I’m looking at a line for a coffee shop. There’s one person working and it’s six people deep with a new arrival every minute. While most requests are fulfilled relatively quickly, there still seems to a pause every third customer. The drink is either more time consuming (iced cappuccino) or the customer can’t decide what they want or changes their mind at the last minute. This causes the queue to reform to six people.

The store has already considered created two queues — an express, coffee-only line vs a line for other orders. However, it’s considered an “off-season” time so the second queue isn’t functional.

There are three areas of delay:

  1. Order making
  2. Order processing
  3. Payment transacting

The worker processes the orders in the sequence above, regardless of the order. This already slows down the process. If they were to process the payment before processing the order (e.g. coffee), the transaction for payment would overlap with the order processing.

We now look at AI as a panacea for business processes. But… the application of AI can be very difficult and sometimes a better solution just involves humans thinking carefully about what needs to be done.

Right now, the line provides priority to those who arrived first. To the line waiter, this seems fair.

Except when the person in front orders something complicated when you only want a simple coffee. A braver server would batch orders. In some coffee shops, this is done by a barista as they’re preparing a drink… they’ll ask down the line for an order. This works well when the queue forms parallel to the counter.

In this instance, the line is perpendicular to the counter. Also, the display case is offset from the counter by about a meter, causing those who are ordering to step out of line to see what to order.

Another option would be to have a touchscreen and queue system like McDonalds. This could allow the server to only focus on preparing the food but inevitably, there’ll be a slowdown when someone has issues using the machine or can’t find their order. However, this could allow the prioritization of orders based on flow. Here AI could play a role. If there are five orders that come in within a minute of each other, could the system decide which order to process next to optimize the flow of the server? It could do so based on analyzing thousands of serial orders and seeing which sequence works better.

The system could be optimized for:

  • Quickest fulfillment of the most number of orders
  • Least movement of the server
  • Server satisfaction (maybe that comes from breaking apart orders vs doing a batch of the same)
  • Having at least one person waiting in queue (to make it appear the place is open and viable)

AI needs an application. We should be saying “how can I use the information I have to predict something”. We need to the know what is the “something” is for us to improve our business with AI.

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