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Two sites that deal brilliantly with high traffic

Two sites that deal brilliantly with high traffic

No, not websites.

Real places.

Both intensely popular.

Both at risk of being victims of their own popularity.

Both applying simple but not easy approaches to queue management.

First the multi-award-winning Anstruther Fish Bar on the East Neuk of Fife.

We took a trip up there on a Saturday evening before we made tracks for Mongolia. It happened to be the Saturday evening that coincided with the second day of the Open Golf Championship not far up the road in St Andrews.

So, on a pleasant summer evening, it was busy.

Very busy.

Queuing out of the door busy.

Further out of the door than the queue in the photograph busy.

But we’d come a long way, with our hearts set on some award-winning fish suppers.

(And mushy peas in my case.)

((Is there a national mushy peas award?))

I took my place in the queue whilst the others walked round the harbour looking at boats.

Pretty soon I was off the street, inside the restaurant and snaking my way round the metal barriers that made anything other than orderly queuing impossible.

So no anti-social behaviour, queue-barging related stress here.

Also, once inside, the reasons for rapid progress became apparent.

There were separate queues for takeaway and people wanting to sit in the restaurant.

More significantly, one of the staff worked her way down the takeaway queue taking orders well in advance of you reaching the counter.

These orders were fed into some kind of computer system with a wall-mounted screen that showed the next few orders in the queue.

So you weren’t just moving forward all the time, you also had the reassurance of seeing your order working its way to the top.

It looked and was organised. No luck involved.

But at the same time the service was all very friendly and personal.

As if by magic, when you reached the counter your order was just coming (fresh and hot) out of the fryer and being wrapped in paper.

It hadn’t been lying under infra-red heating lights for half an hour.

Nor did you experience that sinking feeling of seeing the last piece of fish being taken out from behind the glass and given to the bloke in front of you.

You experienced the mouthwatering prospect of seeing your fish come piping hot out of the fryer and being given to you.

Just-in-time, lean manufacturing methods applied to fish suppers.

Which were very, very good by the way.

Next, what used to be the Phoenix & Firkin pub on Denmark Hill, London.

When I lived in Camberwell it was a stroke of immense good fortune that this was my local.

The Phoenix was so named because it was formerly the ticket office of Denmark Hill train station. The building burned down but was rebuilt and rose from the ashes to form the pub.

In the early 90’s the Firkin pubs were very popular and rightly so. Serving home brewed beers like Dog Bolter in a raucous but friendly, honky-tonk atmosphere.

Tragically the Firkin chain was bought out and handed over to the accountants who apparently changed most of them into O’Neills in a fit of plastic paddydom.

I’m glad I didn’t stick around long enough to see it happen.

On Friday and Saturday nights the place would be absolutely rammed.

The queue at the bar would be four or five deep along its entire length.

For the entire night.

But everyone got served quickly.

None of your tallest, loudest, prettiest favouritism at the Phoenix and Firkin.

No desperate waving of ten pound notes to catch the attention.

How so?

Firstly the supply of bar staff was in proportion to the demand for beer.

Secondly, and more importantly, each member of the team religiously worked a single three foot section of bar.

They served whoever was in front of them, and then the person behind. And so on.

They were deliberately blinkered in their approach to anyone to either side of that yard or so of serving territory.

In effect they created between eight and ten orderly sub-queues out of a scrum.

It quickly became apparent to the punters that you didn’t need to push, shove or maneuver to get served.

Even if you were five back from the bar you knew you would be served in a matter of minutes.

And so, after a while, no-one bothered to push, shove or maneuver.

Which served to further improve the already boisterous but friendly atmosphere.

An atmosphere in which a lot of beer was being sold very quickly.

What was good for the punters must have been good for the business too.

Premier League zonal marking methods applied to pouring pints.

Throughout my long and illustrious beer drinking career I’ve never seen this zonal system in use anywhere else.

It seems so simple.

But a lifelong study of pub service would suggest that it can’t be that easy to implement.

Simple but not easy.

Making simple things look easy when they clearly aren’t is the secret of success of many businesses and business people.

Read the biography of any high profile, successful CEO and I bet that their career has been based in large part on doing exactly this.

Leadership, vision and, above all, commitment work for FTSE 100 companies.

But they’re just as important when it comes to cooking fish suppers and pulling pints.

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