Process Improvement

beer garden flow

A recreation of the beer garden process flow I sketched out in my notebook.

Problem – In my sophomore year of university I was elected to the position of Head Social Coordinator at the UBC Ski & Board Club.  The principle responsibility of this role was to organize and manage the club’s monthly 500 person beer gardens.  The first beer garden was a complete failure.  I had no idea what I was up against when hundreds of inebriated students couldn’t get their beer in a timely manner.  Blood and tears were shed in the chaos that followed, with several fights breaking out.  Only a visit from the RCMP was able to calm things down.  It was horrible and I was defeated.

In the days afterwards I tried to make sense of what had happened.  It seemed that the massive, unorganized lines had instigated the fights.  If you had just bought 6 drink tickets and had to wait 30 minutes in line just to get 1 beer… you might be angry too.

Solution – Not knowing where to begin, I imagined I was a fly on the ceiling during the failed event, observing the chaos emerging beneath me. What went wrong and why? How could the system be made better to prevent what went wrong? Well, it was pretty clear that the status-quo lineup system, which had been used for years, had to be drastically redesigned. Fights were breaking out because people where getting congested and corralled waiting for beer. The goal was that no person should have to wait in line longer than 5 minutes to get their drink. I took out a piece of notebook paper and began to draw a floorplan.

First, there had to be some way of creating organized lines.  So, fencing would be setup in such a way that two lines enter the serving area and then diverge in opposite directions at the bar.  4′ fencing is better than 6′ fencing because it makes people feel less like cattle, but still achieves the same objective. Second, it was clear that the bottlenecks in the system were the keg taps.  In order to maximize the supply of beer for the thirsty masses, the taps had to run nonstop.  Since there may be periods when the supply exceeds demand, a buffer table was setup between the taps and the serving table.  Thus the Tappers (as I called them) placed beers on the buffer table and the Servers grabbed them from there to serve the customers. The taps were to remain running at all times, except when changing kegs.

I periodically took notice of the line when it began to build up and would take out my watch to estimate the queue time. With so many responsibilities in managing the event, I wasn’t able to constantly measure queue times. However, I did not observe any wait times greater than 3 minutes.  Now, if we compare this to the month previous, where people were waiting up to 20-30 minutes, I would estimate a 90% reduction in queue time.

Also, no fights broke out, which was a huge problem in the previous beer garden. The Head Security Officer thanked me afterwards for such a well-run event.  The next day she also sent an email to the RCMP and the university Event Bookings office saying that this was the best run event she has ever seen in her time at UBC.  My fellow club executives were also happy because there was much less stress for them.  The total cost of the system was about $200 for the fencing rental.  The small expense was more than justified.

A few years back, for nostalgia’s sake, I went back to a UBC beer garden (for a different club).  I was surprised and happy to see that they were using my system.

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