Applying Expectancy-Value Theory To the Consumer's Search For Information About Restaurants

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mass Communication and Journalism

First Advisor

Gene Wiggins

Advisor Department

Mass Communication and Journalism


While the nature and effects of retail communications have been studied widely, very little is known about the process by which consumers find one kind of retail establishment, the restaurant. This dissertation compares the role of paid advertising for restaurants and that of informal, word-of-mouth communications on the same subject. It builds on the quantitative restaurant studies of A. S. Boote (1981) and, to a lesser extent, R. C. Lewis (1981). Primarily, the study is a test of expectancy-value theory, an extension of uses and gratifications models. Expectancy is defined as consumer beliefs about various media choices. Value is how a person evaluates those beliefs (i.e., the value he or she attaches to the outcome of the search for a product). The current research also touches on the diffusion of innovations and, in particular, the influence of opinion leaders on consumer decisions. These market mavens are defined as persons who volunteer information about eating establishments at least three times a month, and are asked about them an equal number of times. Both the media habits and restaurant patronage of this group are compared with those of other consumers. The instrument for this research was a telephone survey of 199 adults. The resulting sample consisted of approximately the same gender and income breakdowns as in the general U.S. population. The following hypotheses were tested: H1: There are distinct differences among the gratifications sought from advertising, restaurant reviews and word-of-mouth communication about restaurants. The results of the survey did not support this proposition. H2: Food quality and flavor are more important to the seeker of an eating establishment than any social, rational or leisure factor. There was a great deal of evidence supporting this hypothesis. H3: Word-of-mouth is tapped as a source of information about restaurants more often than any mass medium. As was the case in a previous pilot study, personal communications proved to be considerably more powerful than either paid advertising or published restaurant reviews. H4: Market mavens use both mass media and interpersonal communication more than other consumers. The strongest relationship demonstrated here involved elevated use of word-of-mouth. However, there was little evidence that mavens use any mass media, including paid advertising, significantly more than other restaurant patrons. This study clearly demonstrates that consumers place a premium on high-quality, flavorful food when looking for an eating establishment. However, the results raised serious questions about Boote's (1981) classification of restaurant gratifications. It is also clear that, typically, the consumer's search is not involved enough to justify consulting with mass media sources of information on a regular basis. Word-of-mouth communications, presumably involving people they know personally, are more accessible, and are perceived as more useful in restaurant searches.