By Jim McCarthy Jun 22, 2011 0 comments

Is it Always Good to Have an Open Kitchen?

One trend over the last 10 or 20 years in the restaurant business is toward having an open kitchen.  This is a setting, like you’ve seen in a million places, where all the cooking happens in plain sight of you, the diner.  It works because food is very personal:  It goes in your body; it’s prone to contamination; and people really like thinking about what’s in their food and how it’s prepared.

But is it always good to have an open kitchen?

I’m not really talking about restaurants here.  What I’m talking about is the interplay between openness and mystery.  Food mysteries, we do not care for.  Not really. But other kinds of mysteries, we like a lot.  For example, if you saw Mickey Mouse standing outside with his head off smoking a cigarette next to the snack bar at Space Mountain, it would probably puncture the illusion for you in such a way that it wouldn’t ever work for you again.

Yet we know that inside that outfit is a person who does need to take a break and might smoke.  Disney does a tremendous job of concealing the seams between the illusion that we enjoy and the reality that is, well, real.  It’s not an open kitchen, and we wouldn’t want one.

Here’s why I thought of this:

The NFL is, as I have said before, perhaps the most powerful live entertainment organization in the world, or at least the United States.  But despite the massive win streak the organization is on, the players and the owners are embroiled in a long and stupid murder-suicide pact of a labor dispute. Football fans, and there are armies of them, are fascinated by just about anything related to the NFL.  They’ll listen to people drone on about Brett Favre’s shenanigans or speculate on who put what newspaper article quote from a rival player up on a locker room bulletin board or even yammer on incessantly about changes to the kickoff rules.

But nobody wants to talk about the labor dispute and its ins and outs.  Nobody, nobody, nobody.  Now, ESPN and the rest have to cover it, but nobody wants to talk about it because there’s really just one question on the mind of fans: when’s it going to end and is it going to ruin the season?  (I suppose that’s a two part question, or possibly just two questions.  Anyway.)

In this case, the NFL would be better off with a closed kitchen.  I don’t mean they should clam up about the lockout.  That’d be even worse.

What I mean is that one of these professional sports leagues should take it upon itself to become the League Where No One Ever Has To Think About the Business Side of Our Business.  If I were the emperor of the NFL, I would strive, on the basis of this, to make sure that fans never, ever have to hear about the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the owners and the NFL Players Association ever again.  In 10 years, or whenever, when the new one they end up signing expires, there will be a back page item in the sports section saying, “the NFL and its players extended their collective bargaining agreement with minor modifications today a year ahead of the expiration of the current agreement.”

Preserve that mystery.  Conceal the seams in the experience.  People may want to go back stage and drink with the band, but nobody wants to go backstage and sit in the accountant’s office.

For the league that gets this, this could be a major marketing advantage.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the NBA is that league.  Hockey? Baseball?  We’ll see.

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