Are tattoos still a taboo? The effect of employee tattoos on customers’ service failure perceptions

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6 Scopus citations


Purpose: As tattoos increase in popularity, questions persist regarding their impact on customer perceptions. To help shed light into this issue, this paper aims to explore the impact of tattooed restaurant servers in the context of service failures. Through the agency and communion theory, the authors propose that a female server with tattoos induces higher levels of negative word of mouth (WOM) intention than her male counterpart. Furthermore, the authors propose that perceived competence mediates this effect. Design/methodology/approach: Through a 2 (tattoos status: yes, no) × 2 (server’s gender: male, female) experimental design, a panel of consumers were exposed to a restaurant service failure scenario with a photograph of a server. Depending on the condition, the server was either a male or female and had (or not) a tattoo on their left arm and neck. The same tattoo design was used for both genders. Findings: The findings indicate that, in a service failure context, customers’ propensity to generate negative WOM does not differ across tattooed (vs non-tattooed) servers. However, contrary to the expectations of the authors, people tend to react more negatively to a male (vs female) server with tattoos. Originality/value: Research on tattoos in the customer service context is scant, especially in hospitality. Furthermore, no previous study on tattoos has empirically tested a mediation process explaining differences in customer perceptions. Contrary to previous findings, this study demonstrates that an exposure to male (vs female) tattooed servers increases customers’ propensity to generate negative WOM. In other words, the type of profession coupled with the employees’ gender might influence customer perceptions. Furthermore, as customers’ propensity to generate negative WOM did not increase when served by a tattooed (vs non-tattooed) employee, managers in aesthetic labor industries, such as the foodservice business, can be more accepting of employees with tattoos.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)874-889
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 15 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management


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