Last week I grabbed lunch at a local fast food place.  I knew the drill.  I ordered, paid, and filled my mega-cup with Diet Coke.  Everything went as planned, until I attempted to get a napkin or two.  Napkin dispensers are brilliantly designed to dispense napkins one at a time.  But there is one simple caveat:  the napkins must be placed in the dispenser properly.

When the napkins are placed in the dispenser backwards, upside-down, or backwards and upside-down the customer cannot obtain just one napkin.  The customer is forced to use the brute force method of jamming a hand into the dispenser and to grab a wad of napkins. There are two problems with this.  First, the customer is inconvenienced.  The inconvenience may not lead to a loss of repeat business, but it is an inconvenience nonetheless.  Second, there’s the issue of wasted napkins and its associated cost.  It’s not a huge cost; however, pennies do add up to dollars.

The real question is this – why were the napkins placed in the dispenser improperly in the first place?  It was a simple task.  Did the employee not know how napkin dispensers work?  Was the employee trained properly?  Did the employee not care?  It could be ignorance or apathy, but when your job is to put napkins in a dispenser it should be done correctly.  After all, it’s not that hard.

On the surface it’s easy to criticize something simple like this – a menial straightforward task carried out improperly.  With some additional thought, there’s a lesson here for everyone – for those at the very top of an organization to the minimum wage employees.

What part of my daily routine am I not performing correctly or efficiently?  What am I glancing over that inconveniences my customers in some way?  Is there something I am doing that wastes resources?  Am I unknowingly inconveniencing my coworkers on a regular basis?

I may not be filling the napkins, but I might be glancing over some things without much thought.  With some introspection and honesty, there’s room for improvement.    As an example, why do I wait until the last minute (or beyond) to submit my timesheet?  It doesn’t take much additional effort to submit it daily or at least on time.  I’m generally punctual, but it’s equally important to give someone my undivided attention.  Too often my mind is still focused on what I was looking at two minutes earlier.  Both result in inconveniences and ineffective use of resources – specifically others’ time.

So what are your napkins?

Jim Buckridge


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One Response to “Napkins”

  1. My guess…is that most folks and firms have not a clue about their own ‘napkins.’

    I’m discovering as a consultant, it appears easier to find a client’s ‘napkins’ than those inside one’s own firm.

    Perhaps that’s why medical doctors (the good ones) try not diagnosing themselves or those like me who are in the financial management business refuse to manage our own investments.

    Tom Buckridge
    Managing Director
    Nummarius LLC