UCL School of Management

18 November 2015

The power of transparency in dining experiences

Image courtesy of Olga Pavlovsky via Flickr

From fast food chains such as Subway and Chipotle offering views of food preparation to high-end establishments presenting open kitchens, a wide range of restaurants celebrate the food creation process as much as the final dishes. We are often willing to pay a premium for the privilege of seeing the preparation process, and now new research validates our intuitions. Visually revealing operating processes to consumers and beneficiaries to producers, such as in restaurants and other food service settings, indeed creates value for both customers and employees.

These findings, published in Management Science by social scientists Ryan W Buell and Tami Kim from Harvard Business School and Chia-Jung Tsay from UCL School of Management, looked at the impact of introducing different types of transparency, such as allowing customers to observe preparation processes and allowing employees to observe customers.

Revealing customers and employees to each other not only improves customer perceptions, but also increases service quality and efficiency. The introduction of transparency contributed to a 22.2% increase in customer-reported quality and reduced processing times by 19.2%.

Customers who observed process transparency (seeing the employees engaged in the service process) perceived greater employee effort, and thus were more appreciative of the employees and valued the service more. Employees who observed customer transparency (seeing the customers they were serving) felt that their work was more appreciated and more impactful, and thus were more satisfied with their work and more willing to exert effort.

Assistant Professor Chia-Jung Tsay said: “Transparency stands as a valuable strategy for managers and organisations. It may also be less costly and disruptive than traditional approaches for improving efficiency and outcome quality.”

The findings indicate that organisations can imbue operational processes with substantive meaning for customers and employees alike, promoting top-line gains through improved customer satisfaction and loyalty, decreasing employee turnover, and increasing employees’ sense of accountability to the customer and employees’ willingness to exert effort.

“By implementing transparency to give producers and consumers access to visual information, organisations have the potential to tap into a virtuous cycle that enhances both perceived and objective service performance.”

Last updated Wednesday, 18 November 2015