Inside The Cheesecake Factory: Atul Gawande's 'New Yorker' Health Care Piece Looks At Restaurant Chain

Food writer Michael Ruhlman has remarked on the Cheesecake Factory, "The fact that any of the 146 [restaurants] around the country can put out this astonishing variety of food is an impressive work of corporate organization and efficiency."

It turns out American health care companies have a lot to learn from the way the Cheesecake Factory achieves this, Atul Gawande writes in a lengthy story in this week's New Yorker magazine. Gawande argues that they are the gold standard for a chain that optimizes quality and cost control along with innovation, training and development, while health care institutions are basically terrible at all of those things. A new breed of companies, however, are trying to break the model that has "provided us with the equivalent of greasy-spoon fare at four-star prices" in favor of a system that much more resembles the Cheesecake Factory's approach to achieving "good, consistent results thousands of times a day across the entire country."

A good portion of Gawande's piece looks at how the Cheesecake Factory -- by some measures America's favorite casual restaurant chain, and certainly tops among NBA players -- works from the inside, and it's pretty fascinating.

One key aspect to the restaurant chain's success is its system for quality control:

At every Cheesecake Factory restaurant, a kitchen manager is stationed at the counter where the food comes off the line, and he rates the food on a scale of one to ten. A nine is near-perfect. An eight requires one or two corrections before going out to a guest. A seven needs three. A six is unacceptable and has to be redone.

The whole chain restaurant industry -- not just the Cheesecake Factory -- uses an interesting system for minimizing food waste, which can easily become a burdensome cost:

The chain-restaurant industry has produced a field of computer analytics known as “guest forecasting.”
“We have forecasting models based on historical data—the trend of the past six weeks and also the trend of the previous year,” [the Cheesecake Factory's COO] told me. “The predictability of the business has become astounding.” The company has even learned how to make adjustments for the weather or for scheduled events like playoff games that keep people at home.

The Cheesecake Factory's ability to add menu items across its restaurants is similarly impressive. The company rolls out a new menu every six months that can feature upwards of a dozen new items. Regional and kitchen managers head to California for intense training that shows them not just how to make the new dishes but how to train others back at the restaurants in their region. After observing the whole process, its rate of successful and scaled innovation, Gawande writes, "would be enviable in medicine, where innovations commonly spread at a glacial pace."

There's much more about the Cheesecake Factory and the health care industry in the whole article over at the New Yorker.



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