More Than a Service Encounter? Insights into the Emotions of Hospitality through Special Meal Occasions

By Lashley, Conrad; Morrison, Alison et al. | Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management, April 2005 | Go to article overview

More Than a Service Encounter? Insights into the Emotions of Hospitality through Special Meal Occasions


Lashley, Conrad, Morrison, Alison, Randall, Sandie, Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management


This paper reports on a research project that involved the analysis of accounts of 'most memorable meal' occasions. Respondents' perceptions of the meal experience and service encounter, and the mythologies, values and meanings employed to construct their social worlds as represented by their communication of the occasion were systematically analysed. The findings are heavily context-dependent, with variables including the symbolic significance of the occasion, the sociodemographic profile of the respondents and the degree of socialisation and cultural conditioning relative to the dining experience. The high symbolic significance attached to the selected meal occasion defines the degree of emotional intensity and engagement, and immersion in the event as a dedicated consumer activity. These combine to confer status on the meal as a powerful cultural medium that transcends its value and meaning as a tangible object. The meal experience represents an event containing symbolic and emotional components, and is multidimensional in nature. The findings suggest the relationship between hospitality in the domestic and private domains is complex. Although the domestic domain was a key setting for some special meal occasions, and the language of domestic settings was often used to describe experiences in the commercial domain, authenticity was also to be found in commercial domain settings. These respondents do not suggest that the commercial domain represents a less than authentic alternative, as some have suggested; rather, these respondents reported feeling the emotions of hospitality in both settings. Commercial hospitality providers need to understand these emotions. They suggest that customer satisfaction is more likely to be a response to the emotion of the occasion than rational calculations implicit in much service quality-management literature.

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The focus of this paper is on social, as opposed to convenience, eating. This basic distinction is made by Cullen (1994), who suggests that social eating must fulfil certain social functions for it to be success ful. The meal experience investigated, therefore, involves more than snacks, 'grazing' activities, 'refueling' occasions, or occasions with motives, such as business lunches (Lashley, 2000). It engages with the special and memorable occasion, providing insights into aspects concerned with emotions and inherent social dynamics. Meal occasions may be regarded both as an 'object' displaying structure and form as well as an 'event' with physiological, psychological and sociological components (Douglas, 1975), and are recognisable in that they tend to be associated with their cyclical appearance in the household and with social events (Mitchell, 1999). In this respect, Gillespie and Morrison (2001) suggest that consumption holds symbolic emotional value associated with rites of passage, such as graduation, wedding or funeral. Thus, the paper incorporates sociological perspectives in drawing on the points of view of young consumers of hospitality, and delves into their emotions, associated social practices and value systems. Specifically, it progresses knowledge through an appreciation of the place and composition of a sociable and memorable meal experience within their lives as a structured object that represents a symbolic and emotional event, as supported by Warde and Martens (1998).

The content of the paper suggests that hospitality consumed in the home and in commercial settings serves a complex function in that consumption of associated products and services is in part a means of making and maintaining social relationships. For as Beardsworth and Keil (1997) emphasise, this adds the dimensions of kinship, friendship and 'enemy-ship' as integral to the meal experience, and by their nature they cannot be easily divorced from the emotions embodied therein. Furthermore, behavioural practices associated with the consumption of hospitality exhibit social meaning greater than the activity itself, which tends to be reinforced by the dominant culture.

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