Decipher the menu: The impact of language barriers on decision-making

Open Access
Zhang, Lu
Graduate Program:
Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Management
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
July 01, 2013
Committee Members:
  • Anna S Mattila, Dissertation Advisor
  • David Allen Cranage, Committee Member
  • Hubert Van Hoof, Committee Member
  • Margaret Grace Meloy, Committee Member
  • Yu Zhang, Committee Member
  • Language barrier
  • preference fluency
  • power
  • and choice
Previous studies on ethnic restaurants have identified several critical factors that influence customer selection, including food quality, service quality, atmospherics, and authenticity (Jang, Ha, & Park, 2012). However, prior research has failed to consider the potential negative effects of using an intimidating foreign language to describe the ethnic restaurant’s menu items. In other words, language barriers, one of the fundamental issues in the context of ethnic dining, have been largely ignored. The purpose of the current study is to understand the impact of language barriers in the context of ethnic restaurants. We propose that language barriers will negatively influence preference fluency; that is, the subjective feeling of ease or difficulty experienced while constructing menu choices. In addition, we identify and empirically test three moderators that could potentially influence the fluency effect, attribution, power, and choice. One pilot study and three main experiments have been conducted. The results of Study 1 support the hypothesis that a high language barrier leads to a lower level of preference fluency, thus resulting in a higher level of choice deferral, less liking of the choice, and lower anticipated satisfaction of the dish. However, once the feeling that making a choice is difficult can be attributed to a language barrier, the effect of preference fluency disappears. In Study 2 and 3, we test the moderating effects of power and choice, and the timing of when power and choice are induced. The results indicate that power and choice increase individuals' reliance on meta-cognitive cues such as preference fluency, which leads to negative consequences. However, such an effect was only significant when power and choice are induced before menu processing. Conversely, when power and choice are induced after menu processing; the negative effect of the language barrier is attenuated. Finally, theoretical and empirical contributions of the present study are discussed as well.