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Does Face Time Between Chefs and Diners Lead to Better Food?

One study by the Harvard Business School says yes.

Thomas Cloer/Flickr

Open kitchens and chef's counters in restaurants happen to be on-trend at the moment, but they may have more than just an aesthetic value: A new study published in the Harvard Business Review reports that chefs make better food when they can physically see their diners. Using iPads, researchers from the Harvard Business School and University College London rigged several situations during which chefs and diners could (or couldn't) see each other during a meal service. They then solicited diner feedback, comparing it to comparable meals when neither cooks or diners could see each other during the meal.

In both situations where chefs could observe their diners — a traditional two-way viewing and when cooks could see the customers (but the diners couldn't see the cooks) — diners reported increased satisfaction with their meals. According to Harvard professor Ryan W. Buell, chefs exerted more effort when they could physically see their customers, taking fewer shortcuts even when the customer couldn't see them working. "It's important to note that it wasn't just the perception of quality that improved — the food objectively got better," Buell says.

According to the study, the best meals occurred when there was mutual face time: "satisfaction went up 17.3%." Most tellingly, when diners could see the chefs (but the chefs could not see them), there was no reported difference in the perceived quality of the food, suggesting that diners don't automatically think the food tastes better just because they saw a dish being made. "We found that reciprocity plays a much bigger role than stress or accountability," Buell says of the chef reaction. "This is more about gratitude — which is a powerful force. Cooks constantly said how much they loved seeing their customers."

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