Service Encounter: Restaurant Observation
Description of Location
To conduct an effective study of service encounters and their various characteristics, an observational process was carried out in a fast food restaurant for an hour. The restaurant is located within a central business district. Most clients come in their lunch break hours as well as in the evenings when get off work. However, the clients who come late in the evening mostly purchase to-go foods. During other times, the visits to the restaurant are low hence making the observations was easy. The exercise was intended to be as simple as possible by maintaining one waiter and following up on the interactions he had with customers. The waiter was an African American-woman in her late twenties while the customers varied in profiles. The observation was conducted between 1500 hours and 1605 hours on a Thursday when most people were likely to be at work. The observation yielded an experience of various forms of interpersonal communications involving service delivery. Some of the dialogues heard involved an invitation of uptake while others were simple and direct to the point. Bailey (1997) distinguishes service encounters into socially minimal and socially expanded encounters. The socially minimal encounters are restricted to aspects of the business discussion while the expanded encounters entail deeper communication, which portrays the presence of an interpersonal relationship. The succeeding section presents four different encounters observed during the study.
The first customer served by the targeted waiter in the first hour was a white middle-aged woman. From her appearance, she seemed easy and at peace. She looked like a professional, probably on a break off from work and the visit to the restaurant was a routine procedure in her daily activities.
Customer: Hello, how’ve you been? (Walking towards a free table)
Waiter: (Follows the customer towards the table) I’m okay, thank you. How was your work today?
Customer: As usual, same things and you?
Waiter: Fine too, should I offer you the usual?
Customer: Oh no! Today I feel a little hot; I’ll take a cold drink instead.
Waiter: It’s okay, just give me a minute. (She goes away to serve)
The second customer was a middle-aged man. He is Black and walked with a slight limp on his right foot. He seemed like an individual in the technical industry and talked with a serious tone, not the kind of person to possibly entertain other business besides what he came for. He, however, seemed like a routine customer based on the waiter’s recognition.
Waiter: Hello, Mr. Greene? How have you been?
Customer: Fine, can I get a cold coke please?
Waiter: Ok, coming right up.
Customer: Kindly do that fast enough; I may be late for work.
Waiter: I will, just give me a minute (walks towards the service counter).
In the third encounter, the customer, seemingly new to town and to the restaurant, was a young woman, in her mid-twenties. She was also Black and looked a bit new in the area. She came and went directly to a corner table.
Waiter: Hello, welcome to the restaurant, how can I help you?
Customer: Hey, I really don’t have any idea what is on offer here. Can you please help me make a choice?
Waiter: Okay, we have a variety of fast foods. You can have burgers, fries or even sandwiches. There are also various brands of soft drinks.
Customer: I’ll take a cold soda and a burger, the weather here is something else. How do you people survive here?
Waiter: We are used to it, not a big deal. Let me get you your order, I’ll be back in a minute (goes to serve).
The customer is a youthful Hispanic man, probably between 18 and 22. He looks like a campus student and is very joyful. It seems to be another routine customer to the restaurant.
Customer: Hey Grace, how’ve you been? (Walking towards his table)
Waiter: Hello David, I am fine, welcome. What can I offer you? You’ve been away for some time now.
Customer: Yeah, I went to visit my folks back home, but I’m back. Just give me a glass of fresh, juice please.
Waiter: Okay, give me a few seconds, I’ll have you sorted.
The encounters described above display various characteristics of uptake conversations. In the first encounter, the customer’s first question prompts the waiter to engage in more than business transactions. The waiter then continues the conversation by answering the customer’s question and even asking about the customer’s wellbeing. In the second encounter, the waiter invites the uptake through reference as well as asking about the customer’s welfare, yet the customer seems unwilling to engage in the conversation. He instead restricts his utterances to the business at hand. In the third and fourth encounters, the customers invite the waiters to an uptake through asking about his experience living in the city and his welfare respectively. In both cases, the waiter accepts the invite and engages the customer further.
In cases such as the second encounter, Bailey reports that factors such as lack of respect and miscommunication could contribute to lack of uptake. However, in the observed case, the lack of uptake could have been caused by preoccupation, where the customer could have been stressed or his mind engaged in personal issues.
Bailey, B. (1997). Communication of respect in interethnic service encounters. Language in Society, vol. 26, pp. 327- 356.