When Janya Walsh, Rubbermaid Commercial Products Marketing Research Manager, wanted to identify concept opportunities in restaurant kitchens she knew she needed different approach.
Complex restaurant kitchens were a far cry from consumer
kitchens. Walsh explains, "We had an extremely intricate
environment to understand. So before we could uncover problem
areas ripe for better solutions, we had to understand all the
processes behind getting a plate of food together."
Instead of using standard focus groups or surveys, Rubbermaid
decided to invest in videography. Here is why:
Rubbermaid needed a way to step back and unlock all the tasks
happening at once in restaurant kitchens. They were not sure how
to monitor everyone from the dishwasher to the head chef, all the
tools used, not to mention the different areas a single plate of
food might visit before heading out the kitchen door.
Focus groups were ruled out because Rubbermaid not only wanted to
keep the subjects in the environment, and there would be far too
many subjects to interview.
Observational research also posed problems: From a resources
standpoint, Walsh says they could not do a "dive-deep, live-with-
them-for-a-month" type of study. They also did not want to skew
results. "We didn't want to be an extra body in these tight
quarters, which would change behavior." One person simply
could not make sense of it all.
Video had two big advantages:
Advantage #1. Videotape captures the entire flow of the kitchen.
"Because there's such a direct relationship between the layout of
the restaurant, the tools used, and the tasks performed, we knew
a birds-eye view would reveal how all the different elements come
together," says Walsh.
Advantage #2. Recording the process would give Rubbermaid the
luxury of re-watching sections, counting actions, and re-
Walsh explains, "We can review footage again and again to see if
there were serious repetitive motions or wasted steps that could
be cut down or simplified."
-> Five Steps to Rubbermaid's Video Research:
Step #1. Selecting Research Subjects
First, Rubbermaid selected three casual dining restaurants: A
small chain, a large national chain, and an upscale hotel
restaurant. To get an overview, Rubbermaid had a one-hour
interview with the head chef or manager, took a tour of the
kitchen and got a rundown of all the tools and processes.
Step #2. Videotaping
With the help of a vendor, Rubbermaid set up four cameras to
capture two days of videotape for each location. The first day,
they taped from opening to mid-afternoon, and the following day
from mid-day through closing.
With over 110 hours of videotape, Walsh admits feeling
overwhelmed, "We weren't sure we had the internal resources to
take all of this data and analyze it."
Step #3. Editing and Organizing the Results
Using digital editing and summary analysis the vendor divided the
tapes into categories and put them into a database. The data was
separated into six major topics such as, Handling of Food,
Cooking, and Clean up. Each category had subtopics like, Quick
Preps, From Scratch Preps," or Work-Arounds (instances when a
cook developed some sort of homemade device or odd thing to get
the job done).
Step #4. Viewing Results
After watching each action by category, Rubbermaid designers had
a half-day ideation session to brainstorm for product ideas.
Step #5. Follow-up Focus Groups
Finally, Rubbermaid held follow-up focus groups with employees
from 30 restaurants. They focused on two things:
a. Rubbermaid wanted to validate if problem areas were
truly problem areas.
"We'd point out a process that was draining on efficiency
or a bad method from an ergonomic standpoint to see if they
also considered it a problem," explains Walsh.
b. Rubbermaid also took the opportunity to bounce concept
ideas by the kitchen workers. Each subject was shown a
written concept statement, a designers drawing, or a
prototype and asked for feedback.
-> Rubbermaid's Surprising Findings:
1. Compartmentalization of processes
"We expected to see a lot more movement within the kitchen, but
it's almost like an assembly line," says Walsh. "For efficiency,
restaurants take the Model-T approach to make each plate of food
perfect, so each person winds up working in one location."
2. Switching of containers
Walsh relates the problem, "They say if you want to be efficient
in your office, don't touch a piece of paper more than once. In
the kitchens we observed, the same ingredient might go into five
different containers before it actually went out the kitchen
As a result of these two observations Rubbermaid came up with two
product ideas that Walsh says would not have come about without
videography and the subsequent feedback. "We even got lucky with
one," Walsh adds. "When we suggested one of our concept ideas,
the chefs reiterated back multiple uses for it."
-> Walsh's Biggest Tip for This Type of Research:
Beforehand, it is important to gain an understanding of the
company or business you chose to observe.
"We underestimated the selection and recruiting process. As a
result, our timeline was extended for the larger restaurant
because we wanted to go in there during their busiest time of the
Walsh recommends checking for special events or anything that
might throw off the normal traffic or flow of business.
"There are up-front questions that any receptionist might know
about the business that will help you plan ahead."
Vendor used: Interactive Solutions www.observationalresearch.com
Want to meet Walsh in person?
She will be speaking at IIR & PDMA's "Voice of the Customer"
Conference, December 9th-11th at the Fairmont Hotel in San
Francisco. You can find more about it at