Observation Research

Sociological Observational Research: How many people wash their hands before eating a meal?Washing Hands with Soap

The hypothesis for this experiment is that if two different fast food restaurants are observed during the day than most people will be seen not washing their hands before and after eating their meals. Dependent variable in this experiment will be how much time limited to eating the meal for example lunch break is limited to one hour. Also, dependent variable includes the ratio of customers within the restaurant limiting many people to wash their hands all at the same time. Furthermore, the independent variable during this experiment will be the food being served to the customers, the type of food offered at the fast food place, the quality of food, the size of the meal, and the size of the restaurant.

The locations which were chosen to be observed for the purpose of this research are Wendy’s and Subway.  Both restaurants are smaller spaced areas with approx. 5-10 tables for eating inside. At Wendy’s and Subway, as you enter the store customers have clear view of the counter with the employees ready at the cash register. Also, behind the counter the entire kitchen is visible to all customers when they are order the food. There are few employees as cashiers.  Many customers coming in and out consistently, the door keeps opening and closing for new customers. The customers when entering the restaurant walk directly towards counter to order there food. After ordering the food customers only wait about 2-5 minutes to receive their foods. The participants chosen for this observation were the subjects who chose to stay and eat inside the fast food restaurant. After receiving their food the subjects chose their seats depending on the size of their group, many people came alone to eat or with one or two partners. The seating arrangements for the tables are 2-4 chairs per table in both restaurants. There is a washroom located alongside with the cash register with 2 stalls for each men and women.  The duration for this observation was one hour in each restaurant.  For the purpose of this observation research 35 people were observed and recorded.

Table 1: Recorded observation of customers at fast food restaurants washing their hands before eating

Fast food Restaurants Subways Wendy’s
Number of people washed hands 2 0
Number of people who did not wash hands 33 35
Percentage of people who washed their hands 5.7% 0%
Percentage of people who did not wash their hands before eating 94.3% 100%


The findings for this observation research supported the hypothesis because most people coming into fast food restaurants had limited time they chose to stay inside to eat. The people who came in were in a hurry to get their food, eat, and leave quickly. The choice of eating at a fast food restaurant to get their food quickly and eat it is probably the main cause for not even considering washing their hands before eating their meal. During my observation at Wendy’s all the people chosen to be my subject chose to get their food and go to their tables to start eating. They did not stop to socialize or communicate with anyone in the restaurant either. The duration of each person’s stay in Wendy’s was varying from 10-20 minutes each where out of 35 people no one even entered the washrooms.

During this time there were other people who entered the washroom of the Tim Horton’s right beside to use their washrooms. Furthermore, at subways only 2 people went and washed their hands before eating their meal because they had to use the washroom. The rest of them were similar to Wendy’s where they got their food and drink, went directly to the tables and began eating their meal. At subway a group of construction workers came in to eat, during that time I observed that maybe the reason for not washing hands could be the limitation of time they have to eat their meal. Many workers are limited to an hour of allocated lunch time during their working hours. They do not even have the time to sit down for a long time to socialize with others and communicate with their co-workers. This observation showed that most people didn’t wash their hands even after eating their meals. The workers were observed consistently talking about going back to work and kept checking the time on their phones to make sure they have enough time to eat their food. Many people were observed wiping their hands with the napkins provided by subways because of the sauce dripping from their sandwiches got on their hands. This observation showed that people did not even have enough time or chose to use an easier or more convenient method instead of going to wash their hands.

During this observation it was determined that the participants were unaware of being observed throughout the whole time. Most people were busy with their social context of their lives and did not pay attention to their surroundings for example they were unaware of being watched and observed. Also, during this process it was obvious that there are ethical issues that could occur during the research study. There was always time where fear of being known as the observer would be identified while observing the subjects. This would be a problem due to the unknown participant who may or may not want to be observed and recorded for the purpose of a research study.

In addition, according to the Sociology: A down to Earth Approach it states “ethics clearly states forbid the falsification of results, as well as plagiarism – stealing someone else’s work” (Henslin, pg. 38). This issue of wrongly conducting research could cause the research to be considered valid and others could also believe this as factual research to conduct their own study on the topic. The communities will value the invalid research and use the information provided making the work of others under ethical issues.

One ethical issue that is associated with doing observational research is that research subjects should not be harmed by the research results. According to the textbook Sociology: A down to Earth Approach it states that a “basic ethical guideline is that research subjects should not be harmed by the research” (Henslin, pg. 38). During this research many of the people did not wash their hands and this was observed. The observation was hidden and the results of the observations were not revealed to the subjects. This may be an ethical issue if the subjects become aware of being “watched” by others. As researchers it is our responsibility to protect the subjects from being aware of being observed by protecting them from any sort of embarrassment.

During this research observation it was also seen that most people when they came to eat their meal alone they were constantly using their cell phones. Few people who came to Wendy’s have brought a mini tablet along with them to use while they enjoyed their meal. Also, at subways a group of friends came and all the subjects consistently kept using their cell phones, typing message and taking pictures. None of the subjects made any calls however, they kept going back to their screens even within the group setting.

“The sociological significance of technology is that the type of technology a group has sets the framework for its nonmaterial culture. Technology influences the way people think and how they relate to one another” (Henslin, pg. 61).

This concept relates to the observation of subjects using technology in restaurants during lunch time. The people observed had more focus and concern about what is going on in the technological world that they were oblivious of being observed and did not have any concern for germs on their hands or socializing with their group members. The behaviour of the subjects was influenced by their use of technology and determined the sociological significance of technology setting the framework for the nonmaterial culture they strive to live in.

The type of research conducted was qualitative research method which consisted on the “emphasize observing, describing, and interpreting people’s behaviour, lean towards participant observation” (Henslin, pg. 33). During this time the method chosen was an unobstructed measure which is conducted when “observing the behaviour of people who do not know they are being studied” Henslin, pg.33).

The strength for this type of research would include that the participants are behaving in their normality because they are unaware of being observed. This gives the observer an opportunity to have realistic and factual observation without many causes that could change the behaviour of others. However, the weakness during this type of research would be the interpretation of the behaviour being observed. As researchers we are unaware of the personality of the subject and the attitude or temperament of the participant. This limitation to the knowledge of the subject limits the analysis of the observation where lack of information about participants results in lack of final results on why they chose to behave the way they did.

The behaviour of an individual is dependent on the environment and the situation they have to face daily. On the other hand the attitude of an individual is referring to how they feel about others and the environment. The individual could take action of behaviour according to their attitude or choose to reconsider their attitude and thus changing their behaviour according to their surroundings.

Sociological imagination is a “sociological vision – a way of looking at the world that allows links between the apparently private problem of the individual and important social issues” (Henslin, pg. 2).

This approach identifies that the link between attitudes is being the private problem and important social issues that relate to the individual choosing to expose their attitude through their apparent behaviour. The attitude of a person is linking to the behaviour; the individual either represses or expresses their attitudes towards others and their environment.


Henslin, James M. “Culture.” Sociology: A down-to-earth approach. 6th edition ed. Toronto: Pearson Canada, 2014. 61. Print.

Picture Retrieved from ClipArt


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