stress and maximize enjoyment for everyone – including yourself.  Here are eight tips to show you how:

1) Collaborate Proactively – If you’re working together with others on a menu, coordinate this effort first.  Check your pots, pans, serving platters, and all serving utensils to make sure you have everything you need before shopping.

2) Shop Once – Make one grocery list, check cupboards thoroughly before the trip, and shop when the crowds are smaller.  If this is your first time hosting or baking and you want to save on “inventory,” you can borrow that roasting pan from Grandma.  You could even ask for a half cup of this or tablespoon of that, for those lesser used ingredients.  This will prevent filling your own cupboards with excess that won’t get used.  Managing the shopping step well can avoid “wasted motion,” “over-processing,” and “rework” from extra grocery runs.

3) Prepare, Prepare, Prepare – Like restaurants, it helps your cooking processes and flow to prep as much as possible ahead of time.  Chopping the onions and celery for the dressing, or making sweet potatoes and vegetable casseroles the day before, will streamline the cooking process and reduce potential delays.  The same goes for cold dishes, like deviled eggs or potato salad, and desserts.  Make sure you have enough ice, too!

4) Set The Table – A key preparation process is setting the tables.  We like to make it as easy as possible for our guests to get through the food line without bottlenecks, and without carrying too much.  We also like to minimize trips back to the kitchen, unless it’s for a second helping.  Therefore, all serving utensils, drinks, and condiments are on the table.  The food (assembly?) line goes faster and the fellowship is greater.

5) Manage Cooking Times – For a standard meal of turkey, side dishes, and rolls, with just one oven, calculate your respective times and plan accordingly.  Cooking your turkey in a bag and/or covering it with towels when it’s done, will keep it warm long after you cook your side dishes.  Cover the side dishes or use warming plates while you finish off with the rolls.  At our house, warm food that has gone cold is considered an unacceptable “defect.”

6) Optimize Workflow – This applies to food preparation, the food line, and the meal itself.  It’s more relaxing to socialize with early guests as you mix prepared ingredients vs. starting from scratch.  As kitchen space fills up with others, you’ll appreciate not having to move around as much.  Food placement is an issue with many family gatherings.  On the food line, the gravy should be right after the mashed potatoes, turkey, and stuffing.  Consider that everyone has a plate in one hand, so make sure that serving is easy with the other free hand.  Manage your outlets for warm dishes and plan the food line in advance – not at the last minute.  If you have pets, make sure they’re fed and out of the flow of traffic.  We pray as a group and start the food line while the rolls are finishing up, just to keep everything organized and flowing.  If you have any guests who need extra time or help, consider getting them started and settled first.

7) Establish Roles & Responsibilities – The 8th waste of lean thinking is the loss of people’s potential.  The larger the gathering, the more important it is to have a team.  This applies to all the steps above, but especially when you’re getting down to serving and eating.  Who’s icing the drink glasses?  Who’s serving and refilling drinks?  Is it easier to bring casserole dishes and rolls to the table, so guests won’t have to get up?  Think about your menu, guests, supply needs, and team and don’t be afraid to delegate.  This minimizes confusion, motion, and “transport.”  As in other organizations, people tend to enjoy playing a part and making a difference.

 8) Document Best Practices – If this is a one-time deal, you can skip this step.  Otherwise, document and save your supply list, grocery list, and team roles and responsibilities for the next time.  Make note of any food line or serving processes that worked or didn’t work.  How was the timing?  If recipes need to be scaled up or down for different size groups, write that down too.  This could change your supply list as well as grocery list.  The more your build upon your own experience, the more you can plan and enjoy the next one.  One drawback – you may get asked to host all future holidays!

This is obviously a tongue-in-cheek blog on lean.  You might have several critical adjectives to describe someone who thinks this much about one meal.  But is it really so different at work to think about all of our business processes using the same lean principles?  Isn’t it better for all this to happen behind the scenes so your customers (guests) can simply relax and enjoy your service experience?

Please feel free to share your own lean tips and have a blessed holiday!

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Edward Livesay

Edward Livesay

Co-Founder & Strategist at Mosaic Strategic partners
Edward Livesay is a business and financial strategist with over 16 years of consultative experience. His work has generated millions of dollars in growth and savings for business and government clients.
Edward Livesay

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