Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Restaurants, roller coasters and randomly failing web applications
By Sean McGrath

You arrive at a downtown restaurant that does not take reservations. Straight ahead, a member of staff is standing behind a podium making notes on a booking sheet. To the left, happy diners who got there before you did, munch through their meals. To the right, prospective diners who also got there before you did, sit at the bar sipping cocktails, waiting for their table to be called. The member of staff behind the podium orchestrates the whole show. Her job is to keep the restaurant operating at maximum throughput without overloading it. To do this she juggles a variety of information in real time. Sizes of parties awaiting tables. Expected availability of free tables, time of day (lunch has a very different dynamic to dinner) and so on. You ask her the question she gets asked umpteen times a day -- How long is the wait? "About 30 minutes", she replies.

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