Researchers have found that regulars at local diners rely on other customers and employees for social support after they experience major events that result in them losing close relationships and the support that these relationships provided.

Marketing researchers from Northern Illinois University and Arizona State University studied the extent to which regulars of a Chicago-based diner obtain support in the establishment. Their findings, which appear in the Journal of Service Research, conclude that regulars recoup lost companionship and emotional support by forming supportive relationships with customers and employees inside the diner. The article is available at

“People typically obtain emotional support from spouses and companionship from friends and co-workers,” says Mark S. Rosenbaum, lead author. When people experience the death of a spouse, divorce, separation, chronic illness, retirement, or empty-nest, they lose prime social support sources. Dr. Rosenbaum says, “Insufficient companionship causes people to experience loneliness; while insufficient emotional support causes anxiety and an inability to concentrate.”

Diner regulars who have not experienced major losses obtain about 25% of their companionship from other diner customers and employees. Once regulars experience retirement or empty-nest, this percentage increases to 30%. The onset of chronic illness, such as cancer or heart disease, results in regulars obtaining 41% of their total companionship from their diner relationships.

Once the chronically ill lose a spouse through death, divorce, or separation, the regulars rely on other diner customers and employees for 58% of their companionship and 42% of their emotional support. “The results reveal that the regulars replace lost companionship and emotional support from friends and families with commercial friendships. Clearly, your body doesn’t care whether it obtains companionship from co-workers or from diner cronies,” says Dr. Rosenbaum.

Dr. Rosenbaum states, “Older-aged widows and widowers often have difficulty remarrying. Therefore, they are susceptible to experiencing problems related to insufficient emotional support including anxiety and general restlessness. This study shows that people may remedy these symptoms by finding commercial spouses, essentially non-marital relationships that provide people with feelings of closeness similar to which spouses provide.”