Chefs Make Better Food When They Can See Their Customers

By Mike Pomranz |

© ClassicStock / Alamy

A new study from Harvard Business School suggests that cooks make better food when they can actually see who they’re serving. So next time you’re at a restaurant, maybe consider popping your head in back and saying hello.

Researchers set up four scenarios using iPad video conferencing: one where cooks and diners were unable to see each other, another where cooks could see diners, a third where diners could see cooks and a final group where everybody saw one another’s smiling faces.

When cooks could see customers, food satisfaction went up 10 percent. And when both chefs and customers could see each other, satisfaction jumped 17.3 percent. Comparatively, when the customers could see the cooks, satisfaction didn’t increase at all. Counterintuitive as it may be, the results reveal that open kitchens don’t necessarily make dining experiences better because customers can watch the food being made, but instead because the cooks can see who’s going to eat what they prepare.

“We’ve learned that seeing the customer can make employees feel more appreciated, more satisfied with their jobs and more willing to exert effort,” said Ryan W. Buell, an assistant professor who was part of the research team. He also noted that it wasn’t just customers’ perception of food quality that improved; objectively, cooks took more care with their work when seeing who they were serving, according to an observer in the kitchen.

“Cooks constantly said how much they loved seeing their customers,” said doctoral student Tami Kim. Apparently, they didn’t recognize you from that Yelp review you wrote.

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