The Meanings of Sustainability in the Full-service Canadian Restaurant Context: Perceptions and Co-created Service Experiences of Managers, Employees, and Customers
The focus of this research is how the construct of “sustainability” is enacted in the context of Canadian full-service restaurants. An inductive research approach and social constructionist paradigm was adopted for the study. The research has three objectives: to examine the meanings of sustainability at four levels - a broad hospitality industry level, a broad consumer marketplace level, a firm or restaurant level, and a service experience level; to investigate what influences the meanings and perceptions of sustainability among key participants in the service experience - managers, employees, and customers; and to determine how meanings and perceptions of sustainability are created by individuals in the service consumption process. A conceptual framework, service experience clues (Berry, Wall, & Carbone, 2006a; Berry, Wall, & Carbone, 2006b), is applied to uncover the perception of sustainability in the restaurant experience. Data is collected from two online studies and a descriptive single-case study of a “sustainable restaurant” that draws on multiple data sources, including interviews with managers, employees, and customers. First, the results of the research show diversity in the meanings of sustainability in restaurants from stakeholders at the industry, consumer marketplace, restaurant, and service experience levels. Second, the results illustrate sustainability was communicated through three types of service clues in the experience, yet the consistency of messaging, awareness of sustainability, and perceived importance of the clues varied among managers, employees, and customers. Third, the results suggest that the meanings of sustainability may be co-created in the service experience when a customer engages with the service staff. The research contributes to literature on sustainability in hospitality and tourism by engaging in the conversation on “sustainable hospitality”, an area of inquiry that is underdeveloped in the broader context of sustainable tourism. Through a comparison of the meanings and perceptions of managers, employees, and customers, the study develops an inclusive understanding of a “sustainable service experience”. This empirically grounded and holistic understanding of the sustainable service experience will be useful for managers seeking to better understand customer and employee perceptions of sustainability in hospitality, and to improve the quality of messages on sustainability in hospitality service experiences.