A Brief Case Study: An App for Large Scale Chefs

The Kick Off

There are few things as valuable to UX designers as real, face-to-face user research. So, when I was assigned my first experience to build an app in a field lacking competition and conduct research with participants in their domain, I was beyond excitement. Our objective was simple and straightforward; build an app specifically for chefs who bulk order from wholesale companies like Sysco or PFG.  

First Assumptions

Researching our end users proved difficult. Neither myself or my coworker had any experience with chefs who work on scales of that intensity. Although it was the reason our client agreed to our user research interviews, it left us still feeling a little blind in our preliminary preparations. At the time, not many chef-dedicated apps existed. Those that did, were focused on recipe and inspiration, leading me to take the cue.  

Finally I was able to build a list of objectives and behaviors:

> Order by recipe

> Browse by category for inspiration

> Compare by quality, review, & price

> Need for emergency orders

> Track what they need to replenish at the end of every day

> Want admin controls and permissions to approve orders before they’re made

> Visuals are high value

> Embrace tech to speed their process

The Golden Step

We got to speak with 5 chefs, with varied working conditions. Out of them, 3 worked in traditional restaurants that faced extremely high demand, 1 was the executive chef of a hotel, and the final chef worked in a restaurant that served all of the workforce within it’s skyscraper. Despite such different environments, their day-to-day behavioral patterns and needs were very similar. Just from talking to them about their days, I was able to see where my research and assumptions had fallen short.

My refined list of objectives and behaviors:

> Order by ingredients

> They know exactly what products they want, high loyalty built up over years

> Compare by quality (& price, occasionally)

> Need for delivery tracking

> Some tracked what they need to replenish at the end of every day, some midday

> Embrace tech to speed their process, some anxious to use tech

Understanding Our Users

Enter my first understanding of a ‘Power User.’ These chefs knew what they wanted, how much they would need, when they would want it, and who they wanted it from. They would still conduct inventory reviews but they had an innate ability to track the food as it was being consumed around them. Need was tracked at ingredient level, allowing them to build their need with high flexibility as well as assist in planning upcoming menu changes to be low-cost but high-profit.

They only shared one known pain point; delivery tracking. It was slightly volatile and had little regard for their schedules. Deliveries sometimes happened midday when unloading would take away from their speed in serving their customers and often deliveries would be late without warning, causing anxiety and potentially loss of profit.

Although only the hotel service noted it as a drawback, all chefs were dramatically slowed due to either outdated technology. They all had to do their rounds and track inventory on a piece of paper, then take a seat at their computer and dedicate a reported 1-2 hours selecting and ordering foods. Taking this a potential Henry Ford, “faster horse” moment, I presented my prototype to see how they reacted.

I had built in a slide to see the actions feature, which went by unnoticed almost all around. However, most chefs seemed delighted to bring around a device and track their inventory immediately, rather than through a long, paper process. When hesitation to allowing personal devices came into play, it wasn’t for fear of accidental or unintended orders as we originally assumed (they actually saw that as a pretty needless concern) they simply didn’t want to worry the employees would get distracted texting. Through just a few minutes of conversation, they realized they really didn’t need to worry about this either, since they likely wouldn’t need more then 1-2 employees to have the app in the first place.

Truthfully, one chef wouldn’t come around to the idea of an app assisting him in the workplace. No measure of simplicity, no notable features, and no problem solving could convince him it was a handy tool in his back pocket. Where we lacked in providing for him, we came to numerous ways to plan our very new app for our other participants.

Sadly, this case study ended for me in the research phase. I didn’t get to move on with it because I had moved onto a new job opportunity, but I still consider the experience invaluable.