Food Tastes Better when the Cook Can See You, Says Harvard Study

Researchers at Harvard found that food turned out objectively better when prepared by cooks who could see their customers

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

Research suggests that seeing their customers helps cooks create higher quality food. 

A two-week study in a real cafeteria from researchers at the Harvard Business School and University College London suggests that when cooks are able to see their customers, they deliver higher-quality food.

“Transparency between customers and providers seems to really improve service,” researcher Ryan Buell, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, told Harvard Business Review.

“The results were pretty compelling: Customer satisfaction with the food shot up 10 percent when the cooks could see the customers, even though the customers couldn’t see the cooks. In the opposite situation, there was no improvement in satisfaction from the baseline condition in which neither group could see the other. But even more striking, when customers and cooks both could see one another, satisfaction went up 17.3 percent, and service was 13.2 percent faster.”

So why does that visual relationship make a difference?

“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 Buell. “It’s important to note that it wasn’t just the perception of quality that improved—the food objectively got better. During the experiment we had an observer in the kitchen taking notes and timing service. Normally, chefs would make eggs on the grill in advance, adding them to plates as needed and often overcooking them. When we turned on the screens and the chefs saw the customers, they started making eggs to order more often.”

Read the full interview with the research team on Harvard Business Review.

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Karen Lo is an associate editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @appleplexy.

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