Bridging the gap Between Technological Enhancement and Personal Expectations: A 360-Degree View on Technology Deployment in the Restaurant Industry
Digitization in the service sector is rapidly changing business models and the way companies interact with customers. Rather traditional service sectors with a high degree of personal customer contact, including the restaurant industry, have remained reluctant towards technology for a long time. Meanwhile, industry reports show that restaurants of every size increasingly invest in digital solutions.
These solutions range from handheld ordering systems over online reservation platforms to rather advanced table top technologies and order cubes on restaurant tables.
However, to the authors’ knowledge no research has been conducted yet on how these new forms of digital technologies affect attitudes and behaviours of frontline-service employees (FLEs) and, equally important, merchant-customer relationships. Against this backdrop, this research uses a qualitative approach to discover the beliefs and opinions of technology providers, restaurant operators, FLEs and customers on digitization in the restaurant industry. In total, thirty-six in-depth interviews were conducted to achieve a 360-degree view on technology readiness and attitudinal patterns.
Eleven FLEs in restaurants were interviewed about technology-related job demands, job resources, drivers of motivation and their customer-facing behaviours based on Bakker and Demerouti’s job demands–resources (JD-R) model. Interviews with seven restaurant operators and three technology suppliers revealed an additional perspective on specific demands and resources. Additionally, the customers’ perspective was integrated by linking the use of technology interfaces to customer delight, recommend intentions and tipping behaviour by fifteen structured interviews. Oliver and DeSarbo’s expectancy-disconfirmation paradigm is applied to investigate customers’ perceptions of the service performance and to unravel optimal customer-to-employee/customer-to-technology ratios.
Following Straussian coding principles, qualitative data analysis software MAXQDA was utilised to analyse the transcribed interviews. Throughout the analysis, key categories and concepts were identified by open coding, followed by a process of axial and selective coding for all interviewee groups.
Results indicate that a vast majority of FLEs agrees with operators’ and suppliers’ certainty that technology makes them more productive in their work. Managerial commitment towards technology and employee engagement are key job resources that pave the way to increased employee motivation when digital solutions are deployed. Solely system downtime caused by internet breakdown or empty batteries was indicated to cause strain among employees.
From a customer’s perspective, the most prevalent finding is that satisfaction and delight with a service supported by technology are likely to turn into the opposite if customer expectations regarding the effectiveness are not fulfilled. Anger about slow service performance leads to a higher risk of negative word-of-mouth and lower loyalty intentions compared to slow service when less technology interfaces are in place.
In sum, this study contributes to organizational frontline research by providing a 360-degree view on outcomes of digitization in the service sector.