The research discussed in this paper is based on the application of the SERVQUAL model to the restaurant sector of the hospitality service industry. The SERVQUAL model was developed in 1985 and has been refined since for use in the service industry. In contrast to goods, service quality has been difficult to measure because of the intangibility, variability and heterogeneity of the service. Moreover, the service quality depends on the interaction between service provider and consumer. The SERVQUAL model was developed to overcome these limitations. The research articles discussed in the following sections were all conducted to apply the model in the restaurant sector to evaluate the service quality of various kinds of restaurants.
In addition to the SERVQUAL model, another useful model is the DINESERV model which has also been used by a couple of the researches discussed in this paper. The researches discussed in this paper have attempted to discuss the service quality experienced by elderly in United States restaurants (Fu & Parks, 2001), in airport restaurants in Hong Kong (Heung, Wong, & Qu, 2000), at restaurants in China (Chow et al., 2007), at fine dining restaurants in Australia (Lee & Hing, 1995), and at a four-star hotel in Canada (Saleh & Ryan, 1991). The studies represent sufficient diversity and all substantiated the effectiveness of the SERVQUAL model with necessary modifications for measuring service quality in the restaurant sector. The SERVQUAL model is used to evaluate service quality by identifying various gaps between perceived and expected levels of quality held by management and consumers as well as promised and delivered service quality levels (Grigoroudis & Siskos, 2009). It should also be noted that the SERVQUAL model has been criticized for its inability to accurately present the gap between perceived and expected service (Hudson, Miller, & Hudson, 2006).
2.0 Scope and Objectives of the Research
After reviewing the five research articles identified in the previous section, it is apparent that all the studies had at least one objective in common. All the studies aimed at applying the SERVQUAL model with certain modifications to evaluate restaurant service quality. The studies were based on the assumption that the model had not yet been applied in the restaurant sector which is an important sector of the hospitality industry. For instance, Saleh & Ryan (1991) represent the earliest studies used in this paper where the model originally developed for the financial services sector is applied to the hospitality sector. They were the first to apply the model in the hospitality industry (Kandampully et al. 2001). Heung, Wong, & Qu (2000) also state that the SERVQUAL model, although used in the hotel industry, had not been used in the restaurant sector, and more specifically in the airport restaurant sector. Similarly, Lee & Hing (1995) stated that the model had earlier been used to compare service quality among various branches of a chain of restaurants but had not been used to compare service quality at different restaurants. This prompted them to use the model to evaluate service quality at French and a Chinese restaurant in Australia.
A significant objective of the studies was also to determine the factors that influenced repeated patronage by consumers at restaurants. Since, frequency of visits is a quantifiable indicator of business success, the relationship between customer service quality along with other factors and repeated visits to the restaurants was studied. For instance, Chow et al. (2007) studied the indirect impact of service quality on repeat visits as well as the impact of service quality through its effect on customer satisfaction. They studied the impact of a number of environmental as well as demographic factors to arrive at their conclusions. Fu & Parks (2001) studied the effect of environmental, process and outcome factors on perceived level of service and the intention to revisit the restaurant.
The scope of the studies conducted by the various researches reflects diversity of scope. While some of the studies targeted a specific segment of the population, others studied the perceptions and experiences of a more general market. Some of the studies focused on certain types of restaurants while others were broader in scope. For instance, Heung, Wong, & Qu (2000) limited their study to airport restaurants but their demographic sample was diverse. On the other hand, Fu & Parks limited their demographic sample to the elderly (those aged 55 and above) and also selected family or midscale restaurants for their study. Saleh & Ryan (1991) also conducted a study at a specific four-star hotel in a western Canadian city. This variety in scope represents the flexibility of the SERVQUAL model for application in a variety of settings and for a diverse audience. The methodology of the studies and their major findings are discussed in subsequent sections of the paper.
3.0 Methodology Followed in Collecting Information
The methodology followed by the studies under discussion was fairly similar because of the nature of the audience and the industry sector. Essentially, the studies developed self-administered survey questionnaires to collect the responses of the subjects. The questionnaires were based on the five themes and the 22 items of the SERVQUAL model. However, modifications were made as deemed necessary by the researchers. For instance, Heung, Wong, & Qu (2000) added four items to the 29 items on the DINESERV scale that they used to compare customer perceptions at four different types of airport restaurants. Fu & Parks (2001) combined the responsiveness and reliability dimensions into a single dimension and the assurance and empathy dimensions were grouped together in another single dimension. On the other hand, Lee & Hing (1995) made only minimal changes to the SERVQUAL questionnaire in their comparative study on service quality.
The participants were chosen fairly randomly and a stratified sample was used at times in some of the studies. Heung, Wong, & Qu (2000) interviewed respondents by intercepting them as they left the restaurant. Saleh & Ryan (1991) administered their questionnaires to 200 respondents and remained present to answer any queries of the respondents as they filled out the forms. Chow et al. (2007) also administered questionnaires to 340 respondents while they waited for their bills to arrive. Fu & Parks (2001) also administered questionnaires randomly to respondents after they had completed their main course. All the studies selected respondents randomly and received a high percentage of usable responses.
The findings of the study were evaluated using descriptive as well as inferential statistical techniques. In particular, ANOVA was commonly used along with the Cronbach's alpha to determine the significance of the findings. Heung, Wong, & Qu (2000) used descriptive statistics along with ANOVA to evaluate their findings. They also determined alpha coefficients for their pilot studies to determine the reliability of their model. Chow et al. (2007) used confirmatory factor analysis to determine the validity of their three-factor model.
4.0 Major Findings
The major findings on the selected studies on the topic consist of the identification of the factors that affect repeat visits by customers to restaurants and those that do not. A fairly universal finding among all the studies is that tangibles are not a strong factor in the perception of service quality and also have little influence over decisions to visit the same restaurant in future. However, it is also recognized by the researchers that a minimum level of quality with regard to tangibles needs to be maintained to avoid any negative perception with regard to them. But going beyond this minimum service level is critical for success (Wentz, 2007). Rao (2011) identifies a zone of tolerance between the extremes of the minimum and maximum service levels. In this perspective, the tangibles can be regarded as hygiene factors in affecting consumers' perception of service quality at restaurants. Fu & Parks (2001) determine that responsive coupled with reliability and assurance coupled with empathy is stronger determinants of perceived service quality than tangibles. Similarly, the study by Heung, Wong, & Qu (2000) found that tangibles held little importance for consumers in a context where they do not look forward to a long-term association with the restaurant but are more interested in getting a quick meal before catching their next flight. Assurance was found to be the most highly rated dimension while tangibles were valued the least by patrons of both the French as well as the Chinese restaurant in Australia (Lee & Hing, 1995).
Reliability emerged as one of the strongest factors affecting perceived customer service quality along with assurance. Reliability is used to measure the heterogeneity or consistency of the service quality (Hoffman & Bateson, 2008). According to the SERVQUAL model, reliability indicates the degree to which consumers can depend on the restaurant or service provider to provide accurate and dependable service (Hill & Alexander, 2006) such as having stated items on the menu and bringing their orders within the promised time. This was significant in the study of Heung, Wong, & Qu (2000) where the respondents were concerned about being ready for their flight. In a different context, the study by Fu…