Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Research, Vol. 43, No. 2, February 2019, 167 –187
© The Author(s) 2018
THE SOCIAL SERVICESCAPE:
Nathaniel D. Line
Florida State University
Understanding the role of the servicescape in the consumption process has become
an increasingly important topic in hospitality research. However, while a consensus
has been reached regarding the conceptual and operational nature of the physical
environment, less is understood about the social aspects of the servicescape.
Accordingly, the purpose of this research is to operationalize a multidimensional
construct that is reflective of the social phenomena in the consumption environment.
Defined in terms of the observable characteristics of the other customers and
employees in the service environment, the social servicescape is proposed as a third-
order construct composed of three distinct latent factors: customers, employees,
and social density. An operationalization in the domain of full-service restaurants
supports the proposed specification as a reliable and valid operationalization of the
social servicescape. On establishing psychometric stability, nomological validity is
established via a quantitative demonstration of the construct’s effect on restaurant
KEYWORDS: social servicescape; other customers; restaurants; construct opera-
tionalization; consumer behavior
Understanding the role of environment in the consumption process has
become one of the most important and practically relevant streams of research
in the hospitality marketing literature (Liu & Jang, 2009). Building on Bitner’s
(1992) seminal conceptualization of the servicescape as a function of ambient
conditions, spatial layout/functionality, and signs/symbols/artifacts, hundreds of
studies have been published confirming the effects of this construct on con-
sumption behavior (Mari & Poggesi, 2013). However, while Bitner’s (1992)
model of the servicescape has become the foundation of the contemporary
framework linking service environments with consumption behavior, the model
has also generated at least some criticism.
767948JHTXXX10.1177/1096348018767948Journal Of Hospitality & Tourism ResearchLine, Hanks / The Social Servicescape
168 JOURNAL OF HOSPITALITY & TOURISM RESEARCH
Critics of Bitner’s (1992) tripartite servicescape model argue that although
the proposed dimensions (i.e., ambience, layout, and signage) are undeniably
reflections of the service environment, this dimensionality is exclusively a func-
tion of the physical servicescape and ignores the potentially important socially
derived aspects of the consumption environment (e.g., Baker, 1987; Tombs &
McColl-Kennedy, 2003; Wu, 2007). Such critics further argue that, given the
fundamentally social nature of service consumption, the conceptual predomi-
nance of the physical environment (at the expense of the social environment)
represents a potentially serious gap in the overall conceptualization of the social
servicescape construct (see Line, Hanks, & Kim, 2018).
Importantly, this gap has not gone entirely unnoticed in the mainstream ser-
vices research. For example, there are many streams of research that deal with
customer-to-customer interaction (see Nicholls, 2010). However, while such
research has significantly advanced the understanding of active social interac-
tions, accounts of passive customer interactions (i.e., mere presence) are much
less prevalent in the literature, particularly when it comes to operationalizations
of the servicescape. Likewise, there have been occasional attempts to include
employee-based dimensionality (e.g., attractiveness, appropriate attire) in the
extant operational accounts of the servicescape (Ryu & Jang, 2007; Turley &
Milliman, 2000). However, employee inclusion is the exception rather than the
rule, leaving most mainstream operationalizations of the servicescape bereft of
any socially based dimensionality.
Thus, while a consensus has seemingly been reached regarding the concep-
tual and operational nature of the physical servicescape, much less is known
about the social aspects of the servicescape, especially at an operational level.
Accordingly, the purpose of this research is to fill this gap in the literature by
operationalizing a multidimensional social servicescape construct that is com-
posed of both customer- and employee-based dimensions simultaneously.
Specifically, operational definitions of existing first- and second-order con-
structs are modeled as reflections of a single higher-order construct (i.e., the
social servicescape), and empirically tested in the context of full-service restau-
rant consumption. The results provide empirical support for the proposed con-
ceptualization of the social servicescape construct. Additionally, tests of
nomological validity indicate that the social servicescape is a valid predictor of
both consumption emotions and behavior.
Social Impact Theory
The notion that other social actors in the environment can have an influence
on a focal individual’s thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and behaviors is not a new
one. Social impact theory (SIT; Latané, 1981) posits that in any social milieu, the
focal individual is influenced by the communications of other actors in the social
space and that the level of impact is dependent on the strength, immediacy, and
Line, Hanks / THE SOCIAL SERVICESCAPE 169
number of other people. According to this theory, the strength of the other actors
is often operationalized as a function of their age, social class, depth of relation-
ship, or level in a hierarchy. For example, an older person of high social standing
who occupies a position of power would be likely to have more influence on a
focal individual than a younger person with no such social capital. Second,
immediacy can be characterized in terms of spatial or temporal distance. The
more recent a communication is or the closer the social actor is to the target
physically, the greater the impact on the target individual. Finally, number is
simply defined by the number of other people exerting the influence over the
focal individual. The greater the number, the stronger the influence. SIT has
been used as a framework to investigate the influence of others in service con-
texts such as retail (Naylor, Lamberton, & West, 2012), social media (Perez-
Vega, Waite, & O’Gorman, 2016), green consumption (Ling, 2013), and sports
(Plewa, Carrillat, Mazodier, & Quester, 2016).
In accordance with the tenets of SIT, the conceptualization of the social
servicescape is focused on aspects of the service environment that relate to
people (i.e., other customers and employees). In a hospitality setting, we pro-
pose that the first two tenets of SIT, number and immediacy (in this case,
physical distance), can be operationalized by assessing the density of the other
customers in the service environment. We also propose that in the absence of
any direct interactions with other customers/employees, the focal customer
will assess the strength of the others (the third aspect of SIT), by evaluating
their similarity to himself and the appropriateness of their behavior in the
Taken together, these propositions suggest that in the absence of an actual
relationship or any direct interaction, the focal customer’s perceptions, attitudes,
and behaviors will be affected by the strength, number, and immediacy of the
others in the social servicescape. Thus, the social servicescape is defined in the
present research as the perception of the observable characteristics of the other
customers and employees in the service environment, including similarity,
appearance, behavior, and density. Accordingly, the social servicescape is pro-
posed as a third-order construct reflective of three distinct latent factors: other
customers, employees, and social density (see Figure 1).
Research into the role of other customers in the service experience gained
significant traction with the publication of Baker’s (1987) study, which exam-
ined the function of social cues as indicators of the overall service environment.
Since that time, research interest in the ways in which customers influence each
other has grown significantly (Grove & Fisk, 1997; Hanks, Line, & Kim, 2017;
Line et al., 2018; Martin, 1996; Miao & Mattila, 2013), with some schools of
thought contending that the presence, characteristics, and behaviors of other
customers may even have a stronger impact on the focal customer’s perception
170 JOURNAL OF HOSPITALITY & TOURISM RESEARCH
of service quality than contact with service providers (Lehtinen & Lehtinen,
1991; Line & Hanks, 2017).
Intercustomer compatibility as a key factor in the consumer experience
was initially outlined by Martin (1996). Subsequently, Nicholls (2010) used
the term customer-to-customer interaction (CCI) to describe the impact of
direct interaction with social others in the service environment. However,
even when CCI is passive and customers do not directly interact, the mere
presence of others has been found to influence the focal customer’s percep-
tions of (and reactions to) the overall service experience, including satisfac-
tion and loyalty behaviors (Bitner, 1990; N. Kim & Lee, 2012; Martin &
In light of the dearth of research regarding passive CCI, this study is con-
cerned with other customers as noninteractive (or passive) elements of the social
servicescape. In these terms, the focus of this study is on what N. Kim and Lee
(2012) call mere presence, or the observations and perceptions of the focal cus-
tomer regarding the other customers in the service milieu. Specifically, the focal
customer’s perception of these other customers is examined using a three-
dimensional framework developed by Brocato, Voorhees, and Baker (2012).
This framework suggests that in a situation where the CCI is passive (i.e., where
Third-Order Specification of Proposed Social Servicescape Construct
Line, Hanks / THE SOCIAL SERVICESCAPE 171
the focal customer has no direct interaction with others on which to base opin-
ions), he/she will assess other consumers along the dimensions of perceived
similarity, physical appearance, and appropriate behavior.
Perceived similarity is the extent to which a focal customer feels that he/she
is similar to the other customers in the service environment (Brocato et al.,
2012). Social identity theory contends that people form the social aspect of their
identity from having membership in social groups (Tajfel, 1982). In a service
context, then, this theory would suggest that customers prefer to surround them-
selves with other customers who share their characteristics.
The old adage, “birds of a feather flock together,” reflects the idea that people
tend to engage socially with other similar individuals (McPherson, Smith-Lovin,
& Cook, 2001). When customers feel that they identify with the others surround-
ing them, they are more likely to evaluate those other customers positively
(Brocato et al., 2012). This effect leads to the notion that consumers tend to
gravitate toward service environments with which they are most compatible.
Stated more simply, customers feel more comfortable in an environment when
they are surrounded by people who are similar to themselves (Hanks, Line, &
Yang, 2017; Line et al., 2018; Martin & Pranter, 1989).
Consumers also make inferences based on the physical appearance of others.
Physical appearance can be defined as “the physical characteristics and overall
look (i.e., the attributes) of other customers in the service environment” (Brocato
et al., 2012, p. 3). The psychology and business literatures are rife with research
that demonstrates that (a) individuals are drawn to people whose appearance
they like and (b) people tend to ascribe more positive traits to individuals whom
they perceive as attractive (Adams, Hicken, & Salehi, 1988; Langlois et al.,
2000). Subsequently, attractive people tend to receive more attention, get prefer-
ential treatment, and enjoy more popularity and trust (Adams et al., 1988; Gillen
& Bernstein, 2015).
Mehrabian and Russell (1974) demonstrated that the physical appearance
of others has a direct impact on emotional reactions, such as pleasure, arousal,
and dominance. Extending this to the domain of service provision, research
shows that consumers prefer being around other customers whose physical
appearance they judge to be positive or attractive (McGrath & Otnes, 1995).
Because other customers are a tangible indicator of the service environment,
these reactions to the physical appearance of other consumers factor into the
overall perception of the service environment (Trampe, Stapel, Siero, &
172 JOURNAL OF HOSPITALITY & TOURISM RESEARCH
Even when a focal customer has no direct interaction with other customers,
the behavior of others is a salient factor in the social environment. Appropriate
behavior, in a services context, can be defined as the extent to which a focal
customer feels that other customers in the service environment behave appropri-
ately given the consumption context (Brocato et al., 2012). Importantly, how-
ever, appropriate behavior is context-dependent and malleable (Martin &
Pranter, 1989). Thus, appropriate behavior in a sports bar is vastly different than
appropriate behavior at a fine dining restaurant.
The framework behind this notion of appropriate behavior is role theory,
which posits that individuals learn behaviors that are appropriate to the roles
they hold in a specified social context. Banton (1996) defines a role as “the
expected behaviour associated with a social position” (p. 749). Likewise,
Goffman (1967) suggested that social interactions between two players are gov-
erned by the roles they play, which in turn generates a script regarding that par-
ticular interaction. Script theory, by extension, suggests that interactions that are
repeated often result in basic expectations about how the interaction should be
conducted (Miao, Mattila, & Mount, 2011). In a service context, employees
typically have explicitly defined roles and scripts, which they often learn through
training with superiors or in orientation. However, customers also have a defined
role as well as a set of behavioral expectations that accompany that role (Grove
& Fisk, 1997).
When other customers behave (or fail to behave) according to their roles and
scripts, it can influence the experience of the focal customer and his or her sub-
sequent evaluation of the service experience (Martin, 1996; Miao et al., 2011).
Accordingly, fellow customers can enhance or improve a service experience
when they adhere to their roles and scripts (Adelman, Ahuvia, & Goodwin,
1994), or they can ruin a service experience with inappropriate public behavior,
even when there is no direct interaction with the focal customer (Parker & Ward,
Based on the preceding discussion, the role of other customers in the social
servicescape is conceptualized as a second-order construct composed of three
distinct underlying dimensions. Thus,
Proposition 1: Perceived similarity, physical appearance, and behavior are distinct
reflections of the role that other customers play in the social servicescape.
Employees are deeply associated with the social aspect of the service encoun-
ter. As such, prior research has identified employees as a key component of the
focal consumer’s evaluation of his experience (Tombs & McColl-Kennedy,
2003). Using the same framework presented by Brocato et al. (2012), this study
is concerned with how the same three aspects of the employee’s presence
Line, Hanks / THE SOCIAL SERVICESCAPE 173
(perceived similarity, physical appearance, and appropriate behavior) influence
the focal customer’s perceptions of the social servicescape.
Again, it is important to note that when considering how employees factor
into the social servicescape, the emphasis is on passive, noninteractive assess-
ments. Thus, the social servicescape construct proposed in the present research
is distinct from the previously operationalized constructs typically associated
with research on service excellence, service quality, and service failures. While
the quality of the service provided by the employee to the customer is certainly
a key determinant of his or her overall assessment of the service encounter, it is
outside of the scope of the specified domain of the social servicescape, which
emphasizes the passive elements that contribute to the customer’s impression of
the service environment. To reiterate, this study is concerned with passive obser-
vations of employees’ similarity, appearance, and behaviors and how they com-
bine to form an overall impression of the social servicescape.
Prior research in the business and psychology literature suggests that a match
between customers and employees can result in positive outcomes for both the
consumer and the firm. Important examples include similarity–attraction theory
(Tsui, Egan, & O’Reilly, 1992), Becker’s (1957) theory of customer discrimina-
tion, social-categorization theory (Hogg & Terry, 2000), and social identity the-
ory (Tajfel & Turner, 1986). In each of these examples, familiarity and desire to
be near people who are similar to oneself all lead to a preference for being
around similar others.
According to these theories, customers prefer to be in a service environment
with employees who are similar to themselves, even if they are not directly inter-
acting with these employees. When employees are similar to guests in some key
ways, customers may perceive that such similarity can assist employees in intui-
tively understanding the needs and preferences of the customer (Cox, 1993). For
example, employees who share the same background, lifestyle, and location
may understand the likes and dislikes, changing needs, and particulars of cus-
tomer needs better than dissimilar employees. Additionally, consumers prefer
employees who are similar because it helps form and maintain their social iden-
tity (Tajfel, 1982). Again, customers feel more comfortable in an environment
when they are surrounded by people who are similar to themselves (Martin &
Pranter, 1989), and this includes employees as well as customers.
The perception of an employee’s physical appearance includes such elements
as makeup, hair styling, facial hair, dress, and grooming (Ahearne, Gruen, &
Jarvis, 1999). Consumers use physical appearance as a heuristic cue for social
information (Magnini, Baker, & Karande, 2013). In other words, customers look
174 JOURNAL OF HOSPITALITY & TOURISM RESEARCH
to an employee’s physical appearance to give them clues as to other, more dif-
ficult to discern, traits such as personality or competence. This helps the cus-
tomer to form opinions about the employee and the firm, on which further
judgments are made (Tsaur, Luoh, & Syue, 2015).
In general, people tend to assume that when the appearance of another person
is attractive, that individual must possess good personal qualities, including
warmth, friendliness, poise, and competence (Chaiken, 1979). For consumers, the
physical appearance of the service provider serves as a tangible cue of the quality
of the experience, which in turn influences his or her evaluation of the service
encounter (Hogg & Terry, 2000). Accordingly, there is ample evidence that cus-
tomer perceptions of employee appearance are an important part of the overall
evaluation of the service environment and the encounter. For example, appearance
has been shown to lead to higher sales, increases in purchase intentions, positive
attitudes, greater satisfaction levels, higher levels of assurance, and better service
quality evaluations (e.g., Bitner, 1990; Magnini et al., 2013). Taken together, this
body of evidence points to the importance of the physical appearance of employ-
ees as a contributor to the overall perception of the social servicescape.
Because employees are a fundamental part of the service creation and deliv-
ery process, their behavior is a key aspect of the social servicescape and, in turn,
heavily influences consumer perceptions of service experience (Bitner, 1990).
The behavior of employees can either enhance or detract from the quality of the
service experience, depending on the appropriateness of the behavior for the
Much as is the case with other customers, the appropriateness of employee
behavior is context dependent. Employees in a given service encounter have roles
to play and scripts to follow, and these roles and scripts are usually well-defined
and highly predictable (Brocato et al., 2012). When an employee’s behavior con-
forms to the role in which he or she has been cast and aligns with the customer’s
expectations of the encounter, this leads to positive outcomes such as satisfaction,
loyalty, and repurchase (Keaveney, 1995). On the other hand, if an employee
deviates from the script, this can lead to negative perceptions on the part of the
consumer. It is important to note that this holds true even when the employee is
not interacting directly with the focal customer, as employee behavior when
interacting with other customers or conducting daily duties is easily observable.
Based on the preceding discussion, the role of employees in the social servic-
escape is conceptualized as a second-order construct composed of three distinct
underlying dimensions. Thus,
Proposition 2: Perceived similarity, physical appearance, and behavior are distinct
reflections of the role that employees play in the social servicescape.
Line, Hanks / THE SOCIAL SERVICESCAPE 175
In addition to the characteristics and behavior of the other people with whom
the focal customer is interacting, the volume of people in the service environ-
ment (referred to here as social density) plays an important role in the perception
of the social servicescape. Human density can be defined as the number of peo-
ple in a given physical space (Stokols, Rall, Pinner, & Schopler, 1973).
Importantly, the desirable level of density is again context dependent. For exam-
ple, higher density may be expected at a sports arena, while lower density would
be more appropriate at a fine dining restaurant or an exclusive retail shop (Eroglu
& Harrell, 1986). When there is a mismatch between customer expectations
regarding the density of a service venue, this discrepancy can result in negative
emotional outcomes such as anger, distrust, and contempt (Hanks, Line & Kim,
2017), as well as affect behavioral outcomes such as satisfaction, revisit inten-
tions, avoidance behaviors, spending levels, and length of stay (Eroglu, Machleit,
& Barr, 2005).
The social density of a service environment can have a significant impact on
customer perceptions of the service quality, as well. When a customer perceives
that a venue is inappropriately crowded, this may adversely influence his or her
level of confidence and assurance in the ability of service personnel to provide a
quality experience (Hui & Bateson, 1991; Mattila & Hanks, 2012). Accordingly,
the density of the service environment is positioned as fundamental to the percep-
tion of the social servicescape. Thus,
Proposition 3: The social density of the service environment is a distinct reflection of
the social servicescape.
Measurements of the proposed first-order factors of the proposed construct
were organized in an electronic questionnaire and disseminated to users of
Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) in the United States. Given the importance
of reaching a geographically diverse sample of restaurant consumers, MTurk
was deemed an appropriate sampling frame (see Buhrmester, Kwang, & Gosling,
2011, for a more detailed discussion of the use of MTurk). To begin, participants
were asked to recall their most recent (dinner) restaurant experience and to enter
the name of that restaurant into a text box. Because the purpose of this research
was to operationalize a phenomenon related to interpersonal social experiences
within the restaurant, participants were instructed not to consider carry out or
drive-through dining occasions. The name of the chosen restaurant was then
piped into the subsequent operational measurements to maintain context salience
176 JOURNAL OF HOSPITALITY & TOURISM RESEARCH
After providing a referent restaurant, the social servicescape of that restau-
rant was evoked through the following prompt:
To begin, please think about the other customers that also dine at [piped data:
selected restaurant] for dinner. Rather than thinking about any companions that
you may dine with, we would like you to think about the other customers in the
restaurant that you do not know. What do they look like? How are they dressed?
What adjectives would you use to describe them?
After reading the prompt, participants were asked to briefly describe
these other customers in open-ended format (i.e., text boxes). A similar pro-
cess was followed preceding the measurement of the employee services-
cape. These descriptive priming processes were designed to ensure that the
social servicescape was sufficiently evoked in the respondents’ minds prior
to measurement, thus helping minimize recall bias (Bradburn, Rips, &
The proposed third-order social servicescape construct was modeled to
include two second-order dimensions and one first-order dimension (as previ-
ously put forth in Figure 1). First, Brocato et al.’s (2012) other customer
scale, consisting of perceived similarity (α = .92), physical appearance (α = .80),
and suitable behavior (α = .77), was used to operationalize the second-order
customer servicescape construct. Likewise, this same scale was modified for
the operationalization of the employee servicescape. The modified scale fea-
tured the same operational structure and dimensionality (perceived similarity
[α = .93], physical appearance [α = .85], and suitable behavior [α = .92]), but
was in reference to the employees as opposed to the other customers. The
density construct (α = .96) was operationalized in accordance with Hanks,
Line and Kim’s (2017) recommendations.
Throughout the measurement process, a number of steps were taken to reduce
the potential effects of common method bias among the measured variables.
Specifically, efforts were made to minimize the effects of several of the most
common forms of methodologically related error as recommended by Podsakoff,
MacKenzie, Lee, and Podsakoff (2003). Additionally, two attention checks (e.g.,
“please choose ‘somewhat agree’ as your response to this statement”) were
embedded in the survey in an effort to reduce the incidence of yea-saying/nay-
saying among the respondents. Finally, recall bias was addressed through the
previously discussed priming process in which respondents were required to
describe the other diners at their selected restaurant. A Harman’s single-factor
test indicated that methodologically related biases were likely not a significant
source of error in the measurement process.
Line, Hanks / THE SOCIAL SERVICESCAPE 177
Profile of Participants
The sampling process resulted in a total of 1,143 responses. However, after
accounting for the aforementioned attention check items, 152 of these responses
were deemed spurious and subsequently deleted. In terms of sample characteris-
tics, there were slightly fewer males (46.8%) than females (53.1%). Marital sta-
tus was also roughly equal with 46.7% reporting as single and 43.3% reporting
as married. In terms of age, 56.2% were between 18 and 35 years old with
another 33.7% between 36 and 55 years old. Minority groups represented
slightly less a quarter of the sample (23.3%). In terms of restaurant selection, a
majority identified a casual restaurant (65.7%) or an upscale restaurant (23.5%).
To begin the process of establishing the social servicescape as a third-order
latent construct, the psychometric properties of the lower-order dimensions
were assessed. First, a measurement model was specified inclusive of the three
proposed latent dimensions (i.e., customer servicescape, employee services-
cape, and density). The resulting fit indices indicated an acceptable fit of the
measurement model to the data (χ2 = 1543.9, df = 285; root mean square error of
approximation [RMSEA] = .067; comparative fit index [CFI] = .94; Tucker–
Lewis index [TLI] = .94; normed fit index [NFI] = .93). The structure of each
first-order factor is provided in Table 1.
Next, construct validity was assessed according to the process established by
Fornell and Larcker (1981). As seen in Table 2, the critical ratio is greater than
the average variance extracted (AVE), and both indicators are greater than 0.5
for all three constructs. These results provide robust evidence of convergent
validity (Hair, Black, Babin, Anderson, & Tatham, 2006). Additionally, the AVE
for each construct is greater than both the maximum squared shared variance
and average squared shared variance. These results, combined with the finding
that no construct pairs correlate more than 0.5, provide strong evidence of dis-
criminant validity as well (Hair et al., 2006).
After confirming the psychometric soundness of the lower-order con-
structs in the measurement model, the next task was to establish the multidi-
mensional structure of the social servicescape. Using the operationalizations
for each dimension as specified in the measurement model, a confirmatory
factor analysis was conducted specifying the proposed third-order structure
of the social servicescape. This specification yielded an acceptable fit to the
data (χ2 = 1555.3, df = 285; RMSEA = .067; CFI = .94; TLI = .93; NFI = .93).
Likewise, all specified path estimates were positive and significant (p < .05).
178 JOURNAL OF HOSPITALITY & TOURISM RESEARCH
The Social Servicescape
Constructs and Indicators Standard Estimate Standard Error
Employee servicescape 0.58a
Perceived similarity (α = .93) 0.34* 0.055
I could identify with the employees in the
I am similar to the employees in the
The employees are like me. 0.91* 0.029
The employees come from a similar
background to myself.
I fit right in with the employees. 0.85* 0.030
Physical appearance (α = .85) 0.97* 0.052
I liked the appearance of the employees. 0.79* NA
The employees were dressed
The employees looked nice. 0.87* 0.037
Suitable behavior (α = .93) 0.83* NA
The employees were friendly toward me. 0.89* NA
I found that the employees behaved well. 0.91* 0.023
The employees’ behavior was pleasant. 0.93* 0.023
Customer servicescape 0.64a
Perceived similarity (α = .92) 0.54* 0.054
I could identify with the other customers in
I felt similar to the other customers in the
The other customers were like me. 0.89* 0.027
The other customers came from a similar
background to myself.
I fit right in with the other customers. 0.80* 0.029
Physical appearance (α = .80) 0.93* NA
I liked the appearance of the other
The other customers were dressed
The other customers looked nice. 0.82* 0.044
Suitable Behavior (α = .77) 0.88* 0.057
The other customers were friendly toward
I found that the other customers behaved
The other customers’ behavior was
Density (α = .96) 0.89a
The restaurant was crowded. 0.94* NA
Line, Hanks / THE SOCIAL SERVICESCAPE 179
Validity Assessment Criteria and Correlation Matrix
CR AVE MSV ASV Employees Customers Density
Employees 0.78 0.58 0.52 0.28 0.76a
Customers 0.84 0.64 0.52 0.28 0.72 0.80a
Density 0.96 0.89 0.04 0.04 0.18 0.20 0.93a
Note: CR = critical ratio; AVE = average variance extracted; MSV = maximum squared
shared variance; ASV = average squared shared variance.
a. Square root of AVE.
The results of these analyses support the proposed third-order factor structure
of the social servicescape construct.
An essential part of the existing servicescape framework is the well-docu-
mented connection of the construct with consumer-level perceptual and behav-
ioral phenomena (e.g., Bitner, 1992; Han & Ryu, 2009; Heung & Gu, 2012; W.
Kim & Moon, 2009; Liu & Jang, 2009; Ryu & Jang, 2007). Because the social
servicescape is positioned as an extension of the existing physical services-
cape framework, the socially based construct proposed in this research should
have a similar impact on such variables. Accordingly, to demonstrate the
nomological validity of the proposed social servicescape construct, two struc-
turally based propositions were tested. The first nomological proposal was that
the social servicescape should have a significant effect on consumers’ emo-
tional reactions to the dining experience (Liu & Jang, 2009; Ryu & Jang, 2007).
Then, from a behavioral perspective, a second proposition suggested that the
social servicescape should have a significantly positive effect on experience
satisfaction and post consumption word-of-mouth behavior (Han & Ryu, 2009;
Heung & Gu, 2012).
Constructs and Indicators Standard Estimate Standard Error
The restaurant seemed busy. 0.93* 0.017
There were a lot of people in the restaurant. 0.95* 0.016
In your perception, how crowded was the
dining environment? (Not crowded: Very
Note: NA = parameter constrained to 1 for specification.
a. Average variance extracted.
*p < .001.
Table 1 (continued)
180 JOURNAL OF HOSPITALITY & TOURISM RESEARCH
To test the relationship between the social servicescape and emotions, a struc-
tural equation was specified with parameters linking the third-order specifica-
tion of the social servicescape with a positive emotions construct (α = .86) and a
negative emotions construct (α = .95; see Valenzuela, Mellers, & Strebel, 2010).
This specification yielded an acceptable fit to the data (χ2 =3451.7, df = 651;
RMSEA = .066; CFI = .92; TLI = .91; NFI = .90). Additionally, as expected, the
social servicescape was found to positively affect positive emotions (β = .53, p
< .001) and to negatively affect negative emotions (β = −.52, p < .001). These
results provide support for the nomological validity of the social servicescape in
terms of its expected relationship with emotional responses.
The second test for nomological validity involved an account of the expected
relationship between the social servicescape and satisfaction/behavior. Given
the well-established relationship between the physical servicescape and behav-
ioral variables such as satisfaction and word of mouth (see Han & Ryu, 2009;
Heung & Gu, 2012), it is expected that the social servicescape would exhibit a
similar relationship with these constructs. Accordingly, a model was specified
linking (a) the social servicescape with experience satisfaction (α = .94) and
(b) satisfaction with a measurement of word-of-mouth intention (α = .93; see
Zeithaml, Berry, & Parasuraman, 1996). Again, this specification yielded an
acceptable fit to the data (χ2 = 2219.7, df = 481; RMSEA = .060; CFI = .94;
TLI = .94; NFI = .93) with positive relationships from the social servicescape to
satisfaction (β = .72, p < .001) and from satisfaction to word-of-mouth intention
(β = .77, p < .001). Again, these results provide support for the nomological
validity of the proposed social servicescape construct with regard to its relation-
ship with established behavioral frameworks.
Understanding the role of environment in the service consumption process is
arguably one of the most theoretically and managerially relevant areas of
research in the hospitality and tourism literature (Liu & Jang, 2009). While
Bitner’s (1992) classical model is widely hailed as the framework linking physi-
cal service environments with consumption behavior, this conceptualization
does not recognize importance of the social elements of the consumption envi-
ronment. Accordingly, the purpose of this study was to operationalize a multidi-
mensional social servicescape construct that accounts for the effects of both
customers and employees.
The results of an empirical test of these propositions provided support for the
framework. Based on the work of Brocato et al. (2012), it was expected that
perceived similarity, physical appearance, and appropriate behavior would con-
tribute to the perception of both other customers and of employees. The results
supported this prediction. In other words, even in the absence of direct interac-
tion, a focal customer makes inferences, judgments, or assessments about the
other customers and employees in a shared consumption environment based on
Line, Hanks / THE SOCIAL SERVICESCAPE 181
these three dimensions. Additionally, the density of other customers and employ-
ees in the consumption space was demonstrated as a contributor to the evalua-
tion of the social environment. Taken together, these results indicate that
customers form a holistic perception of the social servicescape based on a tripar-
tite model consisting of other customers, employees, and social density.
The results of this study carry significant theoretical implications with regard
to the influence of social factors on consumer behavior. The explication of a valid
and reliable multidimensional operationalization of the social servicescape con-
struct marks a step forward in the understanding of the ways in which the mere
presence of others in the consumption environment can influence the consumer
experience. While the idea that other customers and employees contribute to the
focal customer’s experience is not new, no study to date has offered a testable
model to explain these phenomena. Overall, the results indicate that the proposed
construct is a valid predictor of relationships among the focal customer, the social
servicescape, and post-consumption evaluations and behaviors.
The findings also carry significance as a springboard for new directions of
research. By providing an operationalization of the social servicescape, this research
makes possible a number of future studies concerning the relationship of the social
servicescape to various environmental and social elements, individual personality
traits, and a host of emotional, attitudinal, and behavioral outcomes. In this way, the
present study makes an important contribution to consumer behavior theory.
The results also carry implications for hospitality managers and marketers.
While intuition has long suggested that customers respond in some way to the
others in the service environment, the findings present a broad-based operation-
alization of the social servicescape that more fully explicates the factors that are
influential in the formation of environmental assessments. This information can
help hospitality operators in controlling the specific social elements that are
most likely to influence customer opinions and behaviors.
Beginning with the employee servicescape, this research provides at least
some guidance for restaurant training processes. For example, while many train-
ing and orientation programs traditionally focus on the interaction between the
employee and the customer, the present study suggests that hospitality managers
may also wish to focus on the passive elements of the employee presence, such
as their appearance and non–customer-focused behaviors. Regarding the latter,
taking steps to manage how employees interact with each other (especially when
in view of the customer) may be particularly beneficial. Based on the findings of
the present research, it appears that customers notice/assess passive employee
behavior in the same way that they notice/assess décor or lighting. Thus, by
training employees to remember that the customer is always watching, restau-
rant managers may actually be able to leverage passive employee behavior into
a positive part of the customer experience.
182 JOURNAL OF HOSPITALITY & TOURISM RESEARCH
Regarding the customer servicescape, this study underlines the importance
of controlling the customer mix, as customer-to-customer similarity is a key
component of the social servicescape. Conventional methods of attracting
homogenous customers through the use of such mechanisms as targeted mar-
keting and advertisements, rate structures, and dress codes are recommended;
however, it may also be possible for restaurateurs to actually manufacture a
feeling of homogeneity as well. For example, restaurants could attempt to iden-
tify common cultural bonds among their target customers (e.g., sports teams,
art, pop culture, politics) and then use this information to strategically theme
the physical environment in a way that stimulates a common conversation
throughout the restaurant. Naturally, employees would be trained to engage
with customers regarding the thematic content and perhaps even stimulate con-
versation among customers.
Finally, this research provides evidence that the elements of the social ser-
vicescape do not exist in isolation. Rather, employees, customers, and density
can be seen as interconnected environmental phenomena that must be managed
holistically. This would suggest that managers should begin to think about how
decisions that affect one part of the social servicescape will affect evaluations
of the broader social environment. For example, consider how, in the recom-
mendation above, elements of the employee servicescape were used to drive
perceptions the customer servicescape. Given the multidimensional nature of
the social servicescape construct, such interactions between the customer ser-
vicescape, the employee servicescape, and customer density are likely to be
quite common. Our research suggests that managers who understand the inter-
connected nature of these phenomena can create synergies among them that
facilitate positive emotional reactions, satisfaction, and post-consumption
Limitations and Future Research
Although this research makes a number of important contributions to hospi-
tality theory and practice, it is not without limitations. First, it should be noted
that the operationalization of the social servicescape put forth in this research
was conducted within the cultural context of the United States. Accordingly, the
structure of this construct is a function of Western cultural beliefs concerning the
presence of other social actors in the consumption environment, and as such,
should not be prematurely generalized outside of this particular context. To
enhance the generalizability of the proposed framework, future research should
explore the social servicescape as it is manifested in other cultural contexts.
Second, it should be noted that the construct operationalized in this research
is a direct function of the industry domain in which the research was conducted.
Because the construct was operationalized in the full-service restaurant industry,
future research may be necessary before the framework can be applied to other
domains of the hospitality industry. Additional research should seek to establish
Line, Hanks / THE SOCIAL SERVICESCAPE 183
the dimensional and operational nature of the social servicescape in other sec-
tors of the hospitality industry (such as hotels, cruise lines, theme parks, etc.) as
well as other service environments that feature shared consumption space (such
as banks, fitness facilities, hair/nail salons, etc.).
Finally, it will be important to continue to expand the nomological frame-
work initiated in the present research. While this research provides preliminary
evidence of the nomological validity of the proposed social servicescape con-
struct with regard to its effects on emotions, satisfaction, and word of mouth,
there are likely a great many more cognitive and behavioral constructs that affect
(and are affected by) the social servicescape. The existing physical servicescape
framework may be a useful roadmap for such research.
The purpose of this research was to propose and operationalize a multidimen-
sional conceptualization of the social servicescape. Defined in terms of the
observable characteristics and behavior of the other social actors present in the
service environment (i.e., customers and employees), the social servicescape
was proposed as a third-order construct composed of three distinct latent dimen-
sions: customers, employees, and social density. An operationalization of this
construct in the domain of full-service restaurants supported the proposed speci-
fication as a reliable and valid representation of the social servicescape.
Additionally, the nomological validity of this construct was established by pro-
viding an account of its effect on consumption emotions, experience, and word-
of-mouth behavior. These findings indicate that, even in the absence of direct
interaction, perceptions of the other social entities in a shared consumption envi-
ronment affect evaluative assessments of the consumption experience.
Accordingly, the results suggest that, like the often-cited physical servicescape,
the social servicescape should also be considered an important part of both the
theory and practice of restaurant marketing.
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Line, Hanks / THE SOCIAL SERVICESCAPE 187
Submitted October 16, 2017
Accepted February 15, 2018
Nathaniel D. Line, PhD (e-mail: email@example.com), is an assistant professor in the
Dedman School of Hospitality, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL. Lydia Hanks,
PhD (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org), is an assistant professor in the Dedman School of
Hospitality, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL.