The contemporary world marketplace demonstrates fierce competition among service providers, which has a result in the struggle by service firms such as restaurants to create and manage a high-quality customer relationship. It is through service quality that restaurants can be able to determine whether their customers are being satisfied. In the past years, multiple cases have been witnessed that demonstrate increasing interest in empowering frontline employees in the hospitality and more particularly in restaurants (Odeh, 2008). The primary aim of the paper is to provide a review of the literature on the effect of frontline employee empowerment on the service quality in restaurants. The independent variable is the frontline employee empowerment and the dependent variable is the service quality in restaurants (Odeh, 2008). The two variables are discussed separately and later a correlation is discussed using various relevant theories. The next section is the methodologies used in the study to arrive at the desired research findings.
It is becoming difficult for the restaurants to maintain their competitive advantage from the variety of services they offer. Most of the services that the restaurants offer are intangible, highly perishable, and heterogeneous, which makes it a challenge for the firms to achieve differentiation from other competing companies. As such, restaurants cannot easily inspect the level of unsatisfactory customers unless it is presented to the customer. Frontline employees are therefore regarded as the voice and face of the restaurants and as such, there is a need for them to be empowered to provide quality service. Consequently, the paper seeks to find out whether empower frontline employees promote quality service in the restaurants.
According to Zeglat, Aljaber, and Alrawabdeh (2014), employee empowerment is one of the most effective tools to service and satisfy customers. Through empowerment, frontline employees are more likely to have control over their daily decision and job-related situations. In that case, subordinates tend to have more flexibility and responsibility regarding the needs of customers. Employee empowerment has therefore drawn significant attention from practitioners and scholars because of its impact on the competitive advantage it has in the service industries such as restaurants. Humborstad and Perry (2011) point out that there is a need for the restaurants and other services related firms to direct empowerment towards enriching frontline employees with the much-needed skills and abilities to meet the requests and needs of the customers. Kanter (1993) argued that the characteristics of an organisation mostly determine the empowerment and that empowered employees always feel satisfied with their work. Örtenblad, Löfström, and Sheaff (2015) points out that Kanter recognised the primary role of power when it comes to facilitating or holding back access to the support, resource, as well as opportunities that employee’s need to function in an organization. Kanter is known to be the founder of the theory of structural empowerment, which may have been inspired by the civil right movement social philosophy that became critical in the influence for the access of resources as well as the power imbalance. According to Örtenblad, Löfström, and Sheaff (2015), structural empowerment theory suggests that that worker who can access empowerment structures within their work environment are more likely to become effective in whatever they do. Empowerment structures as outlined by Kanter are information, support, resources, and the opportunity (Kanter, 1993).
The success of any frontline employees in a restaurant depends so much on the information that he or she can access. According to Cooper and Leiter (2017), any empowerment program can only be essential when frontline employees are provided with the necessary information that will help them go through their work effectively and autonomously. It is nearly impossible to empower individuals and teams when they are not conscious of what they are expected to do. For one to be conscious of what do to at all time, there has to be access to accurate information (Cooper & Leiter, 2017). For instance, frontline employees are the ones who have direct contact with customers in the restaurant, and they need to have the right information to be able to answers customers quickly, accurately, and more appropriately. Failure to provide employees with accurate and timely information would, therefore, create room for uncertainties and slowed decision making when serving the customers. As such, performance and financial information are some of the vital information that the frontline employees need to be empowered with to be able to take the initiative and influence decision, which will subsequently help, improve the quality services, and enhance customer satisfaction in restaurants.
Frontline employee’s functions depend so much on the organisational support in multiple ways. A support according to Cooper and Leiter (2017) can be described as guidance, feedback, valuable advice, emotional support, or even a hand on assistance offered to employees. In a restaurant, for instance, frontline employees are expected to be well equipped with the necessary resources to be able to meet the needs of the consumers without any hindrance. Some of the staff may be facing severe emotional challenges that may be a barrier to their efforts to effectively serve customers (West, Ford & Ibrahim, 2015). A supportive organisation is expected to come in and offer emotional support through guidance and counselling. Restaurants with managers who are focused on providing necessary support to the frontline employees will always provide motivated, happy, and hardworking staff.
The service industry continues to become more dynamic, which makes it a challenging area for employees. For a frontline employee to remain relevant in the field, there is a need for constant growth through training and development (Bailey, 2009). Restaurants are currently working hard to ensure that their frontline employees are provided with opportunities for growth and movement within the firm. Additionally, employees are provided with the opportunity to increase their skills and knowledge in the hospitality industry (Tsaur, Chang & Wu, 2004). For instance, restaurants continue to develop new innovative services and products that would not be easily handled if the employees were not trained on such changes. Restaurants whose management provides various opportunities including promotion to higher responsibilities are mostly characterised by well-empowered staff who are motivated in their daily work.
The fierce competition in the hospitable industry has greatly influenced how management in this industry view service quality. The determination of customer satisfaction has been pegged on the service quality and the prices that the clients are willing to pay for the services. According to Odeh (2008), management considers service quality as their topmost competitive priorities. Moreover, it is equally seen as a prerequisite concerning the sustenance as well as the growth of an organisation. Management of service quality starts with the understanding of what consumers consider valuable in the services being offered and what they believe to be of high quality (West, Ford & Ibrahim, 2015). With such kind of information and knowledge, restaurants are capable of influencing and controlling such attributes with the intention of improving customer experience. The most effective way to understand how best to manage service quality is using SERVQUAL model, which is the measure of service quality. Seithaml, Parasuraman and Berry developed the model in 1980s, and it was designed to be used in service firms as well as retailers. The restaurant is one of the broader hospitality industries that are known for the provision of services and SERVQUAL is the model that provides a broader perspective of service that goes beyond customer service.
The characteristics of services are unique when compared to those of the physical products, which are tangible. Services have unique features such as heterogeneity and intangibility, which makes it difficult for restaurants to objectively assess the level of quality unlike in the case of manufacturing firms that can inspect the products and test for their quality (Mohamad, Ab Yazid, Khatibi & Azam, 2017). Service quality as already mentioned is the assessment of the customer on the overall delivery as well as the value of the firm, and that is what SERVQUAL model separates into five different categories (West, Ford & Ibrahim, 2015). The types are abbreviated as RATER, which is an abbreviation for Reliability, Assurance, Tangibles, Empathy, and Responsiveness. While all the five dimensions are essential to customers, some of them are more important, and in this case, the two most important aspects discussed are reliability and assurance.
Consumers always expect their service providers to be experts in delivering their products to consumers. It is not only necessary for the restaurant to be excellent in their activities but it is also crucial that they communicate their expertise to the customers. This calls for the assurance, which Laws (2004) as the ability of the employees to inspire confidence and trust. According to Mok, Sparks & Kadampully (2013), assurance is a reflection of "Knowledge and courtesy of employees and their ability to inspire trust and confidence" (p. 55).
In most cases, the person that links the company and the customer is the one that carries the trust and confidence like in the case of restaurant marketing department. In that case, frontline employees are aware of the need to create confidence and trust from its customers to create a competitive advantage as well as customer loyalty (Klaveren & Tijdens, 2012). SERVQUAL model demonstrates that it is essential for frontline to communicate the expertise to the restaurant customers. To show high quality to the customers, the employees must prove that the service provider is an expert in the provision of service.
Consumers expect their service providers to deliver what they claim to offer and nothing less. Restaurants, for instance, are expected to demonstrate that consumers can count on them for the quality of service they promise to deliver (Oh, 2009). The most important thing to consumers is not only having flashy uniforms and speaking with a soothing voice when welcoming them in the restaurant (Wood & Brotherton, 2008). Instead, they are more focused more on the level of reliability of the service provider. Service quality can be demonstrated when the company is capable of keeping its promise to customers. Consequently, there is a significant need for any manager in the restaurant industry to work on the reliability level if the company is to be considered by the consumers.
Based on the Kanter’s theory of structural empowerment and the SERVQUAL model discussed above, it is apparent that empowerment has a significant correlation with the service quality (Richard, Emener & Hutchison, 2009). Through employee empowerment through opportunity, information, and support, frontline employees in any restaurant are capable of performing their job more successfully. According to Uden, Oshee, Ting & Liberona (2014), empowerment enables service organisations to make their customers happy by being committed to the customer service encounters.
Employees who have access to accurate information and get support from the restaurant management are always committed to successful consumer service encounters (Richard, Emener & Hutchison, 2009). Through the availability of information, for instance, there will still be a high level of reliability from the frontline employees, as they will always have required discretion as well as the autonomy of doing everything they can do see that the customers are satisfied.
Frontline employees’ discretion, control, and responsiveness that come with opportunities and support, which are the Kater’s structures of empowerment are directly correlated with the assurance and reliability, which are the dimension of service quality (Kanter, 1993). For instance, customer contact employees who have been provided with all the necessary resources will be to provide all the services needed to the consumers (Meyer, 2016). Assurance of consumer’s results from the ability of the employees to inspire trust and confidence and that can only be possible when there is support from the top management.
Empowered employees are capable of solving the problem of the customer because they have control of the situation. The customer will have the right information of what the customers need and the availability of the resources in the firm. In that case, it is possible for the frontline employees to promise consumers that they will deliver the service and are capable of providing the promise.
Figure 1: Conceptual Framework
Independent Variable Dependent Variable
Source: Drawn by author
From the conceptual framework, empowerment is derived from structures such as information, opportunity, and support, which correlate to the service quality as measured, by assurance and reliability. Availability of information leads to the reliability of frontline employees to deliver what customers expect from the restaurant. Supporting employees enable them to have the necessary resources and that gives them the opportunity to build trust among consumers as they can meet the needs of the consumers at their discretion. Opportunity as a means of empowerment is sure way of exposing frontline employees to the needs of the consumers and the most effective ways of meeting such needs. As such, it ensures that the service quality is delivered by not only enhancing reliability but also creating assurance that what the firm promises will be offered.
The purpose of the study is to determine the impact of front-line employee empowerment on service quality in a restaurant. Through research methodology, more information is gathered to help understand the area of study (Phillips & Stawarski, 2008). The methodology used in this case is qualitative, which relies more on the quality of the information gathered and not the use of numerical data. The section specifies the population, sampling technique, and the sample used in the study. It equally outlines the data collection method and the data analysis used in analysing the data collected.
The research aims at determining the impact of front-line employee empowerment on service quality in a restaurant and the methodology being used is a qualitative method. The paper reviews the relevant literature concerning employee empowerment and its impact on the service quality. The variables under study have been identified as the empowerment of frontline employees, and the dependent variable is the service quality. Inductive research is used in reviewing phenomena that was earlier researched. According to Brink, Van and Van (2007), inductive reasoning is defined as "the process of developing generalisation from specific observations" (p. 6).
Consequently, the data is obtained through observation and a generalisation is made based on the facts that have been observed from the reviewed literature. The most appropriate approach that is used in the analysis of the observed and evaluated facts is the axial coding. The fact that this research is not scientific research there is the possibility of influencing the observation and as such the approached followed is the post-positivism.
Walliman (2015) defines population as “a collection term used to describe the total quantity of things (or cases) of the type which is the subject of your study” (p. 75). On the other hand, Brink, Van & Van (2007) points out that the sample is a collection of a selected group of units or elements of analysis from a specific population. The element in research is the fundamental unit from where the information on the study is collected. Consequently, sampling is, therefore, the process in which the sample is selected from the larger population under study with the aim of obtaining necessary information concerning the phenomenon in such a manner that interest of the population is represented (Woodwell, 2013). Sampling can be group into probability or non-probability sampling where the probability is that sampling where there is an equal chance of being chosen whereas in non-probability where there is no fair chance. In this research, the sampling technique used is non-probability as the choice of selecting respondent remains with the researcher. The sample for the study is an individual that will be a representative of the entire population under investigation.
Mallinson, Childs and Van Herk (2013) define data collection as a gathering of relevant data for the area being studied. The collection of data is based on the variables and how independent impacts on the dependent. The sources of data can always be primary or the secondary source where primary data involves the collection of raw information through interviews and such like methods. On the other hand, the secondary method consists of the review of already existing data like in the case of reviewing literature relevant to the topic under study. In this study, the secondary method is used where multiple books and articles pertaining to the employee empowerment and service quality are reviewed (Mallinson, Childs & Van Herk, 2013). Additionally, the primary data is used through a structured interview done to a single employee from a restaurant. The data collected are qualitative data, which include behaviour, feelings, views, and even different opinions from the respondent.
Since the data collected is qualitative, the study uses qualitative data analysis method, and the reliability of the obtained data is examined. Therefore, the data is categorised and coded before being tabulated and analysis conducted to arrive at the findings (Braun, Clarke & Gray, 2017). The data analysis method in use is axial coding, as it is the most suitable way to help identify the impact of the various codes. The technique is capable of breaking down the codes into understandable categories and concepts, which is then used in the analysis. The output of the analysed data is presented in the form of graphs, pie charts, tables, and frequency distribution tables, which are easier to understand.
The contemporary hospitality industry is faced with numerous challenges due to an increased level of competition and new business models being introduced. It is therefore difficult for restaurants to maintain the competitive advantage for long before consumers complain of low service quality. The concern on service quality has since prompted several researchers and scholars to determine ways in which restaurants can enhance their quality. Among the many ways that have been identified, employee empowerment has been cited as one of the means through which organisations can boost their service quality. The review of multiple kinds of literature regarding employee empowerment and service quality demonstrates that structures of employee empowerment such as opportunity, information, and support are directly correlated to service quality in restaurants. The features of service quality as shown through the SERVQUAL model include assurance and reliability, which are directly promoted when employees are empowered through access to accurate information. For instance, for the restaurant to be considered reliable, frontline employees must be empowered with accurate information and supported with the necessary resources to provide that which the restaurant has promised. Assurance as a feature of service quality can be achieved when employees have the required knowledge and skills, and that can be possible when frontline employees are given the opportunity to develop their skills. A restaurant that has empowered employees will be promising and deliver the exact thing they promise to their customers as workers will be driven to impress their customers. Consequently, it can be concluded that, empowering frontline employees to have a positive correlation to the service quality in restaurants.
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