Synthesizing moderate upscale restaurant patrons’ dining experiences

Michael Daniel Clemes (Lincoln University, Christchurch, New Zealand)
Zurinawati Mohi (University Technology MARA, Selangor, Malaysia)
Xuedong Li (Lincoln University, Christchurch, New Zealand)
Baiding Hu (Lincoln University, Christchurch, New Zealand)

Asia Pacific Journal of Marketing and Logistics

ISSN: 1355-5855

Publication date: 11 June 2018

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to develop and test a comprehensive hierarchical model of the interrelationships among five higher order marketing constructs (service quality, customer satisfaction, perceived value, restaurant image and behavioural intentions) for moderate upscale restaurants in Malaysia. A third order conceptualisation of service quality is also included in the empirical analysis.

Design/methodology/approach

The data were analysed using exploratory factor analysis, confirmatory factor analysis and structural equations.

Findings

Service quality, customer satisfaction and restaurant image all have a strong, positive impact on the behavioural intentions of moderate upscale restaurant patrons. Service quality, perceived value and restaurant image are also important determinants of customer satisfaction. Behavioural intentions to re-patronise a restaurant and recommend it to friends are influenced more strongly by restaurant image than by customer satisfaction. Three primary dimensions and ten pertaining sub-dimensions are modelled in the third order conceptualisation of service quality. The primary and sub-dimensions also vary in importance amongst the customers in the sampling frame.

Originality/value

This is the first empirical research that develops and tests a comprehensive hierarchical model for moderate upscale restaurants to provide a complete and integrative analysis of a service setting. The interrelationships among service quality, customer satisfaction, perceived value restaurant image and behavioural intentions are assessed. A third order conceptualisations of service quality is also included in the modelling framework.

Keywords

Citation

Clemes, M., Mohi, Z., Li, X. and Hu, B. (2018), "Synthesizing moderate upscale restaurant patrons’ dining experiences", Asia Pacific Journal of Marketing and Logistics, Vol. 30 No. 3, pp. 627-651. https://doi.org/10.1108/APJML-06-2017-0115

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Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited


Introduction

Malaysia’s rising per capita income and increasing population, especially in urban areas, coupled with a more modern and busy lifestyle have created a greater demand for full service restaurants. Full service restaurants make a substantial contribution to Malaysia’s food service sector (Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, 2014). Moderate upscale restaurants were established in Malaysia in the early 1990s, and many of these restaurants were foreign branded. Moderate upscale restaurants are now very popular in Malaysia and many international brands such as TGI Friday’s, and the Hard Rock Café are common throughout the country (Euromonitor International, 2013).

Moderate upscale restaurants (usually known as themed restaurants) normally fall into the category of full service restaurants (Weiss et al., 2004; Sanson, 2004). A moderate upscale restaurant should have some uniqueness to differentiate it from competitors (Abdelhamied, 2011; MacLaurin and MacLaurin, 2000). For example, compared to casual restaurants, moderate upscale restaurants have a more elaborate physical environment for patrons to enjoy while waiting for their food to be served (Ryu and Jang, 2008). Specifically, the restaurant ambience of a moderate upscale restaurant attempts to tell a story and may also provide a source of entertainment on its own (Weiss, 2003).

Intense competition in Malaysia’s restaurant industry is mirroring global trends increasing the importance of understanding the behavioural intentions (and its antecedents) of restaurant patrons (Shaharudin et al., 2011; Camillo and Karim, 2014). However, to date, no scholars have developed and empirically tested a comprehensive hierarchical model for moderate up-scale restaurants that simultaneously measures restaurant patrons’ perceptions of the dimensions of service quality and the interrelationships among five higher order constructs: service quality, satisfaction, perceived value, restaurant image and behavioural intentions, using the perceptions from a single sample in the same measurement instrument. Comprehensive hierarchical modelling is beneficial as it provides a complete and integrative analysis of the dimensional structure of service quality and synthesises the interrelationships between the selected, higher order constructs.

There is also an absence of published research that has identified a set of service quality sub and primary dimensions for moderate upscale restaurants based on the perceptions of restaurant patrons. In addition, the most to least important sub and primary dimensions of service quality have not been identified based on the perceptions of restaurant patrons. Scholars have supported identifying the sets of dimensions and the relative importance of the dimensions for service industries to enhance resource allocation and for strategic planning purposes (Clemes, Brush and Collins, 2011).

The intention is to close these research gaps and answer the call for more cultural and industry-specific research into behavioural intentions and its antecedents in various service settings (Brady and Cronin, 2001; Clemes et al., 2014). Therefore, the three research objectives are:

  1. identify the sub and primary service quality dimensions as perceived by restaurant patrons of moderate upscale restaurants;

  2. identify the least to most important dimensions of service quality as perceived by restaurant patrons of moderate upscale restaurants; and

  3. examine the interrelationships among service quality, customer satisfaction, restaurant image, perceived value and behavioural intentions using a comprehensive hierarchical modelling framework.

Literature review, hypotheses development and conceptual research model

Service quality

Service quality is viewed as the consumer’s evaluation or judgement about the overall services provided (Zeithaml and Bitner, 2003). Service quality has also been described as a form of attitude as it is a global judgement regarding the superiority of the service (Carman, 1990; Cronin and Taylor, 1992). Several marketing academics conceptualise service quality as multilevel and multidimensional in nature, and as a higher order construct (Brady and Cronin, 2001; Clemes, Brush and Collins, 2011; Dagger et al., 2007). However, there is a general lack of consensus on the exact conceptualization and measurement of the construct and the precise content of its dimensions across industries and cultures (Brady and Cronin, 2001; Clemes, Brush and Collins, 2011).

For example, the findings in several studies on the restaurant industry have not confirmed the five dimensions used in Parasuraman et al.’s (1988) SERVQUAL instrument to represent service quality. Researchers note that the SERVQUAL instrument does not adequately capture the food quality dimension as it ignores several food quality elements (Lee et al., 2003; Sulek and Hensley, 2004). Originally, Stevens et al. (1995) modified SERVQUAL and developed the DINESERV instrument in a quest to more accurately measure restaurant service quality. However, DINESERV has been challenged as it does not adequately measure restaurant service quality as its dimensional structure is too similar to the SERVQUAL instrument (Kim et al., 2003; Huang, 2003) and the operationalization of the instrument has also been questioned (Tucci and Talaga, 2000; Kim et al., 2003; Sulek and Hensley, 2004). Additional instruments such as TANGSERV and DINESCAPE have also been criticised as inappropriate for measuring service quality in the restaurant industry as these instruments only measure the tangibles dimension, or the physical environment part of service quality, and do not accurately measure restaurant patrons’ overall perceptions of service quality (Raajpoot, 2002; Ryu and Jang, 2008).

Hwang and Ok (2013) examined the interrelationships between three primary dimensions (physical environment, interaction and outcome) of service quality, utilitarian attitude, hedonic attitude, and brand preference in casual and full service restaurants. However, the authors’ used four dimensions (assurance, empathy, reliability, and responsiveness) from SERVQUAL to represent the sub-dimensions of interaction quality. Furthermore, outcome quality was measured using six items (i.e. taste, menu variety, freshness, portion size, presentation, and temperature) and scholars have also identified valence and waiting time as important sub-dimensions of outcome quality (Brady and Cronin, 2001; Clemes et al., 2013).

The dimensions of service quality

Several scholars have confirmed that perceived service quality consists of at least three primary dimensions: interaction quality, physical environment quality and outcome quality (Clemes, Gan and Ren, 2011; Clemes, Brush and Collins, 2011; Brady and Cronin, 2001).

Interaction quality

Interaction quality is an important factor that customers consider when they assess the overall service quality of an organisation reliant on the interaction between the service provider (employee) and the customer (Heide and Grønhaug, 2006; Fu and Parks, 2001). Paninchukunnath and Goyal (2011) use critical incident technique and demonstrate that in India, dominant worker behaviours contribute to the satisfaction or dissatisfaction of customers in critical service encounters. The authors also emphasise the importance of the professional behaviour of workers in the service encounter. In the restaurant industry, the front-of-the-house employees are normally substantial in number (e.g. wait staff) and interact often with restaurant patrons during their dining experience (Yoo et al., 2006). Tucci and Talaga (2000) explain that these employees provide most of the direct personal contact between a representative of the restaurant and the diner. Thus, the employees’ attitude and behaviour, and their service expertise may change a restaurant patron’s assessment of the level of the service (Brady and Cronin, 2001). Thus, it is hypothesised:

H1.

There is a significant positive relationship between the interaction quality primary dimension and restaurant patrons’ overall service quality perceptions.

The set of sub-dimensions that moderate upscale restaurant patrons may consider as important components of interaction quality are:

Therefore it is hypothesised that:

H2.

There is a significant positive relationship between the sub-dimensions of interaction quality (1 to 3) and the interaction quality primary dimension.

Physical environment quality

The surrounding physical environment normally influences the perceptions of the overall quality of the service encounter (Gustafsson et al., 2006; Brady and Cronin, 2001; Bitner, 1992). Paninchukunnath and Goyal (2011) also note that service setting facets such as ambient conditions, interior, exterior and other important tangibles contribute to customer satisfaction or dissatisfaction. Meals are usually consumed in a “room”; a room can be a cafeteria in a hospital, a canteen in a school or a dining room in a restaurant (Gustafsson et al., 2006). In this current study, a room refers to the dining room of a moderate upscale restaurant. Furthermore, patrons may seek a memorable dining experience away from home so the atmosphere of a restaurant often plays a critical role in creating this experience (Ryu and Han, 2011). Therefore, the following hypothesis is proposed:

H3.

There is a significant positive relationship between the physical environment quality primary dimension and restaurant patrons’ overall service quality perceptions.

The set of sub-dimensions that moderate upscale restaurant patrons may consider as important components of physical environment quality are:

  1. restaurant ambience (Josiam et al., 2007; Raajpoot, 2002);

  2. facility aesthetics (Ryu and Jang, 2007);

  3. layout and design (Kim et al., 2009);

  4. menu design (Raajpoot, 2002; Mill, 2007);

  5. restaurant cleanliness (Abdelhamied, 2011; Barber et al., 2011).

Higher perceptions of this set of sub-dimensions are also expected to positively affect physical environment quality, hence it is hypothesised that:

H4.

There is a significant positive relationship between the sub-dimensions of physical environment quality (H4a to H4f) and the physical environment quality primary dimension.

Outcome quality

In a restaurant context, outcome quality or technical quality is what patrons receive after the service delivery and buyer-seller interactions are completed (Grönroos, 1984; Brady and Cronin, 2001). There is agreement in the literature that the outcome of the service encounter significantly affects customer perceptions of service quality (Martínez and Martínez, 2007)Therefore, the following hypotheses is proposed:

H5.

There is a significant positive relationship between the outcome quality primary dimension and restaurant patrons’ overall service quality perceptions.

The proposed outcome gains for restaurant patrons are:

Higher perceptions of these sub-dimensions are expected to positively affect outcome quality. Therefore, the following hypothesis is proposed:

H6.

There is a significant positive relationship between the sub-dimensions of outcome quality (H6a to H6c) and the outcome quality primary dimension.

For a description of the submissions of interaction, physical environment and outcome quality see Tables I-III.

Importance of the dimensions

The management of moderate upscale restaurants must know the level of influence that the sub and primary dimensions have on service quality to efficiently allocate resources amongst the dimensions (Namkung and Jang, 2008; Soriano, 2003). Therefore, the following hypotheses are proposed:

H7.

Restaurant patrons will vary in their perceptions of the importance of each of the sub- dimensions.

H8.

Restaurant patrons will vary in their perceptions of the importance of each of the primary dimensions.

Service quality and customer satisfaction

The findings in previous food service studies provide empirical evidence of a positive relationship between service quality and customer satisfaction. For example, a restaurant patron with positive perceptions of service quality is likely to have a high level of satisfaction, and form positive behavioural intentions, such as repurchasing or return patronage and providing positive word-of-mouth (Hyun, 2010; Abdelhamied, 2011). Therefore, the following hypothesis is proposed:

H9.

Higher perceptions of service quality positively influence customer satisfaction.

Perceived value

Service quality and customer satisfaction are important constructs in the service marketing literature, while perceived value has not received as much attention in discussions on customers’ evaluations of service quality (Clemes et al., 2009). Perceived value has been defined as the value perceptions deriving from the customer comparison of gain (e.g. quality) and loss (e.g. price) when buying a target product, while compared value is the perceived value of a chosen “relative” to that of alternative products (Kwun and Oh, 2004; Clemes et al., 2014). Most customers visit restaurants not only because of good food, good service and a pleasant service environment, but also to get value for money (Yüksel and Yüksel, 2002; Ashton et al., 2010).

Perceived value is explained as the benefits received relative to costs however, the construct may have a different meaning among individuals. Perceived value may be a low price for some consumers, or the quality the consumer receives for the price they pay (Yüksel and Yüksel, 2002; Jang and Jooyeon, 2015) and the construct may positively influence customers’ perceptions of service quality (Gallarza and Gil Saura, 2006; Hu et al., 2009). In this research, customer perceived value was assessed on the perceived utility/worth resulting from the trade-off of “get” vs “give up”. Research on the restaurant industry focussing on service quality and perceived value has been conducted on fast food restaurants (Qin and Prybutok, 2008). However, to date, empirical research on perceived value in a moderate upscale restaurant context is sparse. Therefore, the following hypotheses are proposed:

H10.

Higher perceptions of service quality positively influence perceived value.

H11.

Higher perceptions of perceived value positively influence customer satisfaction.

Behavioural intentions and its antecedents

A behavioural intention is viewed as the customers’ response to a service encounter (Zeithaml et al., 1996). Intentions can be favourable resulting in customers continuing to do business with the organisation, or unfavourable, often causing customers to withdraw their patronage. Behavioural intentions are measured by factors such as the intention to visit a restaurant again in the future, a patron’s willingness to provide word-of-mouth, loyalty, complaining behaviour and price sensitivity (Zeithaml et al., 1996; Wu, 2013). Olorunniwo et al. (2006) and Clemes, Gan and Ren (2011) note that high levels of service quality, viewed from the customer’s perspective, often foster favourable behavioural intentions, however low levels of service quality have the opposite effect.

Several scholars have examined the relationship between customer satisfaction and behavioural intentions in various service industries (Clemes, Gan and Ren, 2011; Cronin et al., 2000). Service quality may affect behavioural intentions only through customer satisfaction, or service quality may have a direct effect on behavioural intentions (Brady and Robertson, 2001; Qin and Prybutok, 2008). The findings in studies on the restaurant industry also support a significant positive link between customer satisfaction and behavioural intentions (Yap and Kew, 2006; Ha and Jang, 2010). Nevertheless, the extent to which customer satisfaction carries over into intention behaviours in moderate upscale restaurants remains unclear. Therefore, the following hypotheses are proposed:

H12.

Higher perceptions of service quality positively influence behavioural intentions.

H13.

Higher perceptions of customer satisfaction positively influence behavioural intentions.

Restaurant image

Image refers to the sum of beliefs, ideas and impressions that a person or a group has of an object. The object may be a company, product, brand, place or person. Restaurateurs should establish a distinctive image that differentiates them from competitors to communicate the restaurant’s major benefits and position it for the target market (Ryu et al., 2008). Moreover, a favourable restaurant image incorporating a unique concept creates a competitive advantage that is not easily replicated by other restaurants (Eliwa, 2006).

Restaurant image affects the customer’s choice of restaurants to patronise and serves as a guide for customers in determining whether a restaurant can fulfil their needs (Eliwa, 2006). Restaurant image is described as an essential component of customer satisfaction and is normally a cornerstone in the success of a restaurant as the construct drives behavioural intentions (Kandampully and Suhartanto, 2000; Ryu et al., 2008). For example, patrons who have never visited a moderate upscale restaurant might base their first impression on the restaurant’s image. The image may also influence their future behavioural intentions such as re-patronising the restaurant. Limited studies have been conducted on restaurant image however, the interrelationships among image, service quality, customer satisfaction and behavioural intentions have not been explored fully (Ryu et al., 2008, 2012). Perceived value is proposed to have a positive influence on customer satisfaction (Chen, 2008; Cronin et al., 2000; McDougall and Levesque, 2000). Restaurant image is proposed to positively influence both customer satisfaction (Eliwa, 2006; Ryu et al., 2008) and behavioural intentions (Nguyen, 2006; Ryu et al., 1989). Therefore, the following hypotheses are proposed:

H14.

Higher perceptions of service quality positively influence restaurant image.

H15.

Higher perceptions of restaurant image positively influence customer satisfaction.

H16.

Higher perceptions of restaurant image positively influence behavioural intentions.

A hierarchical and multidimensional modelling approach developed by Dabholkar et al. (1996) and Brady and Cronin (2001) is used as a third order conceptualization of Malaysian restaurant patrons’ perceptions of service quality. Hierarchically modelling service quality has received substantial support from several marketing researchers in various service industries (Clemes, Brush and Collins, 2011; Chen et al., 2011; Clemes, Gan and Ren, 2011).

Three primary dimensions of service quality: interaction quality, physical environment quality and outcome quality, and their pertaining sub-dimensions are empirically modelled in this current study. The conceptual research model presented in Figure 1 illustrates the hypothesised interrelationships among service quality, customer satisfaction, perceived value, restaurant image and behavioural intentions for Malaysia’s moderate upscale restaurants.

Research method

A review of the relevant literature, focus group discussions, and an examination of the measurement items applied in previous studies provided the basis for the development of the closed-ended and self-administered questionnaire used in the data analysis. An extensive literature search generated the scale items used in the questionnaire and then the domain of the constructs were specified for the focus group discussions to refine the instrument (Churchill, 1979; Hair et al., 2010). Three focus groups were conducted to gain an in-depth knowledge of the research topic, refine the constructs and aid in developing the correct items used in the research instrument. In order to gain greater understanding and more insight in developing the questionnaire, three focus groups were conducted. The focus groups had the further role of providing a more in-depth knowledge of the service quality primary and sub-dimensions. Members of the focus groups were asked to identify and discuss the all of the factors that contributed to the satisfaction or dissatisfaction of their recent dining experiences at a moderate upscale restaurant. The members were provided with copies of the draft survey instrument and asked to comment on the relevance of the measurement items. The members were also asked to comment on the overall formatting of the instrument and the length of time they thought it would take to complete the survey. Two groups consisting of five Malaysian post graduate students were recruited from Lincoln University and the University of Canterbury and one group consisting of eight Malaysian professionals to discuss their dining experiences at moderate upscale restaurants in Malaysia. Minor amendments were made to the survey instrument as result of the focus group discussions.

The draft questionnaire was also assessed by four experts in the service marketing and hospitality fields to help ensure content validity. The measurement items were tailored to suit the multiracial restaurant patrons in Malaysia (Powpaka, 1996). A pilot test of the questionnaire was conducted with 50 restaurant patrons who had recently dined in a moderate upscale restaurant for wording, format and comprehension. Cronbach’s α was used to test the reliability and internal consistency of the 77 items used to measure the constructs. The results of the Cronbach’s α were all above 0.60 indicating internal consistency (Churchill, 1979). The questionnaire consisted of five sections and contained multiple items (Hair et al., 2010; Byrne, 2009) and performance-only items (Dabholkar et al., 1996; Cronin and Taylor, 1994). A seven-point Likert scale ([1] “Strongly Disagree” to [7] “Strongly Agree”) was used as per Schall’s (2003) recommendation and consistent with other service quality research on the hospitality industry (Ha and Jang, 2010; Qin and Prybutok, 2008; Hwang and Ok, 2013). The last section was designed to profile the sample.

The sample size was based on two types of data analysis techniques; exploratory factor analysis (EFA) and structural equation modelling (SEM). The EFA required a sample size of 280 (5 times the number of items; 56) and at least 200 were needed for the SEM analysis using maximum likelihood estimation (Pallant, 2007; Hair et al., 2010). In total, 550 questionnaires were distributed to obtain at least 480 usable questionnaires. Restaurant patrons 18 years and younger were excluded from the sample as they might encounter difficulties in interpreting the questionnaire (Clemes, Brush and Collins, 2011). SPSS and AMOS software versions 16.0 were used to analyse the data extracted from the questionnaires.

Convenience sampling with a skip interval was used as the approach is suitable for testing theory (Zikmund et al., 2007). The questionnaires were distributed to the patrons of four brand recognised moderate upscale restaurants (The Hard Rock Café, T.G.I Friday’s Restaurant, DÔME Café and Victoria Station Restaurant) in the Klang Valley. The questionnaires were distributed in a public area near the entrance to the restaurants during lunch (12.00 noon – 3.00 p.m.) and dinner (6.00 p.m. – 9.00 p.m.). The four moderate upscale restaurant brands represented in this current study are comparable to each other as all four are themed and casual dining restaurants and they all fall under the category of full service restaurants. The researcher approached every first of five patrons as they left one of the themed restaurants and explained the parameters of the survey. Respondents were asked to concentrate on their recent dining experience at one of the four restaurants and not on their past dining experiences.

See “Scale items” for the scaled items used for the higher order constructs.

Scale items:

  1. Services quality:

    • A moderate upscale restaurant provides prompt and quick service.

    • Employees of a moderate upscale restaurant help each other maintain speed and quality of service.

    • I am satisfied with the service quality of a moderate upscale restaurant.

    • Overall, the service quality of a moderate upscale restaurant could be considered superior to similar class and category of restaurants.

  2. Outcome quality:

    • Normally, I am highly satisfied with the food and beverages I order.

    • A moderate upscale restaurant has operating hours that are convenient.

    • Overall, I am pleased I choose to dine in a moderate upscale restaurant.

  3. Perceived value:

    • A moderate upscale restaurant provides an accurate check/bill for their customers to access value.

    • The price is reasonable for the quality of food, beverages and services provided.

    • The food and beverage items on the menu are worth the money.

    • Overall, I am satisfied with the value I receive from a moderate upscale restaurant.

  4. Restaurant image:

    • I have always had a good impression of a moderate upscale restaurant.

    • A moderate upscale restaurant has an excellent reputation.

    • The image of a moderate upscale restaurant has more impact on my restaurant choice than the actual quality of a restaurant.

    • Overall, I am satisfied with the image portrayed by a moderate upscale restaurant.

  5. Customer satisfaction:

    • Normally, I say positive things about a moderate upscale restaurant.

    • I will recommend a moderate upscale restaurant to my friends and my family.

    • I strongly believe that a moderate upscale restaurant deserves my loyalty.

    • I would consider a moderate upscale restaurant as my first dining choice.

    • I will revisit a moderate upscale restaurant on my next dining out occasion.

Note: Items scored on seven-point scales ranging from “Strongly Disagree” to “Strongly Agree”.

Results

In total, 546 questionnaires were returned and 11 questionnaires with missing data were excluded from further analyses. The 535 usable questionnaires were subjected to the preliminary screening requirements; the data satisfied the normality and linearity assumptions for all measured items. Non-response bias was assessed (Armstrong and Overton, 1977). Mean scores from the first 275 responses returned and the last 260 questionnaires returned were calculated. No statistically significant differences (p>0.005) were present between the two groups on the means for all of the constructs indicating the absence of non-response bias. In order to validate the EFA results and conduct the SEM analyses, the sample was randomly split into two data sets and each sample met the minimum size requirements (Kline, 2005; Hair et al., 2010). The profile of the sample is shown in Tables IV and V.

Measurement development and estimation

The factor structure of the confirmatory tests was derived from the EFA using principal component extraction and a VARIMAX rotation. EFA is appropriate analysis to improve the understanding of the factors and refine the factor structure before using SEM (Schumacker and Lomax, 2004; Kline, 2005). The EFA reduced the original 12 factors proposed as sub-dimensions to 10 factors and these were named according to the leading themes among the items (see Table V).

Confirmatory factor analysis was used to test the model fit of the five measurement models (variables). Three models were developed for the sub-dimensions (first-order models), one for the primary dimension (second-order model), and one for the higher-order constructs (service quality, customer satisfaction, perceived value, restaurant image and behavioural intentions). The overall model-fit-indices suggest a satisfactory fit to the data for all five models (see Table V for the statistical test results). The GFI and NFI values in Model 1, 2 and 5 were lower than 0.90, However, the GFI has become less popular in recent years and scholars have recommended not using the GFI (Sharama et al., 2005). The measurement models are still considered as marginally adequate (Kline, 2005; Hair et al., 2010).

Before examining the model-fit-indices of the five structural models, model identification issues were addressed in a second-order factor model based on the t-rule procedure (Blunch, 2008; Byrne, 2009). Model identification was satisfied and the model-fit-indices of the five structural models were reviewed. The overall fit measures of the structural model suggest that the hypothesised model provides an acceptable fit to the data (Hair et al., 2010) (see Table VI).

Hypotheses test results

All of the hypothesised relationships, H1-H16 are supported (see Table VII for a summary of the test results).

Discussion and implications

The ten sub-dimensions confirmed in this study differ in number and in content from those identified for other service industries. This result is supported by the findings in extant studies that have confirmed different dimensional structures and report that the precise dimensionality of service quality depends on the service industry under investigation and its cultural setting (Clemes, Brush and Collins, 2011; Dagger et al., 2007; Ryu et al., 2008). The ten sub-dimensions also differ in content and number from the sets identified in other studies on fast food restaurants (Aigbedo and Parameswaran, 2004; Brady and Cronin, 2001). The standardized β coefficients of the sub-dimensions also vary according to the perceived relative importance of the pertaining sets of sub-dimensions for each primary dimension (see Table VII).

The second-order confirmatory factor analysis for interaction, physical environment and outcome quality is shown in Figures 2-4. Restaurant patrons in Malaysia perceive outcome quality as the most important primary dimension, followed by physical environment quality and interaction quality (Figure 5).

Service quality, perceived value and restaurant image are important determinants of customer satisfaction in Malaysia’s moderate upscale restaurants. These findings in this study confirm the significant role service quality plays when customers form perceptions about customer satisfaction, perceived value and restaurant image (Ryu et al., 2008).

Service quality is a more important determinant of customer satisfaction than perceived value. Customer satisfaction tends to be more quality driven than value-or price-driven and service quality is an antecedent of satisfaction in a restaurant context (Abdelhamied, 2011; Hyun, 2010) (Figure 6).

Customers of the moderate upscale restaurants in the sample viewed perceived value as having a positive and significant effect on customer satisfaction (Ryu et al., 2008, 2012). There is also a positive direct effect of customer satisfaction on behavioural intentions and is consistent with Qin and Prybutok’s (2008) findings on fast food restaurants in the USA.

A favourable restaurant image is an antecedent of customer satisfaction in moderate upscale restaurants and this result concurs with Ryu et al.’s (2008) earlier findings on quick-casual restaurants in the Midwest of the USA. A good restaurant image is a valuable strategic construct that can help retain customers in the long term.

The positive causal relationship between service quality and perceived value identified in this study is supported by the findings in two previous studies on the restaurant industry (Brady et al., 2001; Lee et al., 2005). High levels of restaurant service quality lead to favourable perceptions of value for money spent.

There is a strong, positive effect of service quality on restaurant image. In this study’s context, higher perceptions of service quality result in an improved mental impression of the four moderate upscale restaurants in the sampling frame.

Service quality, customer satisfaction and restaurant image all have a positive impact on the behavioural intentions of moderate upscale restaurants patrons. The findings provide additional evidence that service quality has a direct effect on behavioural intentions and an indirect effect through customer satisfaction. Restaurant image not only has a direct effect on customer satisfaction, but it also has an indirect effect on customer satisfaction leading to positive future behavioural intentions. Overall, the results indicate that when restaurant patrons received superior service quality and formed a favourable restaurant image, the perception positively influenced their intention to dine in the restaurant again.

There is a positive, causal relationship between restaurant/store image and behavioural intentions. Thus, a favourable restaurant image can lead to positive future behavioural intentions such as repeat patronage. Customer satisfaction also has a significant effect on behavioural intentions. Namkung and Jang (2007) also report the direct effect of customer satisfaction on behavioural intentions for patrons of mid and upper scale restaurants in America’s Midwestern and Eastern states. The positive, causal relationship between customer satisfactions and behavioural intentions identified in this current study is also consistent with the findings of Ryu and Han’s (2010) analysis based on respondents dining at three quick casual restaurants in the Midwestern USA and Ryu et al. (2012) who sampled customers of one upscale Chinese restaurant in a South-western state in the USA.

Behavioural intentions to re-patronise a restaurant and recommend it to friends are influenced slightly more strongly by restaurant image than by customer satisfaction. However, both constructs play an important role in creating favourable behavioural intentions.

The positive effect of service quality on behavioural intentions is consistent with the findings in earlier studies on the restaurant industry (Olorunniwo et al., 2006; Qin and Prybutok, 2008) illustrating the importance of maintaining a high level of service quality to capitalise on its positive effect on behavioural intentions.

Theoretical implications

A comprehensive hierarchical model provides a complete and integrative analysis of a service setting as the service quality measurement model and the interrelationships among the higher order constructs are simultaneously analysed using the perceptions from a single sample. Thus, the comprehensive hierarchical model developed and tested for moderate upscale restaurants in this current study will provide a workable framework for researchers seeking to determine these interrelationships for other types of restaurants in Malaysia. The framework will also act a blueprint for further research on the various types of restaurants that constitute the global restaurant industry.

This research also offers a thorough evaluation of restaurant patrons’ perceptions of service quality in Malaysia’s moderate upscale restaurants by developing and testing a multidimensional model of the construct based on Brady and Cronin’s (2001) and Dabholkar et al.’s (1996) framework. The findings illustrate that all of the four measurement models and the four structural models for measuring service quality and its dimensions have satisfactory model-fit-indices for Malaysia’s upscale restaurants. The empirical results support the variations in the dimensional structure of service quality and highlight the need for scholars to analyse the construct from a cultural and industry viewpoint in future studies (Clemes et al., 2014).

Managerial implications

The comprehensive hierarchical model developed in this study provides a modelling and measurement framework for restaurant management. The management of the restaurants represented in this current study can use the information gained from the comprehensive hierarchical model to formulate their tactical and strategic marketing initiatives. For example, the multidimensional model of service quality provides an improved understanding of how moderate upscale restaurant patrons assess the service quality of their restaurant experience. The sub and primary dimensions confirmed in this study are analogous to the benefit bundle and can be blended to position a moderate upscale in the market. Management must also be aware that changing the dimensions may alter a restaurant’s current perceptual position in a similar vein to the impact of changing the size and seating configuration of a popular automobile model.

There are also additional resource implications associated with identifying and understanding which sub-dimensions and primary dimensions drive service quality and being cognisant of their relative level of importance. For example, the results reveal that outcome quality is the most important dimension in moderate upscale restaurants, followed by physical environment quality and then interaction quality. These findings suggest that the managers of moderate upscale restaurants may initially want to focus their quality improvements on outcome quality, followed by physical environment of the restaurant, and lastly, the interactions between staff and customers.

The analysis also illustrates that the patrons of moderate upscale restaurants in Malaysia perceive food quality as the most important sub-dimension of outcome quality. The management of moderate upscale restaurants should strive to continually improve quality of the food served in their restaurants. Management must have a thorough understanding of the tastes Malaysian patrons prefer in the Western foods served in their restaurants and they should consistently monitor how their patrons evaluate the overall taste of the food.

Moreover, the findings suggest that management should recognise the importance their customers place on the physical environment in which they enjoy the food. Customers in the sample emphasised the importance of the table settings, such as attractive chinaware and table linen in their evaluation of a restaurant’s physical environment. The cleanliness of the table setting, the dining room area, and the washroom area are also important components of the physical environment. Restaurant management must ensure that these sub-dimensions are maintained at a consistently high level as they are important components of the dining experience and are a strong indication of the high quality of the restaurant.

Interaction quality’s strong impact on service quality is evident in the modelling results. The services provided by front-of-the-house staff are critical in a satisfying dining experience. Management must ensure that restaurant staff have good interpersonal skills to successfully interact with customers and the staff also need to be empowered to solve problems that may occur during the dining experience. The professionalism of the staff is also important and staff should be able to provide accurate information about the menu and the food ingredients as required by the customers.

Management should also be cognisant of the fact that the order of the relative importance of the sub and primary dimensions may vary in different geographic regions and with respect to cultural influences. The order of importance of the sub and primary dimensions may also vary according to the demographic characterises of the restaurant patrons and these differences can also be measured in the modelling framework.

Management should allocate resources proportionality to all of the sub-dimensions of service quality in accordance to their relative importance. Leveraging certain sub-dimensions, increasing resources for others, and ensuring that some remain at the status quo should positively increase their customers’ restaurant experience. Achieving a synergy amongst the sub and primary dimensions will also encourage positive, future behavioural intentions of restaurant patrons. Management should focus on the sub-dimensions in their promotional activities that their customers perceive as most important. Highlighting the most important sub-dimensions in promotions should generate a stronger brand image, which is a critical consideration noting the construct’s positive impact on favourable behavioural intentions.

Modelling the higher-order constructs with the primary and sub-dimensions of service quality provides a holistic view for management of moderate upscale restaurants to use in their strategic-planning process. Understanding the interrelationships among the higher order constructs provide valuable planning information for management. This information may assist management to develop and implement successful marketing strategies for the Malaysian market. In addition, the findings provide valuable information for management who are preparing to enter the moderate upscale restaurant industry in Malaysia.

The comprehensive hierarchal model tested in this study also provides a modelling and measurement framework that management can use to assess the interrelationships among the constructs for other restaurants in the chain. There are also longitudinal benefits of comprehensive hierarchical modelling as the strength of the interrelationships among the constructs may vary over time and should be assessed periodically. For example, moderate upscale restaurants in the USA have recently experienced an increase in lunchtime dining as customer seek more value for money.

The management of moderate upscale restaurants must also keep their restaurant patrons engaged through superior service performance ensuring that the perceptions of perceived value and restaurant image are very favourable amongst their customer base. In addition, customer satisfaction’s positive impact on behavioural intentions highlights the importance of satisfying restaurant patrons to encourage positive behavioural intentions. The successful implementation of the strategies discussed will help to generate a continuing profit stream for restaurant operators in a competitive restaurant industry.

Limitations and recommendations

A relatively large response (n=535) was used in the data analysis. However, the cross-sectional sample was collected from patrons who had their lunch or dinner at four different moderate upscale restaurants in the Klang Valley. Generalising the results to other types of restaurants in Malaysia, or in other cultural settings, should be done with caution. Future research employing comprehensive hierarchical modelling should focus on the particular cultural setting and on the type of restaurant under investigation.

Second, the mall/street intercept and convenience sampling approach (non-probability sampling method) applied in this study to collect data may limit generalising the results to the entire population of Malaysian moderate upscale restaurant patrons. Nevertheless, since exploratory research and theory testing were applied in this study, convenience sampling is a suitable method as it provides a fundamental base for further research in Malaysia (Reynolds et al., 2003; Suhartanto, 2011). However, future researchers may consider developing a systematic design such as probability sampling.

Further research replicating the measurements used in this study may support their validity and reliability when applied to different restaurant settings. However, the ten sub-dimensions confirmed in this study should not be interpreted as generic for all services as they may vary according to industry and cultural differences as noted in other studies (e.g. Dagger et al., 2007; Martínez and Martínez, 2008; Clemes et al., 2013).

Figures

Proposed conceptual model and hypotheses for restaurant patrons in Malaysia

Figure 1

Proposed conceptual model and hypotheses for restaurant patrons in Malaysia

Second-order confirmatory factor analysis model for interaction quality

Figure 2

Second-order confirmatory factor analysis model for interaction quality

Second-order confirmatory factor analysis model for physical environment

Figure 3

Second-order confirmatory factor analysis model for physical environment

Second-order confirmatory factor analysis model for outcome quality

Figure 4

Second-order confirmatory factor analysis model for outcome quality

Second-order confirmatory factor analysis model for service quality

Figure 5

Second-order confirmatory factor analysis model for service quality

Structural equation model

Figure 6

Structural equation model

Measurement items for measuring interaction quality

Constructs items Description
Interaction quality Overall, I am satisfied with the interaction between customers and employees
Overall, I am satisfied with the interaction between employees
Interpersonal skills Employees with a pleasant attitude
 Attitude Capable of handling special requests
 Behaviour Employees with pleasant behaviour
 Personal grooming Well-groomed and clean employees
 Empathy Employees are sympathetic to customer
Employees are sensitive to customers’ individual needs
Professional skills Well trained and experienced employees
 Service skills Deliver superior service
 Language/Communication Employees listen and speak in an understandable language
Employees can answer customer questions quickly
 Restaurant knowledge Employees provide information about food and beverage availability
Employees are knowledgeable about food and beverage quality
Problem solving skills Solve complaints rather than relying on policies
Empowered to handle complaints
When I have to wait for service, I receive an apology

Measurement items for measuring physical environment quality

Constructs items Description
Physical environment quality In general, a moderate upscale restaurant has a good physical environment that matches its theme, image and price range
Overall, I am satisfied with the physical
Facility aesthetics Comfortable dining table
 Furniture Comfortable seats and easy to move around
Spacious seating arrangement
 Decoration/paintings/pictures/Flowers Visually attractive interior décor
 Colour Fashionable colour scheme
Restaurant ambience Suitable background music
 Music
 Lighting Comfortable lighting atmosphere
 Temperature Comfortable dining room temperature
 Scents Pleasant dining room aromas
Layout and design Ample parking spaces
 Location and parking Convenient location
 Building size, design and layout Visually attractive exterior of building
Smoking and non-smoking sections
Comfortable waiting lounge
 Signage Easy to follow signage
Menu design A menu that is easily read
 Clarity of a menu Using appetising words and easily understood
 Design Visually attractive menu card
 Appealing words Menu card written in a foreign language, provides translation
Table setting Good quality of tableware
 Tableware
 Table linen Attractive and neat table linen
 Table accessories Attractive table accessories
Restaurant cleanliness Clean and well maintained rest rooms
 Common area Visually attractive and clean dining area
 Table setting Clean table setting and hygienically handled by the employees

Measurement items for measuring outcome quality

Constructs Items Description
Outcome quality Overall, I am satisfied with the food quality
Overall, I anticipate that a moderate upscale restaurant will provide a fast service and try to minimise the waiting time
Overall, I have had an excellent experience
Waiting time Reasonable waiting time
Normally, I do not wait a long time to be seated
Employees serve customers at the time they promise
Normally, I do not wait longer for service than I expect
Food quality Offers unique food that unable to prepare at home
Offers a variety of menus to choose from
Offers a selection of beverages to complement the food
Healthy and religious conscious Offers a choice of food and beverages that caters for my dietary needs
Offers a choice of food that is prepared according to the requirements of my religious beliefs
Temperature, safety, and hygienic Serves correctly prepared food at the appropriate temperature for consumption
Freshness Serves attractive and tempting food
Presentation Pleasant dining room aromas
Taste and consistency Serves food that consistently meets customer taste expectations
Valence I believe a moderate upscale restaurant tries to give me a good dining experience
I believe a moderate upscale restaurant knows the type of experience its customers want
At the end of dining, I feel that I receive and experience what I expected

Demographic profile of the sample

Demographic characteristics Options Frequency Per cent (%)
Gender Male 241 45.0
Female 294 55.0
Age 18-24 132 24.7
25-34 224 41.9
35-44 130 24.3
45-54 33 6.2
55-64 14 2.6
Over 64 2 0.4
Marital status Single 246 46.0
Married 269 50.3
Separated 4 0.7
Divorced 10 1.9
Widowed 6 1.1
Ethnicity Malay 351 65.6
Chinese 97 18.1
Indian 57 10.7
Iban 5 0.9
Kadazan 5 0.9
Dusun 3 0.6
American 7 1.3
Nigerian 3 0.6
African 1 0.2
British 3 0.6
Arab 3 0.6
Religion Muslim 360 67.3
Buddhist 64 12.0
Hindu 40 7.5
Christian 69 12.9
Other 2 0.4
Educational level Primary school 3 0.6
Secondary school 33 6.2
Diploma 162 30.3
Bachelor 228 42.6
Master 101 18.9
PhD 8 1.5
Occupation Professional 273 51.0
Tradesperson 19 3.6
Government officer 72 13.5
Business owner/Self-employed 41 7.7
Student 105 19.6
Housewife 18 3.4
Monthly income Below RM3,000 235 43.9
Between RM3,001-RM6,000 186 34.8
Between RM6,001-RM9,000 67 12.5
More than RM9,001 47 8.8

Note: n=535

Trends and lifestyles profiles of the sample

Responses category Options Frequency Per cent (%)
Reason for dining Family outing 202 37.8
Outing with friends 207 38.7
Business purposes 53 9.9
Special occasion 73 13.6
With whom Family 199 37.2
Spouse 45 8.4
Partner 41 7.7
Friends 201 37.6
Business associate 48 9.0
Alone 1 0.2
Spending Less than RM50 186 34.8
Between RM51-RM100 212 39.6
Between RM101-RM150 114 21.3
More than RM151 23 4.3
Frequency of dining out First time visit 54 10.1
Once a week 11 2.1
2 to 3 times each month 131 24.5
Once a month 188 35.1
Once or twice every 6 months 112 20.9
Once or twice every 12 months 39 7.3

Note: n=535

Overall fit measures of the structural model

Measurement reliability Model-fit-indices
Model Constructs Cronbach’s α Composite reliabilities AVE 2-types-approach χ2 χ2/df RMR RMSEA GFI NFI CFI
1 Interaction quality Measurement model 230.852*** 3.206 0.046 0.093 0.889 0.877 0.911
Interpersonal skills 0.848 0.847 0.531
Professional skills 0.822 0.832 0.454
Problem solving skill 0.815 0.841 0.516
2 Physical environment quality Structural model 321.141*** 3.166 0.047 0.092 0.889 0.877 0.911
Measurement model 382.809*** 2.677 0.056 0.081 0.863 0.920 0.948
3 Outcome quality Structural model
Measurement model
Pleasant dining experience 0.939 0.960 0.799
Food quality 0.879 0.94 0.796
Menu variety 0.936 0.882 0.657
4 Primary dimensions Structural model 184.774*** 2.497 0.044 0.077 0.919 0.946 0.967
Measurement model 32.243 2.931 0.018 0.087 0.962 0.981 0.987
Interaction quality 0.911 0.913 0.841
Physical environment quality 0.917 0.918 0.848
Outcome quality 0.917 0.920 0.792
5 Higher-order constructs Structural model 34.553** 2.879 0.021 0.086 0.960 0.979 0.986
Measurement model 249.157*** 2.651 0.034 0.081 0.893 0.948 0.967
Service quality 0.907 0.904 0.758
Customer satisfaction 0.930 0.930 0.815
Perceived value
Restaurant image
Behavioural intentions Structural model 307.653*** 3.205 0.062 0.093 0.877 0.936 0.955

Notes: χ2/df 1.00-5.00; RMR>0.10; RMSEA>0.10; GFI>0.90; NFI>0.90; CFI>0.90; Cronbach’s α>0.60; composite reliabilities>0.70; AVE>0.50. χ2 Statistically significant at *=0.10; **=0.05; ***=0.001

Hypothesis test results

Hypothesised relationship Standardized estimate (β) Hypotheses supported
H1a: Interpersonal skills IQ 0.867*** Yes
H1b: Professionalism skills 0.804*** Yes
H1c: Problem solving skills 0.815*** Yes
H2a: Restaurant ambiance and aesthetics PEQ 0.863*** Yes
H2b: Layout and design 0.715*** Yes
H2c: Menu design 0.825*** Yes
H2d: Table setting and restaurant cleanliness 0.920*** Yes
H3a: Pleasant dining experience OQ 0.882*** Yes
H3b: Food quality 0.889*** Yes
H4: Interaction quality SQ 0.812*** Yes
H5: Physical environment quality 0.905*** Yes
H6: Outcome quality 0.929*** Yes
H7: Restaurant patrons will vary in their perceptions of the importance of each of the subdimensions See below Yes
H8: Restaurant patrons will vary in their perceptions of the importance of each of the primary dimensions See below Yes
H9: Service quality customer satisfaction 0.448*** Yes
H10: Service quality perceived value 0.770*** Yes
H11: Service quality restaurant image 0.851*** Yes
H12: Service quality behavioural intentions 0.204*** Yes
H13: Customer satisfaction behavioural intentions 0.343*** Yes
H14: Perceived value customer satisfaction 0.283*** Yes
H15: Restaurant image customer satisfaction 0.257** Yes
H16: Restaurant image behavioural intentions 0.384*** Yes

Notes: Statistically significant at *=0.10; **=0.05; ***=0.001. H7: food quality (β=0.889), pleasant dining experience (β=0.882) and menu variety (β=0.826); H8: outcome quality (β=0.920), physical environment quality (β=0.890) and interaction quality (β=0.811)

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Corresponding author

Michael Daniel Clemes can be contacted at: Mike.Clemes@lincoln.ac.nz