Restaurant Week (An elementary look at quality culture fundamentals)

Guest post by David Kachoui (previously published in Quality Progress, August 2014): Director of Business Development at Natech Plastics

To celebrate “Restaurant Week,” my daughter’s first-grade class recently turned its classroom into a restaurant for a day. Parents were patrons. Students ran operations. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a polite, 6-year-old host with a white shirt and bowtie. He checked our names on the reservation list, walked us to our table, and handed us our menu. A shy girl served drinks. The waitress, who happened to be our daughter, took orders. Later, she picked up the orders from the first-grade chefs and served our table.

As I sat eating my taco, I noticed every parent had wide smiles. I did, too. The sight was cute: We were all proud of our children, and the experience of getting served by them was fun. When we finished, we gave our bill to the little cashier and paid him $5, which he tucked into the proper compartment of the cash register. My wife was so impressed that no one spilled anything. This got me thinking that this was actually impressive on a much deeper level.

  1. W. Edwards Deming, the father of the quality movement, defined quality as “pride in workmanship.”1 He proposed that the root cause of the lack of quality lies, in part, with our educational system.2
  2. The necessary behaviors for quality are innate in children, but generally are crushed over time.3

In other words, something we are doing is sabotaging a national culture of quality. I cannot disagree. I have gone through the recruiting process with hundreds of college graduates and have been struck by the general lack of some key fundamentals that are necessary regardless of industry. Basics like self-education, self-initiative, and self-discipline are too rare. As a result, organizations must devote considerable resources to teach these fundamentals.

But what I saw in the first-grade restaurant was something different. Fujio Cho, the former Toyota president, identified respect for people and continuous improvement as the automaker’s two core pillars.4 On this day, I saw both of these pillars to the point that these did not feel like 6- and 7-year-olds. In a surreal way, this seemed more like an actual restaurant—which happened to be run by miniature adults.

I noticed that unlike the parents, the children were not smiling. This was serious business for them. They had a sense of self-respect, respect for one another, and ownership over performing their jobs well. Nobody was teaching them what they were supposed to learn. They were figuring things out and making improvements on their own while they went along. At first, the busboy picked up dishes by hand and carried them to his tray. By the end, he was carrying the tray to tables so he did not have to keep walking back and forth.

I cannot help but wonder how many of these children will maintain this level of pride in their work during the next five to ten years, and how many will have it crushed somewhere along the way. We must move beyond quality in the product, the individual, and the organization, and toward a broader cultural movement as a society—and that starts with our children.

Much has been learned in the professional world about quality, which could be useful to our educational system. At some point, should industry take responsibility and make a commitment for progress toward a societal quality culture? If our schools were to output children with this level of pride in their work as the norm rather than the exception, all industries would benefit. Looking through the lens of a business professional with a passion for quality, the deeper reasons for the success of Restaurant Day provide useful insight toward what a quality culture really means and how to get closer to achieving it.

Motivation and age integration

One thing that Restaurant Day got right was age mixing: Children were not segregated with only children of their own age. Teachers were in the mix working with the children. One teacher oversaw the cash register, and another watched the kitchen. Both were engaged in activities and available to guide as needed. Parents played the roles of diners. So here we had children working with adults to serve adults. As a result, the children were motivated to perform their important tasks to the best of their abilities.

Deming said that competition squeezes out intrinsic motivation while collaboration nurtures intrinsic motivation, curiosity, and joy in learning.5 According to Peter Gray, age segregation of children contributes to competition, while age mixing contributes to self-education, learning, and supportive teaching.6 This means that if learning activities were to expand to children of multiple ages, the collaboration and intrinsic motivation would increase.

The pursuit of gratification

The children had a greater sense of importance than they normally would in a typical classroom lecture. These children were not having fun, goofing off, getting bored, whining, or doing the things we would normally expect from kids. They felt a sense of importance through meaningful work. They were attentive. I saw pride in the work of every student. The busboy hovered over my wife like a hawk until she finished her drink so he could clear her cup right away. Nothing was getting in between him and his job. The children might have been happier watching TV, but they would have felt no sense of accomplishment.

Rather than just wanting to have fun all the time, children actually get intrinsically motivated by mastering new activities.7 Intrinsic motivation to achieve a sense of accomplishment is more closely associated with the emotion of gratification than happiness. This warrants a closer look at the difference between the two emotions.

Andrew Ortony defines happiness as a simple emotional reaction where one is “pleased about a desirable event.” The more desirable the event, the greater the intensity of happiness.8 Gratification, on the other hand, is a more complex emotion where one “approves of one’s own praiseworthy action and is pleased about the related desirable event.” The intensity of gratification experienced depends on the levels of praiseworthiness, unexpectedness, and desirability.9

In other words, the harder you work at something and the less likely you are to achieve it, the greater the feeling of gratification after you actually succeed. Eating a tasty meal brings happiness, but not gratification. Climbing Mount Everest yields high gratification accompanied by intense misery along the way.

Lessons from history show us that children derive great gratification by impressing adults. As an 11-year-old locksmith apprentice, Harry Houdini impressed his boss and a large prisoner by unlocking a set of handcuffs without a key.10 Albert Einstein impressed his uncle who would give him math challenges he playfully doubted he could solve.11 The rest is history.

Back to the classroom: The scene was just as chaotic as a real restaurant, yet just as productive on more than one level. For the most part, the children had to figure out how to solve problems on their own or together. The teachers were not authoritarians in complete control of obedient children. They were available—not to control, but to guide when necessary. Rather than compete with one another, everyone had to support one another to keep figuring out how to deal with the new challenges. They were continually improving as a team.

Continual improvement requires continual learning. In the pre-mass production era, craft production was the method of teaching. The master craftsperson would continually improve while teaching the apprentice in a plan, do, teach, and improve cycle.12 Toyota has achieved impressive continual improvement with this model,13 which is the envy of many organizations across many industries. Incorporating this craftsperson-apprentice model into education would alter the typical teacher-student relationship to a model that is more conducive to continual improvement.

Spread the learning

A restaurant run by first graders could go horribly wrong. The children, teachers, and administrative staff deserve credit for succeeding. This should be treated as a beginning to a successful pilot worth expanding. The spreading of best practices entails spreading learning and understanding, not just replicating the solution as a tool.14

In other words, making every day Restaurant Day would not guarantee that every child graduates with pride in workmanship. This could be expanded in either time (regular Restaurant Days) or content (other variations of the classic lemonade stand). Running different “businesses” would impart different skills and knowledge.

In whatever form an expanded pilot takes, the educational leaders must have a full understanding of the deeper purpose. The results should be observed specifically from the perspective of learning the essentials of quality. In such a scenario, children would figure out so much more than they could ever be taught in the traditionally structured classroom.

These suggestions actually apply to professionals of any age. Starting at first grade gets us closer toward finding the root cause of the problem. Industry can help provide the solution for our educational problems. But ultimately, education will provide the solution for our industry problems.


  1. Rafael Aguayo,  Deming: The American Who Taught the Japanese About Quality,Simon & Schuster, 1990, p. xi.
  2. Edwards Deming, The New Economics,Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Advanced Engineering Study, 1994, p. 6.
  3. Ibid, p. 122.
  4. Warren R. Plunkett, Raymond Attner and Gemmy Allen, Management: Meeting and Exceeding Customer Expectations,Thomson South-Western, 2008, p. 95.
  5. Deming, The New Economics,see reference 2, p. 121.
  6. Peter Gray, “Why We Should Stop Segregating Children by Age: Part II—The Unique Educative Qualities of Age-Mixed Play,” Freedom to Learn, 17, 2008.
  7. Deming, The New Economics,see reference 2, p. 111.
  8. Andrew Ortony, Gerald L. Clore and Allan Collins, The Cognitive Structure of Emotions,Cambridge University Press, 1990, p. 86.
  9. Ibid, p. 148.
  10. William Kalush and Larry Sloman, The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero,Atria Books, 2006.
  11. Walter Isaacson, Einstein: His Life and Universe,Simon & Schuster, 2007, p. 45.
  12. Jeffrey K. Liker and James K. Franz, The Toyota Way to Continuous Improvement,McGraw-Hill, 2011, pp. 21-22.
  13. Ibid, p. 379.
  14. Ibid, p. 398.

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