Pioneering Healthy Quick Service Food:
The Case of YO! Sushi

Professor Marc Day, Henley Business School, UK, talks about the development of his YO! Sushi case.

Marc Day

YO! Sushi is a small but expanding chain of restaurants that serve Japanese-style food using a conveyer belt restaurant design. The case covers the history of the business, how it has developed its site choice policy, how customers are served through the process, and the importance of service quality in generating repeated customer returns.

Why YO! Sushi?

The organisation was referred to me by an ex-member of my MBA class who considered the business to be ‘slick’ when it came to its treatment of operations management. The subject for the case was based on the paucity of teaching material that unites operations objectives, capacity management, quality and performance measurement. I wanted to have a case that showed how important ‘dull’ topics such as capacity, process flow and process design can be for service quality and performance. It achieves this well.

I also wanted to follow a different development logic for the case, as there are many business scenarios which get set as ‘dilemma solving’. It’s also nice to see a business with good growth but incremental changes to accomplish, and then rather than focus primarily on analysis you can ‘push’ students to evaluate the transfer of takeaways from best practice into their own context. This compliments more ‘dilemma’ driven teaching models, and adds variety to the types of case format I use.

Practically speaking I knew the case would be great to teach because the organisation has outlets globally so people can go and eat there to experience the business and be involved in the operation as a customer.

Getting inside the company

YO! Sushi restaurant

An alumni of my 2006 MBA class was kind enough to put me in touch with the CEO of YO! Sushi. I visited the head office, he and I got along well, and we agreed access details there and then.

When engaging with a sponsor I find these guidelines invaluable:

  • Be absolutely honest with your sponsor organisation, and openly discuss their case being released as named companies. So, if data is to be disclosed then the company must feel comfortable about this. Their brand will be associated with it! If they’re not happy then walk away.
  • Make sure you leave the first visit to the organisation with the data necessary to begin the basic analysis, having clearly agreed commitments from the company to get involved, with follow-on interviews where key informants commit dates to diaries, and a clear time plan for the case preparation and sign-off.
  • Give something back which is valuable. I use my cases as exam problems for students, who then solve them as their assessment for an end of module test. The questions I use reflect the organisation’s problems, so I can take all of my student’s best answers and combine them into options for the company to assess. Free consulting with little work for me or the company.
  • Agree a date one year from the expected publishing date of the case for a follow-on ‘what happened next’ meeting. Get it in the diary of the sponsor at the first meeting.

Writing the case

The case was easy to write because the issues were pretty obvious - the CEO and his team were already addressing the key challenges. The business, at the time of writing, was experiencing good growth. The CEO had laid out a plan for expanding the number of restaurants in the UK, and he had ambitions for more outlets overseas. SushiBut, he had a nagging issue: repeatable service quality in an environment that often experiences high staff turnover. The business had already overcome a serious cash shortage when it opened because of not locating new outlets in the right high street positions. They had learned from this, and it was important to reflect on the benefits and drawbacks of a capacity issue. It was also important to consider how the current internal service pathways for customers had been honed over the years. This platform created the opportunity to replicate a formula, but with some tweaking still to do (reducing menu variety, making inroads into service quality improvement) so the business didn’t plateau the organic growth of its stores.

Using the case

I use this case for MBA classes, but it can also be used on specialist MBAs or short courses on operations or process improvement. I show the video clip at the beginning of the session to set the tone for understanding the vibe that YO! Sushi create in their restaurants. It is important to understand this as it is a critical element of the service quality experience.

The raw data for the performance of the stores in terms of mystery shopper statistics is useful to direct people to analyse. It is in an Excel format so easy analysis of trends can be achieved.

Helping students prepare

If you are close to a YO! Sushi outlet then I suggest you have an evening class meeting at the restaurant. I tell people to visit it before class – it’s often surprising how many people do! Failing this I direct people to look at the website and sign up to the loyalty scheme to see what marketing materials they receive as a customer. This helps with understanding the offering in more detail, and how the menu & ordering system works.

The student perspective

Shaun Wessels, Henley Business School MBA participant, shares his experience of the YO! Sushi case.

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I particularly liked the way that the YO! Sushi case underlined the ‘fit’ between strategic intent and the operational execution thereof. The case highlighted the ‘trade-off’ decisions one needs to make when deciding on how to win/qualify orders. The owner of YO! Sushi understands what his customer requirements are, and the resource capabilities needed to satisfy them, and he was clear that whilst his restaurant was not the cheapest dining experience, that people would pay for what he offered.

Classroom experience

The class discussion around the case was quite positive and there was some lively debate about the operations performance objectives and their relative rankings. When it came to measurements of performance, it was clear that one could have selected an array of measurement criteria, that we sometimes take for granted, and these were topics of debate as well.

Applying the learning

In class the case provided us with the opportunity to apply a range of models and concepts eg ADO model (operations performance objective) and ultimately, evaluation and measurement. It also raised questions for me about the company where I work. The biggest question still lingering in my mind is ‘are the operational processes at AVI Ltd more aligned to customer expectations, resource limitations or strategic direction as identified by Executives?’ I have also started looking at what trade-offs we are making in our processes and are these trade-offs acceptable for our strategic direction.

Case detail

Pioneering Healthy Quick Service Food: The Case of Yo! Sushi
Marc Day
Henley Business School
Ref 608-038-1
Also available:
Teaching note
608-038-8
Teaching note supplement software (Excel file)
608-038-9
Media support (video clip)
608-038-3

About the contributors

Marc Day is Professor of Strategy and Operations Management at Henley Business School, University of Reading, UK. e marc.day@henley.reading.ac.uk

Shaun Wessels is a participant on the Henley Business School MBA programme and National AR Manager/Executive: Finance Shared Service at AVI Limited, South Africa. e ShaunWe@avi.co.za

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