Stephani K. A. Robson, Sheryl E. Kimes, Franklin D. Becker and Gary W. Evans, all of Cornell University, published “Consumers’ Responses to Table Spacing in Restaurants” in the June 2011 issue of Cornell Hospitality Quarterly. Dr. Robson kindly provided her responses to the following questions.
Who is the target audience for this article?
Those who study consumer behavior in the built environment; those who design and/or operate full-service restaurants.
What inspired you to be interested in this topic?
I come from a restaurant design background and am very interested in how design influences outcomes.
Were there findings that were surprising to you?
I was not surprised to find that people disliked close table spacing, but I was quite surprised by the fact that even at spacing of 24″ — much wider than we typically space tables in the restaurant industry — patrons strongly disliked the table spacing.
How do you see this study influencing future research and/or practice?
This study was the initial part of a broader program of research that is testing actual table spacing in real dining environments. It is my hope that the results of all of this work will help designers and operators create more effective restaurants and will also expand understanding of how environments influence consumer behavior.
How does this study fit into your body of work/line of research?
I have been looking at the effects of restaurant seating for some time — this is an area of environmental psychology that has had virtually no examination. We know a lot about seating in other kinds of settings but not commercial services like restaurants. There are still lots to do here — in future I will be looking at different kinds of restaurants, at communal seating, and at other locations in the US and abroad.
How did your paper change during the review process?
Most of the changes were to provide deeper explanations of theory and methodology.
What, if anything, would you do differently if you could go back and do this study again?
I would replicate the work using images of tables that were not along a banquette. If the tables are freestanding, it is possible that table spacing may not be as key an issue prior to the service experience because users may perceive they have more control over access and departure. However, in subsequent research I did not see any difference between parallel tables on a banquette versus similar tables that were freestanding. It would be nice to confirm that the banquette itself was not the main influence on guest perceptions.