When observers of customer incivility revisit the restaurant: roles of relationship closeness and norms

Yoo Hee Hwang, Xingyu Wang, Priyanko Guchait

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: Considerable research has examined the negative consequences of customer incivility on employees (e.g. turnover intention and sabotage behavior toward the customer). However, there is scant research investigating how other customers, as observers, may react to incivility. This knowledge gap should be filled because hospitality services are often consumed in the public setting where customers can observe and be influenced by each other. The purpose of this study is to fill this gap by examining observing customers’ willingness to revisit the company following customer incivility. Design/methodology/approach: Participants are American consumers recruited from a crowdsourced online panel. Two scenario-based experimental studies in the restaurant setting are conducted. Customer incivility and relationship norms (communal versus exchange) are manipulated, while relationship closeness is measured. Findings: Study 1 shows that following fellow customer incivility (vs civility), observing customers’ intention to revisit the company was lower when they perceive a distant relationship with the employee. This intention did not differ regardless of incivility and civility when they perceive a close relationship with the employee. Study 2 shows that when observing customers perceive a communal relationship with the employee, their revisit intention was even higher following customer incivility (vs civility). Practical implications: Hospitality managers need to train employees to identify signs of customer incivility and assume appropriate actions to reduce the negative consequences on observers. Hospitality managers should also communicate their expectations for respectful customer behaviors through an organization-wide campaign. Finally, hospitality businesses should foster a close relationship with their customers, particularly a communal relationship to offset the negative consequences of customer incivility on observers. Originality/value: This study adds to previous research by challenging the universally negative view of customer incivility. The authors do so by examining the moderating effects of relationship closeness and norms in observer reactions to customer incivility. This study contributes to previous research drawing on script theory and deontic justice theory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4227-4244
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 21 Oct 2022


  • Customer incivility
  • Deontic justice theory
  • Relationship norm
  • Script theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management


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