Circles or squares? Can shape affect customer satisfaction?
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Circle or square? Angles or curves? Does it matter what shapes are used to layout and decorate your restaurant’s space? According to these researchers from the Ohio State University, the answer is definitely “yes.” And this has important implications for restaurant design.

Dr. Stephanie Liu and Graduate Assistant Vanja Bogicevic examined how the physical shapes of objects present in service businesses (like restaurants) can affect customer satisfaction. The researchers also found that participants’ reactions to the various shapes was dependent on how busy the business was.

“Just manipulating this subtle environmental cue had an influence on customer satisfaction in our study,” said Dr. Liu.

So how does it work? The study found that angular shapes and sharp angles increased customer satisfaction when a business was perceived as “busy.” The sharp angles convey competence and efficiency when the business is crowded.

In contrast, rounded, curved or circular shapes communicated warmth and friendliness to customers when the business was not crowded or busy.

Restaurant Design Implications

As part of a related study, the researchers took on the implications for restaurant design in an experiment that asked participants to view different pictures of a restaurant.

In one scenario, the photos showed rounded shapes for things such as the restaurant logo, the ceiling lights, tables and other decorative elements.

What message is your restaurant design sending your customers?
Curved or straight? What message is your restaurant design sending your customers?

In the other scenario, these same elements were shown with straight lines and sharp-angled corners.

Some of the participants were told that the restaurant was crowded while the rest were told that there were no other customers in the waiting area.Everything else was held the same across the two groups besides the angles and how busy the restaurant was perceived to be.

The description included a pleasant meal and quick service.After reading the scenario, participants were asked to rate their server in terms of warmth and friendliness as well as in terms of competence. They were also asked to rate how satisfied they thought they would be with this restaurant and whether they would recommend it to others.

The results showed that there was a distinct interaction between how crowded the restaurant was and the shapes present in the environment.

If the restaurant was not busy, the rounded shapes were associated with higher levels of customer satisfaction and loyalty. But if the restaurant was busy, the angular shapes were more likely to be associated with higher satisfaction and loyalty.

Why is this, you may ask? The research believe that when the restaurant was not busy, the curved shapes focus the customers’ attention on the warmth and friendliness of the server leading to higher satisfaction.

But when the restaurant was busy, the sharper angles led participants to rate their server as more competent which was associated with higher levels of satisfaction.

“We used shapes to influence perceptions about the employees’ behavior,” Liu said. “The shapes helped determine what the participants focused on.”

Sensory Marketing & Restaurant Design

Understanding these relationships and making thoughtful design choices can have a big impact on a restaurant’s customer satisfaction and loyalty.  Shape is just one element that is being researched in the growing field of sensory marketing.  When combined with other elements such as color and smell, sensory marketing can have great influence on customer perceptions, attitudes and behavior.

“The effect of shape on consumers is a new direction for sensory marketing,” Bogicevic said.

Restaurant designers need to be aware of the effects of their design choices. Thoughtful design can provide a competitive advantage for restaurants. It’s a competitive world and sometimes the most subtle choices can be the difference maker.

“The physical environment of service businesses can be designed in such a way as to maximize customer satisfaction. Shapes are an important part of that,” Liu said.


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