By conducting a literature review, the reader gets a better understanding of the question in hand. According to LeCompte et al(2003,p.124), “conducting a literature review is a means of demonstrating an author’s knowledge about a particular field of study, including vocabulary, theories, key variables and phenomena, and its methods and history.”
The research question which is addressed is service quality in restaurants, to which the literature review would focus to wherever necessary, with wide areas of service quality in general being looked into. Service Quality is not only an object of wide interest among organizations, but also is a topic that is widely discussed by researchers. Since it doesn’t possess characteristics such as products do, service quality has never been easy to define. Researches have proposed different characteristics in terms of its dimensions, but few have been used. One of the most widely used model is based on the comparison between the expectations and perceptions of the customer about an organization’s service. Parasuraman et al.(1985) created a model to measure service quality called the Gap Model. This was later used as a basis for creating the SERVQUAL model which is a 22-item scale used to measure service quality. It had a great impact on later works and evolved as one of the predominant tools to be used across organizations. Restaurant is a field where SERVQUAL is used extensively for measuring their service quality. In the following section, the service quality literature is explained in detailed and later on, its linkage to the restaurant industry is looked into.
1. SERVICE QUALITY
“The service management literature argues that customer satisfaction is the result of a customer’s perception of the value received, where value equals perceived service quality relative to price “(Hallowell, 1996, p. 29).
1.1 DEFINITION OF SERVICE
In order to understand what Service Quality is, it is essential that the term ‘Service’ is defined. Grönroos(2001) claims that services are processes and not physical entities or goods, and that service firms have processes that interact rather than products. According to Stromgren(2007, p.12) , ” a service is an activity or series of activities of a more or less intangible nature than normal, but not necessarily , take place in the interaction between the customer and service employees and/or physical resources or goods and/or systems of the service provider, which are provided as solutions to the customer problems”.
1.2 DEFINITION OF QUALITY
There are plenty of definitions of quality that are prescribed by different authors. According to Juran(1988), quality can be defined as the fitting to the intended use of the entity and thereby meeting the expected standards. In the case of an entity not fitting its intended use and expectations, the customers can bill it as of poor quality. Crosby(1979) prescribed quality as `conformance to requirements`; Garvin(1988) found internal and external failures of the entity and measured quality by the count of the failures. However, Parasuraman et al(1985) claims that quality cannot be defined using a product-based approach when dealing with service sectors and hence came forward with the term ‘Service Quality’.
Considering that my research topic and questions is based on service quality, the explanation provided by Parasuraman et al(1985) is used.
1.3 DEFINITION OF SERVICE QUALITY
The concept of service quality and its theories and practicality has been considered very important by the academics and practitioners over the past few decades because it acts as a chief contributor to customer satisfaction and profitability (Parasuraman et al,1985). Thus service quality has become as important factor for all organizations that need to survive in a competitive market. The definition of service quality as conceptualized in various literatures on service, centres on the quality perceived, and is defined as the judgement made by the customer about an entity’s overall excellence or superiority (Parasuraman et al., 1988). In accordance with the finding of Ghobadian et al(1994),service generally has four characteristics which are different from manufacturing goods. The four characteristics are described below:
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Inseparability of production and consumption: This characteristic of services refers to the fact that production and consumption of service is inseparable as they are in contact with each other (Parasuraman et al.,1985). The service provider in turn becomes an important component of the service and is assessed by the consumers (Zeithaml et al., 2003). In the process, the consumers become co-producers of the service (Edvardsson,2005). In the service industry, the producers create the services which simultaneously involve its consumption. There is no room for complacency and quality shortfalls cannot be covered at this point. To illustrate, the service is being constructed at the same time that the customer is receiving it.
Intangibility: Services are fundamentally intangible which means that it is impossible for the customers to physically see, smell or touch the product before the purchase is made. Services can easily be copied as a result of intangibility, because most of the services are not patented (Zeithaml et al.,2003). Intangibility results not only in difficulty to manage services, but it becomes hard for the consumers to evaluate(Lovelock et al.,2004). Hence, the customer turns to other alternatives such as obvious signs of quality such as reputation, physical tangibles, and word of mouth from previous users. In services, word of mouth and reputation have the most importance, and thus drives the service provider to deliver services right and flawless, the first time.
Perishability : Service cannot be inventoried for later use which means that it impossible to have a final check like manufactured goods. According to Zeithaml et al.(2003), careful planning has to be made to manage services, as they cannot be resold or re-inventoried. Hill(1977,p.318), in his article, mentions that services can be seen as ” a change in the condition of a person, or of a good belonging to some economic unit, which is brought about as the result of the activity of some other economic”. Another dimension to this was added by Lovelock et al.(2004) that stated that goods could be more complex to manage as the costs are incurred for its storage. So, service operations must get the right service first time.
Heterogeneity: It involves service consistency and accuracy. Due to the fact that delivery of service usually involves a contact between provider and consumer, thus the behaviour of service provider can influence the perception of the customer. Moreover the accuracy of the information and the ability to interpret customer’s expectation correctly has a great influence on customer’s perception of service quality. However, expectations may change during delivery process. For this reason, service providers have to rely heavily on the ability of their staff to understand customer’s demand and respond in a suitable way.
Service can be divided into two dimensions, the functional quality and the technical quality (Gronroos,1984). The technical quality essentially deals with “what” or what service is provided and functional quality deals with “how” or how the service is delivered. Another conceptual model which was brought forward by Lehtinen et al. (1991) comprises of physical, interactive and corporate qualities of an organization. Interactive quality deals with the overall interaction of the customers with the elements of the firm. Corporate quality deals with the image customers have about the firm. Physical quality deals with the physical good which is consumed during a service process, food at a restaurant for example and also the physical elements which make up the facilities of the restaurant. Going further deep into the service quality literature, Parasuraman et al. (1985) used 10 dimensions to explain service quality which were tangibles, reliability, responsiveness, courtesy, credibility, competence, access, communication, security and understanding. This model was later reduced to a scale of 5 dimensions after a process of reliability and validity testing (Parasuraman et al. , 1988).
2. CUSTOMER LOYALTY
The satisfaction of the customers is one of the main aims in any business, the restaurant business in this case. Businesses recognize that maintaining current customers is much easier than winning over new ones to replace the loss (McColl-Kennedy & Schneider, 2000). It is mandatory for restaurants to strategize their services to suit the ever-changing dining needs and lifestyles of customers, if they have to increase loyalty from customers. (Min et al,2002). “Individuals’ dining expectations have evolved over the years due to changing social environment, better education, the development of culinary culture, healthy dieting awareness and cultural influences”(Markovic, S .et al ,2010 p.182). According to Wishna (2000), customers, in future, would expand their dining horizons to a new level. They would need new experiences to satisfy their ever-changing requirements.
Probably the most extensively debated topic about service quality field is the constructs of service quality and the related customer satisfaction (Johnston,1995). Many researches have come to a conclusion that they are two different entities but the relation between the two entities is still questioned(Cronin et al.1992). Parasuraman et al(1988,p16), suggested that “perceived service quality is a global judgement, or attitude, relating to the superiority of the service, whereas satisfaction is related to a specific transaction”. Parasuraman et al(1995) identified from their research that satisfaction is clearly linked to each specific transaction. They also mention that customers may be satisfied with the particular transaction but might not identify the firm as a high quality one.
On one hand, there are other researches which support the argument that customer satisfaction is an antecedent of service quality(Bitner,1990). Bolton et al.(1991) suggest that satisfaction is derived from disconfirmation and becomes an important factor which influences customers’ opinion of the service quality. However, recent researches claim that service quality is the antecedent of satisfaction, in opposition to the arguments from the earlier works. According to Zeithaml et al(2003) states that while customer satisfaction is a broader concept, service quality is a component that comprises of customer satisfaction along with other components which includes price, product quality, personal factors and situational factors.
3. SERVICE QUALITY MODELS
The use of technology can provide an organization with the needed thrust to enhance its service quality. There are several conceptual models of service quality available, which helps the management in identifying quality issues. By making sure these issues do not re-surface, it increases the possibility of improving the organization’s profitability, efficiency and overall performance ( Parasuraman et al,1988).
3.1 THE GAP MODEL
Service quality, unlike goods quality, cannot be measured in terms of the number of defects. It is an elusive component which is difficult to measure ( Parasuraman et al,1988). In their earlier research in 1985, Parasuraman et al. identified that service quality rises from the comparison of the expected quality and the perceived quality of service performed. They explored the concept of service quality by taking focus group interviews. The conceptual model which was identified as a result of the research consisted of five gaps in the desired service.The first four gaps is part of the perceptions and tasks in providing services, by the management. The last gap is the overall expectations from the customers. They formed a new service quality model which was based on the gaps between the expected and perceived quality. This is known as the GAP Model. Fig 1. Illustrates the model.
The five Gaps that were identified are ( Parasuraman et al., 1985) : Knowledge GAP, Standards GAP, Delivery GAP, Communications GAP.
GAP 1 : The Knowledge GAP is the difference in the level of expectation of the customer and the organization’s perceptions of the customer’s expectations. In some cases, the management fails in understanding what the customers want. The dimensions identified by the management as important and which constitutes good service might not be the things that the customers look for.
GAP 2 : The Standards GAP is the difference in organization’s perceptions of the customer’s expectations and the service quality standards. The management find it difficult to deliver services according to the customers’ expectations due to lack of resources or other conditions which are not favourable. But they understand what the customers want.
GAP 3 : The Delivery GAP is the difference between the organization’s service delivery and its related communication with the customer. Staff performance towards delivery of the service plays a huge part in the customer’s perception of the service quality. But it can be inconsistent, even though the standards are specified. The quality of service delivery can be affected due to variability among providers.
GAP 4 : The Communications GAP is the difference between the organization’s service delivery and the communicated information about the service to the customers. This gap occurs when a firm fails to deliver the promised services. The consequences of overpromising in that the expectations of the customers are high and when the actual service is received, their perceptions of service quality sink.
GAP 5: Overall experience of the service is the main point of focus here. The first four gaps form the perception of service that the customers receive whereas the fifth gap stands for the customer’s expectations compared to their perceptions, ie their view on the service quality.
The diagram is illustrated in Fig 1.
Fig.1 The GAP Model
The GAP model is the most widely used and is one of the most important contributions to service quality literature (Brown et al. 1995). Gaps 1 to 4 shows how the service is delivered, while Gap 5 depicts the overall difference between the expected and perceived service with respect to the customer. Gap 5 is the most influential in the SERVQUAL model (Parasuraman et al, 1985).
Measuring the quality of services in a restaurant is a daunting task as both the service outcome and service delivery is to be assessed. According to Wu et al. (2009), service encounters in restaurants comprise of three components: environmental elements (e.g. design, music,lighting), employees (e.g. professional skills, reliability) and customers (e.g. interaction with other customers). Environmental elements consist of the design of the restaurant interiors, the music being played and the lighting which is used. Employees form the core part of the service which helps to perform the service. To understand all characteristics of the restaurant service quality an appropriate measurement instrument should be developed.
SERVQUAL is an instrument that is used to assess the customer’s perception of the service quality of a service. It is a multi-scale instrument, which took its shape from the GAP model originally, and later was developed further in the 1980’s. “The instrument contains two sections. One section consists of 22 items that measure consumers’ expectations. The other section includes 22 corresponding items that measure consumers’ perceptions of the service they received. The 22 statements represent the five service dimensions that consumers use to evaluate service quality: tangibles, reliability, responsiveness, assurance and empathy” (Markovic, S., 2010, p.183).
According to Parasuraman et al. (1988),
Tangibles: Comprises of physical settings, the equipment used and the appearance of the employees
Reliability: the ability of the employees to deliver the promised level of service
Responsiveness: the ability of the employees to be willing to help out the customers and serve customers without any delay
Assurance: is the level of knowledge the employees possess and their courtesy towards the customers, together with their ability to build trust and express their confidence
Empathy: is the providing of individualized attention to the customers and be caring towards them.
In SERVQUAL, the service quality measurement is based on the comparison of customers’ expectations and their perceptions of delivered service. The difference between expectations and perceptions scores is called the SERVQUAL gap. A negative gap indicates that received service did not met customers’ expectations. On the contrary, a positive gap indicates that customers perceived that service delivery exceeded their expectations.
SERVQUAL is used as an instrument to diagnose an organizations weaknesses and strength in terms of service quality and uncover them. It creates a systematic, multi-stage process that is based on the dimensions identified and entities which correspond to that organization (Zeithaml et al., 1988). It can be used in businesses of any kind and provides a basis structure owing to its expectations-perceptions model, comprising statements for all the five different dimensions.
3.3 LIMITATIONS OF SERVQUAL
Many organizations have used SERVQUAL for measuring their service quality with considerable amount of success, although there have been certain problems which have been identified. These problems are :
Dimensions of the model – Parasuraman et al.(1991) claimed that the five dimensions is SERVQUAL used to assess service quality can be used in all service contexts. However there were differences in opinion among other researchers. Buttle(1996) argued that the dimensions change with respect to numbers and the factors as SERVQUAL is used in different service contexts. According a research conducted in a retail setting by Finn et al.(1991), SERVQUAL dimensions are not generic. Babakus et al.(1992) noted that the dimensions can be simple or complex depending on the type of industries it is used in. A major argument to Parasuraman et al. was by Carman(1990), where he did not agree with the combining of the 10 original dimensions to five as he thinks the collapsed dimensions could have been important in certain areas and hence should be looked into as a separate dimension.
Expectation of the service – Expectation in a service context essentially means the desired level of service that a customer would like to receive ( Parasuraman et al., 1988). It is the minimum level of service quality that the provider should provide. But due to the ambiguous nature, it can be interpreted in different ways. While some may rate expectations according to their expected ideal or optimal performance, others may rate it as a minimum tolerable performance (Teas,1993).
Issues with GAP scores – The high rating of expectations by customers in the SERVQUAL setup leads to negative scores which immediately start questioning the analytical utility and interpretation of the concept (Smith, 1995).
Process Focus – According to Buttle(1996), SERVQUAL deals with only the process or the method by which services are delivered but not the quality of the final output that is provided. When service quality is assessed, both process and output should be used in SERVQUAL as both together can give the prediction of the choice that the customer would make rather than one without the other(Richard et al.,1993).
Pricing – Price plays an important role in determining the customer’s expectations and perceived quality(Smith,1995). He states that according to some customers, excellent food service comes with high price while lower prices are associated with restaurants which are targeting a lesser market. Hence, according to Smith(1995), price should be considered when measuring service quality.
SERVQUAL is only one of those instruments which is used in measuring service quality. And going by the words of Asubonteng et al.(1996), until a model which is capable of better measurement evolves, SERVQUAL will be dominant. I am using SERVQUAL as the tool to measure service quality in the restaurants I am focussing on.
4. SERVICE QUALITY IN THE RESTAURANT INDUSTRY
Expectations are defined as what the customer beliefs of the service that would be provided and is the main standard against which the actual performance is measured (Zeithaml, V. and Bitner, M., J. 2003). There are five types of expectations of the customers- (i) minimum tolerable expectations (ii) acceptable expectations (iii) experience-based norms (iv) normative “should” expectations (v) ideal expectations(Zeithaml, V. and Bitner, M., J. 2003)
According to Garvin(1987), the common attributes of service quality are Performance, features, conformance, aesthetics, reliability, durability, serviceability and perceived quality. Parasuraman et al. (1990) developed a five-dimensional framework of service quality which consisted of tangibles, reliability, responsiveness, assurance and empathy to analyse service quality. However, GroÈnroos (1990) came up with a framework of his own which consisted of six elements in measuring the perceived value of services. These are explained in Table 1.
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There are many factors that may influence customers’ assessments of restaurant quality. Previous researches suggested that food quality, physical environment and service are the major components of overall restaurant service quality (Dulen 1999; Susskind & Chan 2000). Among these attributes, food quality is the most important dimension of the restaurant experience (Sulek & Hensley 2004). What is more, it is an essential requirement to satisfy the needs and expectations of restaurant customers (Peri 2006). Although there is no consensus on the individual attributes that constitute food quality, the researchers focus on presentation, healthy options, taste, freshness and temperature (Namkung & Jang 2008).
Several studies have cited the importance of service quality for customer satisfaction with a service encounter (Stevens et al. 1995; Qu 1997). Additionally, in restaurants settings, service quality is an important determinant of customer satisfaction (Kim et al.2009) and return intention (Kivela et al. 2000).
Stevens et al. (1995) developed an instrument called DINESERV which was based on the SERVQUAL. It was created to measure the perceptions of the customers’ about the restaurants’ service quality. It was used by many as a very reliable and simple tool for finding out the customers view on service quality. It consisted of 29 items, which fell into the five service quality dimensions. It is used in assessing different types of restaurants. Through the findings, it is known that the customers give the highest priority to reliability. Further researchers like Heung et al.(2000) have identified that the customers’ expectations vary depending on the restaurants. They used DINESERV to compare and contrast certain restaurants at an airport and found out that the expectations vary with different restaurants.
However none of the tools have included food quality as a possible dimension. According to Andaleeb et al.(2006), SERVQUAL should include food quality as a service quality dimension as food quality covers the entire section of food service attributes. This was supported by Namkung et al.(2007) who valued the importance of food quality in measuring service quality as they identified in their research that it was the main factor which influenced customer satisfaction. They claim food quality constitute of presentation, variety, healthy options, taste, freshness and temperature(Namkung et al., 2007).
Against this backdrop, the main aim of the research, the use of technology in improving service quality in restaurants is looked into.
5. USE OF EXISTING TECHNOLOGY IN RESTAURANTS TO AID SERVICE QUALITY
The use of technology is increasing in all aspects of the restaurant industry’s operations and management. Technology is traditionally viewed as the key component in industries. In recent years, technological developments have acted as the key catalyst in improving service operations and providing the customers with enhanced experiences at restaurants.
According to Berry(1995), technology should be used as a servant rather than acting as the master. It should be used to add value to the service offered to the customers, not to completely replace the role of service. Technology offers a better method of performing the service, which eventually benefits the firm, the customers and the employees. It provides a better image to the firm, better dining experiences to the customers and varied and easy way of performing service, to the employees. To cite an example, McDonalds, the chain of restaurants maintain their business by deploying simple technologies to aid services. Devices like food timers and vegetable cutting machines are used to maintain the consistency of various products.
When the management considers the type of technology to be adopted, they should also take into account, the reaction of the customers to it, apart from the expenses and benefits that the restaurant might face. It is worthwhile to note that, a new technology will not be of significance if it does not satisfy the customer.
By using technology, it benefits both the customers and the restaurant management.
5.1 Benefits to customers
Improved convenience – The term service convenience deals with the desired time and effort the customers are ready to invest in dining out. An increase in service convenience is directly related to an increase in customer satisfaction (Holdern et al., 2008). Technology can be used to improve access convenience which deals with the relative ease with which an order can be placed, transaction convenience which deals with speeding up the payments and benefit convenience which deals with controlling the pace of their time at the restaurant (Dixon et al.,2009).
Increased control – Control is defined as the need to
demonstrate one’s competence, superiority, and mastery
over the environment( Hui et al., 2002). From past researches, it has been proved that customers feel more satisfied when they feel they have substantial control over their service encounter( Ariely et al., 2000). Hence, when implementing new technologies, it is important to choose such that the majority of the control the service encounters remains with the customer.
5.2 Benefits to the restaurant management
Service speed – Increased speed of service can lead to more satisfaction and higher revenues, as more customers can be served. This is where use of technology steps up. The time taken for taking orders, communicating the orders to the kitchen, managing the tables, transaction times can all be reduced by the use of technology. Hand-held electronic devices like ipad and HP touchpad are widely used in restaurants. Orders taken through these devices can be directly sent to the electronic display board in the kitchen, so that there is no delay between taking the order and food preparation, which speeds up the service, and eventually better customer satisfaction. The tables in the restaurant can be managed by using advanced table managing softwares that are prevalent these days. This can help in effectively controlling queuing. Transactions and payments can be made faster by using handheld credit card machines at the table to ensure there are no delays. While faster service always leads to better satisfaction, it should be managed properly so that the customers must not feel the notion that they are being rushed through the service.
Reduction in labour cost- Usage of technology helps in reducing cost incurred due to large number of staff. Usage of self-service kiosk and online and off-line reservations help reduce labor charges. Also, kitchen equipments like automatic dishwasher, plate warmer helps reduce costs incurred for staffs.
A steady increase in volume and revenue – A new trend in the modern restaurant industry is to create attractive websites and create their own accounts in various social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter. Customers can access information from these pages and can also subscribe to updates from these restaurants about the latest offerings, menu and special events if any. Online reservations provide the restaurants with a separate channel which makes the restaurant feel more accessible and also through which customers can be attracted. Previous researchers have found out 59% of the restaurants which uses online reservations encounter a steady increase in sales(Lang,2006). Other research identified that customers even make online reservations even during hours outside the working hours of the restaurant, which means the restaurants are capturing business during periods which they normally did not expect to( Layton, 2006; Ross, 2006).
Improved service and product – Technology if used appropriately, can aid restaurants to provide improved and consistent service to customers. Past researches have shown that an increase in the perceived product quality and service quality have led to an increase in the restaurants’ profit and better customer satisfaction ( Rust et al.,1995).
The areas in a restaurant where technology are used can be divided into five section, namely(Dixon et al.(2009)):
The usage is depicted in a tabular form in the next page.
1.Table management software
2.Pagers given to the customers
3.Hand-held order-taking devices while waiting in the queue
Pagers alert the customers seated in the waiting area when their table is ready
Hand-held devices help to take the orders from the waiting customers and transfer it directly to the kitchen so as to minimize the delay of food preparation
Virtual menus available online which contains details of the nutritional values
Virtual menus available at the table
Customers can decide on the menu when ordering online based on the nutritional value
Customers seated at a table gets to know the content of the food and its nutritional values before ordering
Online table and food reservation system
Websites to connect to the customers about new offers, special discounts and new items on the menu
Accounts on social networks to create a sense of belonging to the customers
Online ordering helps in reducing the waiting time for food at the restaurant
Customers get to know the latest happenings at the restaurant and understand the new things on offer
Urges customers to become part of the restaurant’s online family
Ordering food through kiosk
Making payments through kiosk
Ordering through kiosk helps the customers to order through a touch screen device, without other staff contact
Making payments using kiosks add the personal touch to each customer
Payment using hand-held credit card machines,SMS and NFC(Near-field communication)
Makes payment much faster than the traditional cash or taking-card-to-counter method
Table 1 : Usage of existing technology(Dixon et al.200
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