Service Quality Assessment of Restaurants in Darwin, NT, Australia

Article excerpt

Today's restaurant-goers are more concerned about having a high quality experience of dining. They expect atmosphere and entertainment and prefer restaurants with a personality rather than those perceived as offering a commodity. This study discusses the significance of service quality and customer satisfaction and undertakes a service quality assessment of restaurants in Darwin in the Northern Territory (NT) of Australia as perceived by their customers. The study analyses and discusses the responses of 160 participants about their expectations and reasons of eating out in Darwin. First, the customer's perception is established about the important features of a meal experience and then they are compared to their actual meal experience. Various styles for restaurants were categorised for the study and included: restaurants within large hotels, licensed restaurants in Darwin City, licensed restaurants in Cullen Bay, and Al fresco style restaurants. The paper also attempts to provide determine if expectations of restaurant-goers in a small city are met appropriately. The findings are expected to help the participating operators of restaurants by providing them an assessment of service quality as perceived by their customers. Nearly all participating restaurants have commented that this is the first time they have been involved in such a study. The findings will also facilitate an extensive further study with greater restaurant participation.

Significance of Service Quality and Customer Satisfaction

The emergence of the service sector, combined with traditional marketing approaches espoused by writers such as Kotler, led, in the 1970s, to the development and description of a services marketing process. Fisk, Brown and Bitner (1993) identify three stages in this literature. Prior to 1980 the debate was dominated by the question as to what extent was services marketing different from that associated with the marketing of Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) which had hitherto attracted most attention due to the post-War growth in consumer spending, branding and supermarket sales that characterised that period. It is from this literature that the often-quoted characteristics of services as being heterogeneous, intangible and requiring the presence of the seller emerge, and it is not coincidental that the early works on the marketing of tourism stem from this tradition (e.g., Middleton, 1988). In the second stage, between 1980 to 1985, attention begins to turn to questions of service encounters and service quality. Oliver's (1981) work is an early example and it is during this period that the gap between customer expectation and perception appears as an important concept in measurements of client satisfaction and service quality. It is perhaps notable that Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry's first statement of SERVQUAL occurred in 1985. By 1994, Parasuraman et al. (1994a, 1994b, 1994c) were making similar arguments to Oliver with reference to service quality, while in 1995 Mansfield applied Rodman's (1963) concept of "value stretch" to the tourist behaviours of London Jewry. The third stage since 1985 has seen an increasingly rigorous and academic debate about the nature of consumer satisfaction and service quality, and has merged the issue of services marketing into service quality theory.

Thus, in 1994 Parasuraman et al. wrote:

   ... SERVQUAL's structure was modified ... to
   capture not only the discrepancy between perceived
   service and desired service--labeled as
   measure of service superiority (or MSS)--but
   also the discrepancy between perceived and adequate
   service--labeled as measure of adequacy
   (or MSA) (1994b, p. 6)

In consequence they recommended that SERVQUAL should be administered in a three-column format with each of the columns being headed for each of the items "My Minimum Service Level is ..." "My Desired Service Level is ..." and "My Perception of Service Performance is . …