I am the coffee guy for my parish's Fall Festival and every year I hit the same snag when it comes time to serve the coffee.

This is the scenario:

I am given:

  • 20 silver pots with vacuum sealed lids one has to press to open
  • 20 gold pots with flip-top lids that don't really seal at all
  • one large percolator (100 cups)
  • one medium percolator (about 65 cups)
  • one smaller percolator (about 35 cups)

There are about 20 tables and people expect a pot of decaf and a pot of regular on each table.

The tables seat 8-10 people, but sometimes only 2-4 people will sit down at a table.

I will have several servers with nothing better to do than check if coffee pots are full.

How can I keep the maximum amount of coffee warm in this scenario?

  • Wow! This is a very nice optimization problem. An industrial engineer may require better metrics such as surrounding temperature, distance to percolators, etc. :)
    – MTSan
    Sep 5, 2017 at 19:25
  • 1
    MT San has a pretty good approach. Personally, I would hold some pots in reserve, have servers serve Decaf on demand at lighter tables and then brew replacements for larger tables into the spare pots. I know this isn't a solution that works well in your scenario, but getting the right pots will really help out with this problem. I'm using 3 Liter Bunn airpots at events right now, and I can brew the coffee at my shop an hour in advance, drive it to the event and it will be steaming hot for 3 hours after the event starts. I've been unable to get as good a performance out of any other brand.
    – Nate M.
    Sep 6, 2017 at 15:41

1 Answer 1


Actually, this answer will eventually boil down to the forecasting of time dependent expected coffee consumption function of your guests.

You may expect that, right after a meal or right after they are seated people tend to drink coffee all together at once. Therefore, it is better to keep most (all?) of the pots filled up when you encounter them at first.

Then, the servers may check the pots and replace the most crowded tables' pots with empty tables' pots for a while. During that time, you may prepare your second tank of coffee brew.

To keep the coffee fresh, you may preheat the water, I assume. I'm not sure if your percolators are compatible but you may just heat up the water in the big one. Then use the smaller ones to brew smaller batches of coffee to keep rather fresher and smaller batches of coffee. Also, if some of the coffee remains, it is clear that a smaller batch will cost you less.

Besides, for serving decaf, my approach would be something like that: I would keep a few of the servers busy with serving decaf around the less crowded tables and only leave decaf pots in the most crowded tables. (Assuming that decaf will be consumed less.)

All and all, all of the above is my humble opinion.

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