9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN05 Sociology of Consumption

2009-09-04 13:30:00 2009-09-04 15:00:00 Friday, 4 September 13:30 - 15:00 Variations in Food Practices Building II, C5.01

"It´s more than just the food itself": Expectations and intermediation in the field of eating out

By applying the field of eating out as a point of departure, this paper investigates the interface between consumer expectations and quality of service offered by suppliers. Eating out is an arena characterized by consumers often having vague and contradictory expectations, while the service offered by suppliers often lack often lack predictable standards relating consumer expectations to experienced quality. In this respect eating out challenges the communication process (or the lack of communication) taking place between consumers and suppliers in the market place.

Relying on qualitative interviews with consumers, we explore how they understand and conceptualize eating places as social spaces. Do consumers' wishes, values and objectives correspond with the design and service of the eating place? Are there tensions between them or are they directly at variance? This discussion may be crucial not only for those who formulate concepts for eating out, but also for the study of standards and conventions regulating the interaction between consumers and suppliers under circumstances of ambiguity. We apply convention theory and regard the interface between consumers and suppliers as series of negotiation processes that takes place around expectations, experience and social function. This approach relies on the assumption that all production of goods and services presupposes a common "language" that organise and coordinate expectations between suppliers and customers. We explore the interface between consumers and suppliers in terms of time, price, socialising and experience. Based on these dimensions, we analyse eating out as "spheres of possibilities". Our discussion partly supplements and partly extends existing theories of convention.