Tuesday, October 25, 2016

(Fast) Food for Thought

Often I find myself walking to a local fast food establishment for lunch. The staff there is excellent: They keep the place clean, they always greet me with a smile, and they make delicious food. A few years ago, this particular fast food chain had a string of bad press where it was discovered that a very small number of employees were doing some unsavory things to customers’ food.

I felt bad for the staff at my local restaurant. They had no association with these trouble-makers other than they happened to work for the same restaurant chain, just like thousands of other individual employees. After the news broke, some customers were worried about what was happening behind closed doors in their local restaurant (e.g., Is some bad employee doing something unsanitary to my lunch?). And the staff was probably concerned about being perceived as being one of the trouble-makers (e.g., Do my customers think that I am doing something unsanitary to their lunch?). A few bad news stories ruined the whole employee-customer relationship.
 
The response by my local franchisee was simple and effective: They modified the store to have an open-kitchen design (http://business.time.com/2012/08/20/nothing-to-hide-why-restaurants-embrace-the-open-kitchen/). Now, I can order my lunch and watch the employees prepare my food. I can see into the kitchen and see exactly who is handling my food and how they are handling my food. It is transparent. I suspect the staff likes the open-kitchen concept too. They know that if they are following the proper procedures that customers will not erroneously suspect them of doing something unsavory to their food. By opening up the food preparation process, the whole employee-customer relationship was improved. Now, customers can receive their lunch with the confidence that it was made properly and the staff can provide customers their lunch with the confidence that customers are not suspicious.

I also suspect the open-kitchen concept had several secondary benefits too. For example, the staff probably keeps the kitchen cleaner and avoids cutting obvious corners when they know they are in plain sight of customers. When I go to a different restaurant that still has a “closed-kitchen” design, I wonder what I would see if I could peer into their kitchen. Consequently, all else being equal, I choose open-kitchen establishments over closed-kitchen establishments. Open-kitchen designs are good for the bottom line.

The parallels between the open-kitchen design and "open science" are obvious. As researchers, we produce information that other people consume and we consume information that other people produce.


Here is some (fast) food for thought. As a producer of research, would you feel comfortable allowing your consumers to transparently see your research workflow? As a consumer of research, if you were given the choice between consuming research from an open-science establishment or a closed-science establishment, which would you choose?  

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