Consumer Behaviour in Restaurants: Assessing the Importance of Restaurant Attributes in Consumer Patronage and Willingness to Pay

Article excerpt

The purpose of the paper is to explore the relationship between restaurant attributes and consumers' willingness to patronize. Current research shows that the most common factors affecting restaurant guests while making this decision are: food quality, service quality and overall restaurant environment. The present paper explores these three factors and their affect on consumers' willingness to pay and their willingness to patronize when these factors are modified from low to high and vice versa. A dynamic comparison method using scenario-based experimental primary research has been used for the current study. It is a 2 x 2 x 3 experiment with two types of restaurants (full-service and quick service), two levels of performance (high and low) and three major attributes (food quality, service and ambience). Contrary to the commonly held notion in economic literature that the relationship between consumers' willingness to pay and the elasticity (intention to patronize) for restaurants' attributes is linear, the current results indicated that this relationship is not linear thus demanding further investigation. Additionally, questioning the earlier conclusions that all restaurant attributes are equally important in consumer decision making, the current results indicated that consumers place differential importance on each attribute. And the level of importance placed on each attribute varies with the type of restaurant, upscale or quick service. This is one of the major contributions of the paper questioning the long held belief and early empirical studies about restaurant attributes. The obtained results also indicated that food quality is more important than service and ambience for consumers in upscale restaurants while speed of service is more important than food quality and ambience in quick service restaurants. Customers in both upscale and quick service restaurants are willing to spend more if the restaurants' resources are focused on attributes that are appropriate for that segment. These findings are significantly important to the restaurant industry as they identify the critical attributes for each segment of the restaurant industry.

INTRODUCTION

Restaurants are one of the six major industries in the field of hospitality-tourism (Ottenbacher, Harrington & Parsa, 2009). According to the National Restaurant Association (NRA, 2009), restaurant sales in 2009, were estimated to exceed $566 billion. The restaurant industry is estimated to be 4 percent of the Gross Domestic Product of the United States (U.S.) and provides jobs for more than 13 million people. Restaurants are highly visible with nearly 945,000 locations throughout the United States. Industry sales represented an increase of approximately 2.5 percent in 2009 over 2008 sales. Despite the sluggish economy, unlike most other industries, the foodservice industry overall continued to maintain sales increases (NRA, 2009).

In order to continue the trend of increasing sales in the restaurant industry, overall guest satisfaction and repeat business must be a priority for organizations. Increasing guest satisfaction can lead to increased guest loyalty, which ultimately leads to increased revenues and profitability (Perutkova & Parsa 2010). Because the restaurant industry consists of diverse segments with different types of guest service encounters, it is important for restaurants to determine the level of service expected from guests and deliver this level of service and quality effectively and consistently to achieve the desired level of guest satisfaction.

Current study investigates the important attributes in the two major segments of the restaurants industry, full-service restaurants and quick service restaurants, using a scenario approach. Earlier studies on this topic have used rank order method in soliciting consumer preferences when patronizing a restaurant and their willingness to pay (WTP). In the rank order method, consumers consider restaurant attributes in a sequential manner in order of their importance when making their restaurant decisions (Perutkova & Parsa 2010). …