Eat Less When Dining Out
August 30, 2012

Lesson For Fast Food Lovers: Ambience Plays A Role In Food Consumption And Enjoyment

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

Imagine a night out on town, a delicious dinner awaits. Sounds of violin strings playing in the background, the chandelier lights twinkle from the ceiling, and a waiter attends the table with diligence. Momentarily, he brings out a fresh plate of seared salmon with roasted potatoes and fresh corn. Take in the smell of the food, the ambience of the restaurant, and the hunger in the pit of the stomach lulls. These were the findings from researchers at Cornell University, who recently discovered that the lighting and music in a restaurant can affect the consumption of food and enjoyment of the meal of diners.

In particular, the scientists found that a restaurant´s atmosphere can cause people to feel stimulated and overeat or eat faster. The ambiance can also cause individuals to stay longer in the dining hall and order dessert, even if they hadn´t planned to do so when they first arrived. The bright lights, loud noise, and glowing colors at fast-food restaurant can also make individuals feel more hectic than relaxed. The results of the study were recently published in Psychological Reports.

"When we did a makeover of a fast-food restaurant, we found that softer music and lighting led diners to eat 175 fewer calories and enjoy it more," lead author Brian Wansink, a professor of marketing and director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University, commented in an article by Fars News Agency.

The study was conducted by researchers Wansink and Dr. Koert Van Ittersum. The two analyzed the effects of changing the settings of a fast food restaurant. For example, a Hardee´s food restaurant in Champaign, Illinois underwent a fine-dining makeover that included soft lighting and jazz ballad/instrumental music. Study subjects were randomly placed to eat either in the unchanged part of the restaurant or the fine-dining portion. The researchers then recorded the time spent eating and the amount of food finished by the participants. Lastly, before leaving the restaurant, the participants rated the quality of the food.

Before the study, the investigators thought that diners would eat more food, order more dishes, and stay longer in the fine-dining portion due to the relaxed music and the lighting. However, the results showed that the participants in the fine dining area consumed less and ate for a longer period than those who were eating in the fast food portion of the restaurant. These diners were also less likely to order more food and rated the food as more enjoyable.

Overall, the study shows that fast food restaurants can adjust their dining setting if they want diners to enjoy their food more. It is also recommended that people who eat out should eat mindfully and recognize when they are full so as to not overeat. These are also useful tips that may help address the obesity dilemma.

"These results suggest that a more relaxed environment increases satisfaction and decreases consumption," Wansink told the Toronto Sun. "This is important information for fast-food restaurants, which are often accused of contributing to obesity: Making simple changes away from brighter lights and sound-reflecting surfaces can go a long way toward reducing overeating -- and increase their customers' satisfaction at the same time."