The Dining Experience: Critical Areas of Guest Satisfaction

Article excerpt

Research was undertaken to confirm those areas that guests report as critical in the dining experience. Surveys were distributed in Auckland and Hamilton, New Zealand, that resulted in a data set of 506 useable responses. The survey contained both open and closed questions, with particular focus on the major areas of 'importance' and 'performance'. As part of the analysis, structural equation modelling was used, which resulted in a model that fitted the data very well. This model, plus other analyses, revealed the importance of 'cleanliness', the 'quality of the food' and 'service quality' to the dining experience. Of particular note in the analysis is the high correlation between the above factors, and the way in which each related together. This suggests that no one particular attribute is critical to guest satisfaction, and, further, that even if one attribute does not meet guest expectations, as long as other attributes do overall guest satisfaction will still result. Therefore, researchers should look at the dining experience in a multifaceted way rather than over emphasising individual aspects of it.

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The dining experience in the hospitality industry is complex. This complexity is due to the extent of customer participation in the service process (Kandampully, 1997; Parasuraman, Zeithaml, & Berry, 1985). Customer perception of the dining experience is strongly influenced by emotional and experiential reaction from the encounter with the service provider. Nightingale (1979) suggested the model in Figure 1, which illustrates the relationship between provider's service system (dotted lines), and the customer's service experience (solid lines). Also, the service system is refined in response to customer feedback, suggesting that service quality exists only in the perception of the customer, not in that of service providers (Kandampully, 1997). As a result, understanding customer needs about the dining experience becomes essential to the success of a restaurant business.

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Restaurants must endeavour to deliver not only quality products and service, but also achieve a high level of customer satisfaction, which is very difficult given the many and varied customer demands and competitive business environment. Achieving customer delight may encourage return business and a greater market share, although research has indicated that there is a weak correlation between satisfaction scores and loyalty (Van Looy, Gemmel, & Dierdonck, 1998).

When considering the dining experience, there are a large number of factors that influence the satisfaction of guests, comprising both tangibles and intangibles. As illustrated by Kandampully and Butler (2001), one of these factors is that of the service provided, which is an intangible as it cannot be reworked or returned. The decor, appearance and amenities of the restaurant are the tangible elements of the experience. A study of 63 Toronto restaurants found that there was a statistically significant effect on the average amount spent by restaurant guests in relation to decor, including items such as outside seating, live entertainment and parking (Susskind & Chan, 2000). Further, recent research has indicated that guests in restaurants link the appearance of an establishment with potential concerns about food safety (Banotai, 2003).

A review of research conducted into restaurants shows that researchers have focused on many individual components of the dining experience. These include health and safety, food production, marketing, customer relations, service and production quality (Johns, 1996; Kivela, 1997; Lehtinen & Lehtinen, 1991; Norton, 2002; Susskind, 2002; Svein & Trond 1992). However useful the study of the individual components of the dining experience is, it must be noted that the dining experience is a complex one, and that overall satisfaction relates not to just one aspect of it. …