Posted on: March 03, 2017Articles

CasablancaBeing the sentimentalist that I am, I bought my wife tickets to the symphony for Valentine’s Day this year. And not just any performance but a screening of the classic black and white film Casablanca.  In this special event, the St. Louis symphony orchestra provided the sound track by playing the stirring and emotional background music while the regular dialogue was provided by the actors on the screen.

The screen was set up high above the orchestra and it was quite the spectacle to see each individual musician collaborate and contribute to the overall score of the movie.

In fact, there was many times where I was so swept up with what was on the screen, that I completely forgot about the symphony playing. So great and subtle was their musical contribution that it wasn’t until the timpani drum sounded every now and again that I realized that the symphony had been playing all along.

There were only 2 performances and both were sold out which is an indication that people appreciate watching the efforts and talents of those skilled craftsmen ply their trade and talents to the final performance.

It is this way with ice cream also.

Yes, the average customer probably fails to acknowledge the time and effort that goes into hand crafting to perfect combination of flavor, ice cream base and the churning process but on some level, knows that someone somewhere does it. Similar to going to watch a movie and under appreciating the work that goes into sound production and engineering.

We all know that the musical score contributes to the feel and experience of the movie, but until it is in front of our eyes, we don’t acknowledge it. I have harped on for years about the theater of ice cream; Showing your customers all that you can to engage them more into the overall ice cream experience at your shop or business.

Les say a customer orders one of your specialty banana splits. Surely the customer experience is more enhanced when the customer watches with anticipation as the ice cream is delicately placed, scoop by decadent scoop, in a clear banana boat. Then a ripe yellow banana is ever so carefully sliced, divided and nudged alongside the scoops.

A specialty Hot fudge emulsion is then slowly drizzled over the eagerly waiting dairy and fruit, oozing slowly over and down the sides of the ice cream looking like lava flowing down the sides of a hot volcano.

Then after a generous outpouring of a gourmet nut blend consisting of roasted and salted peanuts, pecans and almonds, come the dollops of fresh whipping cream, sweetened and spiced to your proprietary recipe and the grand finale; a glistening red stemmed maraschino cherry is nuzzled into the central cream mound.

I kind of want on right now. Now imagine this sight being displayed right before the customer’s eyes, her anticipation heightening with each step. By the time the dessert is handed over she is almost giddy with excitement.  Compare this experience with that of a customer who places his order and 3 minutes later from behind a closed wall or window his dessert item is slid before his eyes.  Not as inviting right?

The open kitchen concept in the Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) and fast casual segments is growing rapidly for this very reason. Gourmet burger, Pan Asian and Tex Mex concepts all count on the customer watching food being prepared, cooked and assembled as they make their way down the order line to pay and pick up their freshly prepared food.  Time magazine featured the trend of open kitchens in a piece entitled “Nothing to Hide: Why Restaurants Embrace the Open Kitchen”

“The open kitchen trend seems to have been born in big cities such as New York, where chefs cooked within view of diners largely due to space constraints. Getting in the habit of watching chefs do their thing on TV has obviously boosted the fascination with what goes on in restaurant kitchens. As diners grew obsessed with celebrity chefs and the creative ways fresh and exotic ingredients were being combined, consumers increasingly came to view the flames and steam and clattering in the kitchen as part of the “show” of dining out.”

Furthermore “last year, QSR Magazine named “Transparency” one of the biggest quick service restaurant trends, anticipating that more restaurants will “follow the trend of open kitchens as a sign to customers that they have nothing to hide.” By now, the open kitchen has spread to smaller cities such as Milwaukee. “I do think Milwaukee is catching up to a more national trend,” said one chef in the city earlier this summer. “Thanks to celebrity chefs and good food, the dining public wants to see what’s going on. Also chefs, me included, are proud of what we do and like to showcase our habitat.”

Cold stone creamery also banked on this open kitchen concept when they introduced their “cold slab” concept where customers select their ice cream flavor, multiple add ins and watched it mashed and folded together on top of the marble slab.

So if these principles work so well in the general food and restaurant industry then why don’t we see or apply these principles more commonly to ice cream? I get frustrated when I see a beautifully prepared sundae and other menu items presented to customers with even seeing a hint of how it was assembled.

Baatch RoomIn my consulting work I often try to have my clients use these principles in the process of designing and laying out their floor plans and work spaces.  Recently I worked on a project in Rapid City South Dakota where a brand new ice cream concept was being designed and built. My recommendation was to have the ice cream production area in full view of the customer so they could experience the process of how there ice cream is made on a daily basis. The end result was breathtaking.

Floor to ceiling sheets of tempered glass opened up the production process to the public which enhances the whole “ice cream experience”. This not only becomes a spectacle when the chef coat wearing ice cream maker is preparing and churning a batch, but the customer is almost transported into the ice cream making process themselves. Of course there are some challenges to this process.

As most of your know the ice cream making procedure can be very messy and you don’t want to turn your customers off by spilling mix, chocolate and ingredients on the tables, machines, walls and floor of your batch room. Also the occasional “finger in the mix and then to the mouth” move doesn’t go over well either.  Particularly when you have mums and kids watching you through the window; “Eeewwwwww”.

Secondly having your ingredients and proprietary bases, flavors and toppings in full view can be a challenge particularly when you becomephoto 4 successful and other shop owners are keen to know the secrets of your success.  Still I think that these issues can be overcome and pale to insignificance when weighed up with the benefits of letting your customer look into the manufacturing process.

Co-incidentally, Rapid City happens to be at the foot of Mount Rushmore, the most recognizable American landmark in the country.  I couldn’t visit the area without going up and having a look myself.  As most of us know, there is no show bigger than the events and monuments surrounding the patriotism of the United States.  As I stood on the viewing platform and looked at the four faces hewn from the side of a mountain, I felt a quiet reverence for the spectacle.  It’s hard to put into words the enormity of the event.  I had similar feeling at the grand canyon when we visited there as a family.

Everyone loves a spectacle.  The bigger the better.  So give them one.  Include some razzle dazzle and some theatre into your customers ice cream experience and I think the generic word of mouth the happens as a consequence will be not only fill your cash registers, but also the cockles of your heart.

Steve Christensen – The Ice Cream Bloke



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