Purpose - Marketers are increasingly aware of ethnic subgroups as segments to target with customized offers. This paper aims to investigate the role of ethnic-related outlet attributes in determining the attractiveness of mainstream and ethnic service outlets to ethnic consumers. Design/methodology/approach - Based on institutional theory and self-congruity theory, the paper proposes that two sets of outlet attributes, ethnic-related and performative attributes, influence the attractiveness of an outlet. These effects are mediated by a business s pragmatic legitimacy, its social legitimacy (in terms of perceived sensitivity to ethnic culture), and the congruity between the consumer s self-image and the business. A model is proposed and hypotheses derived. They are tested on data from an online survey among 483 Chinese Australian consumers about their use of travel agents. The hypotheses are tested using structural equation modelling. Findings - The study reveals that ethnic-related attributes play a specific and significant role in determining outlet attractiveness for Chinese consumers in Australia. Although they have a smaller effect than service and price, ethnic-related attributes contribute positively to perceived attractiveness. Of the performative attributes, customer service has the largest effect; offering competitive prices has the second largest effect. Outlet accessibility has no significant effect while store atmosphere has an unexpected negative effect. Store atmosphere acts as both a performative and an ethnic-related attribute. The results confirm the hypothesized mediation effects of pragmatic legitimacy, social legitimacy and congruity. Originality/value - This study contributes to a better understanding of ethnic consumer behaviour and the role of ethnic retail and service outlets in the market place. It provides new insights by drawing from different theoretical frameworks (institutional theory and self-congruity theory) and conducting an empirical study that uses validated scales in a unique setting among real consumers reporting about their use of a service provider. The results not only demonstrate the role and potential of ethnic attributes, but also how customer service and store atmosphere play a more intricate role than initially expected.