Kitchen (No Longer) Confidential

The pros and cons of open-kitchen concepts in c-stores
pizza and ingredients

What’s the one word that captures the shift in the foodservice industry? Transparency.

Nothing says accountability quite like an open kitchen. And as more convenience stores look to compete with their restaurant counterparts through made-to-order foodservice programs, the question of whether to open some or all of production to consumers’ prying eyes looms large.

Transparency can be profitable. According to a 2014 study of open kitchens led by Harvard Business School professor Ryan Buell (and tested in the Harvard dining hall), when both customers and cooks can see one another, customer satisfaction shoots up 17.3%, and service is 13.2% faster.

“When there’s face-to-face service, something magic happens,” Buell says. “Actual, objective quality can improve, along with performance and productivity. So I’m not just talking about affecting the perception and appreciation of customers, but also meaningfully affecting employees’ behavior and objective performance.”

13.2%

Increase in service time in establishments with an open-kitchen concept

Source: Harvard Business School

Transparency also can have the opposite effect, especially as it exposes consumers to potentially unsavory behind-the-scenes snapshots: that stale lettuce, or the slice of pizza that fell on the floor only to be picked up and plunked back on the warmer.

“Show what you know you can execute well and where you can shine in terms of food handling, freshness of product and offering things made on-premise,” says Arlene Spiegel, president of restaurant consulting firm Arlene Spiegel & Associates, New York.

At the same time, kitchens aren’t the profit centers in a mostly retail environment such as a c-store, she says. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be. If expanded foodservice is on your radar, start by doing what you do now, only better.

“Sometimes operators follow the latest trends and think they have to jump into foodservice,” she says, “but so much of what they sell is ready to eat that if the products are presented well in the right packaging and fit the customer’s lifestyle needs, that becomes more important than where they came from.”