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More transparency please

When McDonald’s starts doing something new, you can bet it’s already part of a mainstream trend. Big Mac doesn’t like to take chances. 

That’s why it was so fascinating when McDonald’s Canada began posting a series of videos on its YouTube channel last year that took viewers behind the curtain of the Oak Brook Oz. Answering intrusive questions—like “Why does your food look different in the advertising than what is in the store?” and “What’s in the sauce that is in the Big Mac?”—McDonald’s pointed out something the rest of us have been witnessing for sometime: transparency is the new black.

Customers don’t trust restaurants. They don’t trust that the food is safe to eat, much less good for them. They don’t trust that workers are being treated well. They don’t trust that a restaurant is interested in them beyond their wallet. We shouldn’t feel too bad, consumers have lost faith in nearly every institution, from business, to churches to government.

And it’s this lack of trust that is driving customer demand for greater transparency. Research firm The Hartman Group says the interest in greater transparency from restaurants was cultivated by the foodie movement, but found an accelerant in widely publicized food-contamination scares.

“The desire for increasing transparency is no longer just found in highly lifestyle-involved consumers,” the firm recently stated. “It has become nearly everyone’s concern.”

And it is a concern that our Guest Editor Mike Roberts has grabbed ahold of with gusto.

We wanted Roberts to fill the editor’s seat in this third annual Guest Editor issue, foremost, because of the perspective the guy has. The former Global President and COO of McDonald’s is now doing a startup. Gives me whiplash just reading that sentence. And second, what that startup is: LYFE Kitchen—the most exciting new concept in a decade with a tantalizing shot at leaving a large mark on the foodservice landscape. [The Guest Editor portion of the magazine includes the Best Practices section and the feature well. Skills and Menu R&D are, for better or worse, still edited by me.]

Roberts and his team—a crew of industry experts who are offering their insights throughout this issue—are elevating the customer experience in key ways, with the most transformational elements on the menu. The concept’s sourcing and good-for-you (nee healthy) preparation hold the promise “of tens of millions of local, sustainable gourmet meals, served with the efficiency and economy that one expects from a national fast-food chain,” as a widely read profile of LYFE in WIRED magazine stated. You can read more about the chain’s menu and sourcing later in this issue.

LYFE Kitchen is striving to be what it calls a “lifestyle” restaurant, meaning that it hopes to be integrated into people’s lives in a meaningful way. What I’d venture it’s ultimate goal is, and where it really has something to teach the larger industry, is establishing a more durable trust with its customers than other restaurants of its planned size have.

Roberts expects digitally savvy customers to look for and find out everything about how LYFE runs its business. He’s counting on it. And he’s betting that what they find will resonate. So he’s building his new concept with as much transparency as possible: giving away recipes for signature dishes, growing greens in the restaurants that will be used in dishes, building in transparent communication tools in the employee review process, and more.

If LYFE succeeds it will be because this former McDonald’s executive’s bet that customers want ever greater transparency was a solid one. I wouldn’t bet against it.

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