Lean Experience: The Lean Principles Implementation at Subway Restaurant

September 2, 2019


When considering implementing lean management, you might not be able to visualize how lean practices may look like, nor illustrate them to your team. Hence, in this article, we will show you how Subway restaurants use lean principles to run their operations, eliminating the non-value added activities and improving the quality of products and services.

Subway is an American privately held restaurant franchise that primarily sells submarine sandwiches (subs) and salads. It is one of the fastest-growing franchises in the world and, as of June 2017, had approximately 42,000 locations in more than 100 countries. More than half of the locations are in the United States. It also is the largest single-brand restaurant chain, and the largest restaurant operator, in the world.


One-piece Flow Process:

When a customer shows up in the restaurant, the customer would not get confused since there is a single counter, with a clearly marked in and out, so that customers could easily know where to go and what to do.

The sandwich-making process is done in an assembly line that usually includes three employees. The process goes one by one, where one customer moves along the assembly line. The first employee takes bread, meat, and cheese order. Whereas the second is assigned to place veggies on sandwiches. The process ends with the third employee running the cash register when the sandwich is made.

In busy times, managers tend to add more employees to the line to keep things moving.

When customers arrive at the end of the line and prepare to pay, the employee at the cash register places the wrapped sandwich into a bag that contains a serviette with no need to ask for one.

One-piece flow process dramatically minimizes defective orders and overproduction of sandwiches.


Lean Inventory Management:

To keep their inventory and sandwich toppings as fresh as possible for the longest time, they apply FIFO strategy; first-in-first-out.

When some ingredients run out, they can be easily replaced by already pre-filled bins. The employee takes the older ingredient bin and places the newer in the back of the inventory.

In addition, the sandwich is made just in time upon the customer order. Moreover, materials used to make all the sandwiches are prepared prior to the store opening. They bake the bread, slice the cheese, and cut the vegetables in advance.

Preparing ingredients in advance enables Subway to produce the same size sandwich every time for a 12-inch or 6-inch sandwich in every branch resulting in controlling inventory.



This is a lean methodology, that is meant to identify waste and it stands for Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain.

The workflow runs seamlessly with the logical arrangement and sorting of stations; bread, meats, cheese, salads, and condiments. They also pre-weigh meats to keep the sandwiches standardized.

Options appear on the glass in front of the customer through clear viewing panels to guide customers in the sandwich-making process and help them choose accurately.

They clearly mark:

  • The “pay here” location.
  • The choices of bread, which are white, whole-meal, flat, bread and so on.
  • The choices of meats, which are ham, tuna, chicken and so on.
  • The choices of salads, sauces, and condiments.


Customized sandwich process:

Customers can choose which items to include and which to leave out, at every station. The items with extra costs are shown on the back wall.

If a customer wants the sandwich to be grilled, the customer shall step back as the sandwich is pulled off the line and placed into the grill. Meanwhile, employees start making the next sandwich. When the first sandwich is ready, it returns to the next point in the line in order to be finished and handed over to the customer.


Employees Training:

At Subway, experienced employees are assigned to train new ones from the customer’s viewpoint. That is a new employee stands where customers are supposed to stand and see how the process is going where the experienced employee demonstrates the operations.


Billing Process:

Subway restaurant implements lean practices to run its operations, and they managed to reduce Bottleneck during billing by:

Automatic billing system: By attaching sensors/buttons in each section that automatically, reflect the amount on the screen as a sandwich passes through each section.

Standardizing sandwich: once the customer selects the particular sandwich, its cost is depicted on the screen. Which makes it a quicker and easier process, since by the time the sandwich is made the bill be ready. Earlier standardization of sandwich reduces the wastage of veggies or meat since the amount and the type of meat, veggies, and cheese are pre-determined.