[Thesis]. Manchester, UK: The University of Manchester; 2018.
A global increase in the number of single-person households has produced new societal
trends, and one such emerging phenomenon is the rise of the solo diner in the restaurant
industry. Embracing this growing customer market requires an understanding of what
factors influence their dining experience and how best to enhance this. Despite the
paramount importance of customer experience in services marketing, a model of the
factors influencing the experience of diners in the restaurant sector remains elusive.
This is especially true in the case of solo diners, where there is a paucity of data
on what factors influence their dining experience. There is therefore a pressing need
to understand the factors which influence the dining experiences of this blossoming
market, and in doing so create a model of customer experience in this setting.
In order to identify, describe and analyse the influencing determinants of restaurant
experience from the solo diners' perspective, experiential elements within the context
of the solo diner's restaurant encounters were explored. As a country with a largely
collectivistic culture and an increasing number of solo diners, South Korea provides
an interesting environment through which to explore these factors. Thirty semi-structured
interviews were conducted amongst solo diners in South Korea. The data were subsequently
analysed using a thematic technique through which common themes and patterns were
identified, and their respective influence on solo dining experience explored.
The findings of this study show that customer experience is constructed from a delicate
interplay between the collectivistic cultural background of solo diners and their
perceptions of various factors. Such factors include: environmental factors, staff
attitude and behaviour, interaction with other diners, physical environment, perceived
value for money, locational convenience, service design, and food quality. Crucially
the effect of some of these influential factors on solo dining experience is determined
according to inherent differences in the solo diner's needs and desires. With regard
to factors influencing customer experience, this study has identified a clear dichotomy
between 'solitary' diners who choose to dine alone versus unwilling 'lonely' diners.
The results of this study contribute to the extension of existing knowledge about
customer experience by developing a customer experience model, which not only integrates
the differential determinants of solo dining experience, but also importantly shows
that and individual's motivation for solo-dining influences his/her perception of
restaurant experience. In addition, through this study's focus on solo diners within
South Korea, this research extends the knowledge of customer experience to both the
solo dining and collectivistic cultural context. A greater understanding of customer
experience in these contexts is vital if the restaurant industry is to tailor its
services effectively, and this study has highlighted various methods through which
the customer experience of solo diners can be optimised. Such methods include careful
interior design of restaurants (e.g. attractive ornaments, open-kitchen); optimal
choice of tables (e.g. bar tables, communal tables, tables with partitions); distinct
food menus for solo diners; and training of service employees to specifically address
the needs and wishes of this growing customer group.