It’s more than just the food that makes McDonalds different from a fine dining restaurant – the lighting and the music contribute to create two very different atmospheres.
A restaurant’s atmosphere may cause people to overeat if it stimulates them to eat faster, but also if the ambiance of the restaurant gets people to linger longer it may get them to order an unplanned dessert. Lighting and noise seem to influence food consumption because they affect how long people eat for, if a restaurant is playing heavy metal on repeat you may want to eat your food quickly! Fast food restaurants often considered to contribute to obesity are not designed with relaxation in mind; bright lights, loud noises and yellow and red colors create a hectic atmosphere that may cause individuals to eat quickly. But what happens when fast food restaurants are given a fine-dining makeover?
In this study, researchers Brian Wansink and Dr. Koert Van Ittersum examined if changing the atmosphere of a fast food restaurant would change how much food patrons consume. To do so a part of Hardee’s fast food restaurant in Champaign Illinois received a fine-dining makeover. With soft lighting and even softer jazz ballad instrumentals part of it was transformed into a fine dining environment. Participants were randomly selected to eat in either the unchanged part of the restaurant or the fine-dining part. The amount of time spent eating and the amount of food consumed was unobtrusively recorded and participants were asked to rate the quality of the food before leaving.
Researchers hypothesized that participants in the fine-dining part would consume more as the relaxed atmosphere would cause them to linger longer and order more food than those in the fast food environment. Interestingly results showed that even though participants in the fine-dining area ate for longer than those in the main eating area they actually consumed less food! Those in the fine dining area were also no more likely to order extra food. Another surprising result is that even though participants in the fine-dining part ate less food they actually rated the food as more enjoyable, so changing the atmosphere can change food consumption and food satisfaction!
Therefore if fast food restaurants want consumers to enjoy their food more they should tone down the lights and music and create a more relaxing atmosphere. Individuals wanting to eat less should slow down their meals so they can recognise when they are full and not over-eat. If we are less distracted by the surrounding environment and more focused on our food we are less likely to mindlessly eat, so slow it down and play a little soft jazz at dinner-time!
Article summary by Christina O’Sullivan and Sandra Cuellar-Healey
Full text paper: http://www.amsciepub.com/doi/abs/10.2466/01.PR0.111.4.228-232
Cornell Food & Brand Lab