Isn’t owning a small cafe or a restaurant just about everybody’s alternative dream career, one of those things you’d gladly try if you had an opportunity? Maybe not, maybe it’s just me. However, I’m sure you like to eat out occasionally at a nice place where you feel comfortable and relaxed.
Aria, Toronto: by Sifu Renka
My question is, how important is the restaurant environment for your dining experience? Whether you agree of not, Susskind & Chan (2000) found that food and decor are more strongly related to a high rating by customers than service. The importance of good food is self-evident, but, interestingly enough, many gourmets I know deny the importance of ambience for their satisfaction.
I guess they’d be surprised to know that decor of the restaurant can influence our perception of what’s the most important in the restaurant, the food. Bell et al. (1994, according to Stroebele & De Castro, 2004) showed that by changing the ambience of a restaurant. They created a typical Italian atmosphere with red and white checked tablecloths, the Italian flag, menu written in Italian, and other Mediterranean symbols. Even though the actual menu was the same for the Italian setting and in the usual restaurant setting, all meals were rated as more Italian under the “Italian condition”. The customers also consumed more dessert in the Italian ambience, thus the environment actually influenced their behavior – could we say that they acted “more Italian”?
Restaurant at Ikea in Schaumburg, Illinois; photo by kenfagerdotcom
There are other favourable outcomes for restaurant owners who take care about the ambience. In one study, customers in a more pleasant environment were more likely to dismiss service failure as being a one time only, non-recurring event. However, they attributed more control over the problem to the service provider than subjects in a more pleasant environment and expressed higher dissatisfaction about it. In other words, their expectations were higher. A more pleasant environment was also associated with more favorable evaluations of responsiveness, reliability, assurance and empathy (Leong et al., 1997), in other words, it was related to better perception of service.
The colorful Fork Restaurant in Lyons, Colorado; photo by Rockin Robin
Dew Drop Inn Tea House at Nan Tien Buddhist Temple, Australia; photo by Vanessa Pike-Russell
Another interesting example of how color choice influences the dining experience is that coffee drinkers judged the same coffee served from a blue pot as mild and from a brown pot as too strong. The best judgment of “aromatic and strong” was given to coffee served in a red pot (Favre & November, 1979, according to Stroebele & De Castro, 2004).
KOI Kemang, Jakarta, Indonesia; photo by Chuzai Living
Lighting is important to consider as well. Eating in a softly illuminated dining room might contribute to decreased food intake, whereas eating in a brightly illuminated area might promote the intake of rapidly eaten meals of greater total energy content (Stroebele & De Castro, 2004). Just think of the bright lights in fast food restaurants!
BLT Prime, New York; photo by Muy Yum
There are interesting studies about the influence of music on restaurant customers’ behavior, usually concluding that the faster the music, faster people eat, and less time they spend in the restaurant – again, just remember the music in fast food restaurants (Milliman, 1982; according to Caldwell and Hibbert, 2002; Roballey, et al.1985; according to Caldwell and Hibbert, 2002).
Vegetarian restaurant Il Margutta in Rome, Italy; photo by Oggie Dog
Tarry Lodge in Port Chester, NY; photo by Laissez Fare
KOI Kemang, Jakarta, Indonesia; photo by Chuzai Living
As my friend’s mother, a true Mediterranean woman, always says: A good meal should make you not only filled, but fulfilled. So, if you’re a restaurant owner, I challenge you to ignore the customers’ preference for speed. Not by too slow service, of course, but by creating an atmosphere for a fulfilling dining experience. Some things are just better if they’re not rushed.
- Mamacas, Greece; photo by Eleftheria G
Carefully arranged ambience is a great start, with a convenient choice of decor style, colors, illumination and background music. Of course, you can do much more – ambience is just the frame where everything happens – the content is crucial (and in this I agree with my gourmet friends). If you haven’t already, I’d encourage you to check out which of the Slow Food movement principles are applicable to your business. Everything about dining is worth the effort since much of what’s really important in life happens around the table.
Becker, C. and Murrmann S. K. (1999) The Effect of Cultural Orientation on the Service Timing Preferences of Customers in Casual Dining Operations: An Exploratory Study. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 18, 1, 59-65.
Caldwell, C. and Hibbert, S.A. (2002) The Influence of Music Tempo and Musical Preference on Restaurant Patrons’ Behavior. Psychology & Marketing, 19, 11,895–917.
Leong, S. M., Ang, S. H., and Hui, L. L. (1997) Effects of Physical Environment and Locus of Control on Service Evaluation: A Replication and Extension. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, 4, 4, 231-237.
Stroebele N. and De Castro J.M. Effect of ambience on food intake and food choice. Nutrition, 2004; 20: 821-838.
Susskind, A.M. & Chan, E. K. (2000) How Restaurant Features Affect Check Averages: A Study of the Toronto Restaurant Market. Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly, 41,6, 56-63.
Wildes V.J. & Seo, W. (2001). Customer vote with their forks: Consumer complaining behaviour in the restaurant industry. International Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Administration, 2(2), 21-34.