Organizations as Open Systems – China Star Chinese Restaurant

Relationship: worked as an order taker five years ago. Responsibilities included taking and packing the orders, end-of-the-day bookkeeping.
Introduction
China Star is a fifteen-year old, mid-size Chinese restaurant serves common Chinese dishes. It has a dinning area, and a smaller bar/administrative area that has a back door where customers come to pick up their telephone orders. The staffs include the owner/manager, an order taker, a waiter, two busboy/girl, four chefs, two part-time delivery drivers, and one cleaner.

The restaurant is in an excellent location: very close to the Reston Town Center, surrounded by numerous high-tech companies and rich residents, but has been carrying its flat revenue for the past decade. It opens seven days a week, yet its most profit comes from the $5 range lunch combination during weekdays and carryout dinner orders. The dine-in dinner business had slowed down after several years of its opening, the average table that the waiter serves each night is about five. Carryout orders constitute about one half of the restaurant’s total sales. Its customer base has shrunk into office workers and residents within several miles.
Analysis
As an open system organization, China Star’s inputs are the workers, the raw food, and the facilities. Enough workers, the skill of the workers, the quality of the raw material, and the states of the facilities are all important in producing the satisfying output—fresh, delicious food and excellent service. But China Star was far from inputting enough:
a) The skills of the chefs were just so-so, and it always had only one waiter. During the busy lunch hours, all the customers came at once; it was impossible for the waiter to take care of each table well and give each customer full attention. Often the customers got impatient, started to call the bus boys, and found that they hardly speak any English. Sometimes when the customers were happy they’d try to talk to the Chinese busgirl and asking her questions about China and Chinese food, but the girl wasn’t able to continue the delightful conversation, and the customers were disappointed, even embarrassed.
b) In order to save time and costs, restaurants mass process their wholesale ordered raw food once a while. Large restaurants have state of the art refrigerators and freezers for them to separate and preserve the food accordingly. But China Star has only one large walk-in refrigerator for almost everything and the storing wasn’t done in a very pleasant manner. Inevitably the food tasted funny several times.
c) The restaurant’s decoration was old and it looked rather messy and stuffy. The drawings on the wall looked cheap and the Great Wall embossment was coarse. It was not a pleasant place to sit and enjoy a formal meal at all.
With various stylish restaurants opening in the area, and the Chinese food rivals developing in every shopping center offering chicken-fried rice of $4.75, China Star has neither product nor price to compete with. It soon entered the Negative Entropy state of an open system. The restaurant failed to take advantage of its surrounding office buildings and residents, most of all, the excellent economy during the late 1990’s. Its business fell into the typical “cheap carry-out Chinese food” image. The dine-in customers felt bored sitting in a typical Chinese restaurant, while they can hang out in a lively place with TV and live band just 3 blocks away. People came to China Star for cheap food only, and carryout orders save tips. But even carryout orders declined soon.
During the peak lunch time the telephone order volume is extremely high. Customers often have to be put on hold since there is only one person responsible for taking the orders, send them to the kitchen, pack the orders, and sometimes phone the customer back— again the input is not sufficient. It’s easy to make a mistake with disastrous result: one, sometimes two if the orders are switched, very angry and hungry customers that would never recommend this restaurant to others, and food that cannot be resold.
Although this system was obviously moving toward its death in a highly competitive environment, the owner wasn’t actively seeking solutions. The waiter and other employees were often telling him customers’ comments, giving him advises–which applies the “feedback” principle in the open system theory, but he had ignored them all. (the restaurant was finally redecorated a few years ago, other changes unknown)
It’s actually not very hard for China Star to start a better cyclic. Restaurants are relatively less-complicate organizations. The most important principles are inputs and feedbacks. The restaurant could increase the human, material, information inputs, and adapt more the changing environments, for example, revise the menu and serve one-of-a-kind Chinese appetizers with Chinese wines and expensive, authentic green teas; hire more waiters and a few performer play soothing music with Chinese traditional instrument for the exhausted people at the end of the day; construct a website for the restaurant and make the carryout ordering web-enabled.
And of course, listen to the feedbacks, both from the outside and inside of the organization. As these changes apply, the restaurant will also increase the price on its menu, without worrying about irritating its customers. As mentioned before Reston is a high-income area where people are more into “style” and willing to pay more to have a good time or feel special. Once the restaurant has established its reputation and attracts certain group of loyal customers, its sales will become stable and the organization enters the steady state until the environment changes again.

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