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Table of Contents

1. Introduction                                                                                   

2. Definition of Fast-Food Restaurants                                          

3. The Origin of Fast-Food                                                              

4. Theoretical Framework                                                               

4.1 Trends in Hospitality                                                                 

4.2 Trends in Quality                                                                         

5. The SERVQUAL Scale                                                                   

5.1 Limitations of SERVQUAL                                                         

6. Case Studies in Fast-Food Service Quality                               

7. Managerial Implications

8. Conclusions and Future Lines of Research

9. References                                                                                                        

1.      Introduction

The concept of expectations plays an important role in most contemporary discussions of service quality. Despite this common use of the term, there is still much to learn about exactly what expectations are, what role they play, and how managers can best address their influence.

‘Consumers have become more eager than ever to complain and transfer their allegiances to perceived providers of quality service (Palmer, 1998 in Douglas and Connor, 2003 in Douglas and Connor; 2003)’. Consumer satisfaction and loyalty, secured through high-quality products and services providing value for money, for the consumer, are essential for long term survival, let alone long term success (Zeithaml et al., 1990; Robledo, 2001 in Douglas & Connor; 2003).

‘Expectations are well known to service marketers as most definitions of service quality revolve around ‘meeting or exceeding customer expectations’ (Kong & Mayo, 1993: 6). Customers’ evaluation of the service quality that they receive is conceptualized as being influenced by their expectations. As a consequence of this opportunity has arisen for service industry managers to “manage” these expectations; under-promise and over-deliver (Peters, 1998).

What is known is that the customers bring a set of desires to the service encounter, which will be the basis for their future relationship with the brand.

The fast-food restaurant is a service sub-sector in the hospitality industry whose growth and internationalization have lately become significant.

Copeland and Griggs (1985 in Lee; 1997) suggested that ‘in the U.S.A, fast-food essentially lives up to its name’s objective, “fast”. In the fast-paced US culture, as in most Western industrialized countries “time is money”.’

The aim of this paper is to take a closer look at the trends in Managing Consumer Expectations and Satisfaction in the fast-food industry using a meta-analysis approach and discuss some current and future implications in the area of hospitality.

A number of studies have shown that economic forces have made fast-food restaurants more appealing. These studies include those by Lan and Khan in Hong Kong Belgium by a wolf in Belgium (1994) by Martin in Poland, to name just a few in Lee;1997)

2.      Definition of Fast-Food Restaurants

GOY-AL and SINGH (2007, in Campos and Nóbrega; 2009) define fast-food as a’ commercial establishments that sell food and drink for immediate consumption in the locale or surrounding locale, which shares space with other fast-food companies, or for consumption in any locale, usually specializing in pizza, sandwiches and chicken-based foods’. With an ever-decreasing amount of time in our busy schedules, the role of fast food has become more important as we try to juggle our personal and professional lives.

As women have moved into the marketplace, they have less time to devote to the kitchen, and to be able to spend more quality time with their children, families opt for food solutions that are fast and filling. The fast-food products are distinguished from others in relation to the following characteristics: being low priced, served quickly, usually eaten with hands, easily packaged, and having a short life (PRICE, 1997). This way, these characteristics fulfill the needs of today’s modern families.

3. The Origin of Fast-Food  

The concept of fast-food started in 1946 with Bill Rosenberg by selling sandwiches to factory workers having only just one truck. We can say that the fast-food concept started mainly with doughnuts as they counted 40% of his sales.

No brand of the fast-food industry is as emblematic as McDonald’s, a brand that created the niche and did not stop until it was globally recognized. Its ability to satisfy all generations and social strata to adapt to local customs, values, and beliefs has made McDonald’s a household name and a brand many fast-food restaurants aspire to.

4. Theoretical Framework

4.1 Trends in Hospitality

Hospitality Operations & Management in today’s consumer society are crucial if a business is to succeed in this competitive market.

With new businesses opening up at a vertiginous rate, and a great number closing down it is essential that we look at what sets some companies apart and makes them leaders in their field.

If companies are to succeed, an analysis of the values and work processes underpinning successful competitors needs to be carried out.  With so much fierce competition and a range of providers to choose from, the service offered must not only meet but exceed customer expectations. Expectations are not a recent issue. As early as 1903 Hitchcock defines an expectation as a ‘mental process or attitude in which certain ideas or images are regarded as substitutes for definite sensational contents which are to be experienced later’ (Hitchcock in Coye; 2004:9). The onsets of globalization and increased competition in market forces have made it such that expectations need to be met, and even exceeded, and the issue of hospitality becomes paramount. Under the general umbrella term of Hospitality Operations & Management are such areas as Marketing, Service Quality, and Training.

What is known is that the customer will bring a set of desires to the service encounter, which will be the basis for their future relationship with the brand.

4.2 Trends in Quality

Quality, according to Oakland (2000 in Douglas and Connor; 2003) is far wider in its application than assuring product quality or service quality and states that ‘It is a way of managing business processes to ensure complete consumer satisfaction at every stage, internally and externally.’

A number of models have been put forward to ensure quality in the hospitality service sector. Their aims are to ensure complete satisfaction, increased customer loyalty, and positive word – of -mouth recommendation, as well as meeting expectations. As an example, McDonald’s is one of the fast-food chains that is concerned with food quality and they have two audiences for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The first one is the customer for the product in question; the second is the public in general.

One of the most quoted is the SERVQUAL scale, developed by Parasuraman.

The following section presents the scale and its limitations.

5. The SERVQUAL Scale

The SERVQUAL scale is generally used to examine the gaps between consumers’ expectations and perceptions. It is commonly used to examine the gaps between consumers’ expectations and perceptions. There are also other techniques for assessing service quality and consumer satisfaction levels. Parasuraman et al. (1991 in Douglas and Connor; 2003) presented the concept that ‘service is of high quality when its delivery meets or surpasses the consumers’ expectations’ is not always possible to exceed customers’ expectations, but the implementation of strategies and practices which will ensure improvement in the level of service provided is a step in the right direction.

The determinants of quality in The SERVQUAL scale were condensed from seven into five dimensions:

1)      Reliability – the ability to perform the promised service dependably and accurately.

2) Tangibles – the appearance of physical facilities, equipment, personnel, and communication materials.

3) Responsiveness – the willingness to help the consumers and provide prompt service.

4) Assurance – the knowledge and courtesy of employees and their ability to convey trust and confidence.

5) Empathy – the provision of caring, individualized attention to consumers.

5.1 Limitations of SERVQUAL

As with any model or scale, none is ever foolproof and there is always room for improvement. Disciplines of psychology, social sciences, and economics can not apply the SERVQUAL model. Measuring time, stability over time, the measuring scale, the service quality dimensions, and the use of difference scores were also pointed out as some issues to the use of the SERVQUAL scale. ‘Another criticism was the generic nature of the instrument itself. It was suggested that the survey instrument needed to be customized for use in the specific industry in which it was being applied by including related questions (Carman, 1990; Babakus and Boller, 1992; Brown et al, 1993 in Lesley & Douglas; 2003)’.

Some researchers have refuted the criticism when they proposed that practitioners require a generic model to ensure reliability, which allows both cross-industry and cross-functional comparisons to be made ‘(Pitt et al. Williams, 1998 in Lesley & Douglas; 2003).

Despite these limitations and criticisms, the fact remains that the models or scales are the bases for improved service quality and provide some best practice guidelines, which will ensure that companies continue to strive to exceed their customer’s expectations.

Section 6 will present a number of case studies in which different aspects of service quality were emphasized to meet and hopefully exceed expectations.

6. Case Studies in Fast-Food Service Quality

It is all well and good to apply for a service quality model in the fast-food industry. However, it is just important to develop means through which those models can be analyzed and their outcomes evaluated. These can take the form of feedback questionnaires, cold calls to customers, and interviews. Campos and Nóbrega have summarised a number of customer expectations and satisfaction in their meta-analysis (2009) in various countries across the world and they came to a number of conclusions.

One such study by Johnson and Mathews (1997 in Campos & Nóbrega, 2009), when using the SERVQUAL scale to evaluate what needs to fulfill fast-food customer expectations in England, suggested that security is a more important dimension than reliability.

Parasuraman et al. (1991, in Douglas & Connor; 2003) presented the concept that ‘service is of high quality when its delivery meets or surpasses the consumers’ expectations’ is not always possible to exceed customers’ expectations, but the implementation of strategies and practices which will ensure improvement in the level of service provided is a step in the right direction.

In contrast, Law et al. (2004, in Campos & Nóbrega, 2009) emphasize the importance of waiting time, staff attitude, environment, seating availability, and food quality as the factors which affect most customer satisfaction.

Qin and Prybutok (2009 in Campos & Nóbrega, 2009) have surveyed 305 U.S.A college students in order to investigate the relationship amongst service quality, food quality, perceived value, customer satisfaction and behavioral intention in fast-food restaurants. The findings suggest that freshness, taste, and a variety of food and beverages were considered the most important criteria for satisfying customers.

Cox and Coye (2003 and 2004 in Campos & Nóbrega, 2009) explained that there are some other aspects that can influence the expectations and the quality of service in the service contacts such as décor, smell, design, and music.

Finally, Machado (2006 in Campos & Nóbrega, 2009) who studied consumers in Brazil found that the attributes with highest levels expectations were: polite staff, well prepared and cooked food, and efficient supply of supplements, adequate product temperature, tables cleared and cleaned quickly as well as well-dressed staff. These were the most important attributes to evaluate the highest levels of expectations.

What these case findings indicate is that customers value different characteristics and criteria depending on locale and specific culture.

For example, in India multinational fast-food outlets initially faced protests and consumers did not accept them well. This was regarding the idea that these fast-foods would only serve chicken and did not serve any vegetarian meals. Fast-food companies had to adapt food requirements such as vegetarian meals and select non – vegetarian options excluding beef and pork totally from their menus. It is important to mention that due to religious beliefs Indian people do not eat beef meat at all.

In another example, Clark suggested that ‘convenient store hours may be more important to Koreans than shorter service time customer expectations and perceptions in each country that they enter’ (1990 in Lee; 1997).

McDonald’s has managed to keep in touch with local food habits and religious beliefs and supplies food which is culture-specific. In Portugal, for example, a place where people have a lot of soup, there is a “soup-of-the-day” on offer, which includes a number of traditional types of soup.

7. Managerial Implications

Taking these case studies as a starting point, despite their limited number, the conclusions drawn is that it is important that companies concentrate efforts on security, waiting time, staff attitude, environment, seat availability, food quality, fresh, tasty and a variety of food and beverages as those were considered the most important criteria that affect customers’ satisfaction, rather than investing on brand.

As a strategy, managers should survey customers every year to get feedback.

The implications for managers who wish to implement service of high quality are many and regular, but accurate, customer feedback is crucial if they are to accurately assess the success, or not, of the strategies implemented. A strong hierarchical structure with a strong team spirit and effective top-down and bottom-up communication is essential if the staff is to feel empowered and motivated to improve the service they provide. The development of clear objectives and company mission and vision statements make a company’s attitude towards customer service explicit. In addition, a short lag-time between feedback and action taken is important.

However, all intentions are worthless, unless people are open to change, take constructive criticism well, and embrace the concept of hospitality.

8. Conclusion and Future Lines of Research

The leading brands in the fast-food industry, in the last three decades, have been McDonald’s and KFC, however, their target market is no longer the same. Companies cannot rely anymore, as a unique selling point, on convenience and product consistency as consumers are looking for healthy and quality products. Therefore, socially responsible initiatives must be incorporated. That means that advertising campaigns when new products come out are no longer enough to communicate brand value changes and to attract new consumers these companies have to re-define the whole brand value.

Expectations result from numerous factors and are not always easy to have whole power over because some of them are outside the direct control of service operators. In conclusion, expectations play a major part in determining consumers’ post-consumption service quality evaluations. It is therefore important that the service marketer understands these. When marketers know the consumer’s quality expectations, they are in a position to develop marketing strategies for service delivery (see Bebko, P. C.; 2000).

The role of expectations in service quality is not yet resolved. For that reason, this area should be considered for further research.

The management of service quality deals with processes of evaluation with a high degree of subjectivity. It is a difficult concept to quantify, however in the search of strategies to improve the quality of service and to achieve consumer satisfaction and loyalty the measurement of service quality is essential.

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