Soothing Setting May Help You Eat Less

If a nice restaurant beckons you to linger with comfortable music and lighting, it seems likely you might order more food and eat more. Not so, according to a new study. It turns out, somewhat surprisingly, diners in a relaxed environment spend more time at the restaurant but eat fewer calories while enjoying their food more.

The study was published in Psychological Reports and co-authored by Cornell University researcher Brian Wansink, an expert in how environmental cues affect our eating habits.

Previous research has shown music and lighting influence how long diners stay in a restaurant or store. The bright lights and noise typical of many fast food restaurants leads to eating relatively quickly, for example.

Wansink and his colleague hypothesized that a relaxed atmosphere would lead to longer meals, ordering more food and eating more. They set about testing how environmental cues influence diners by using two restaurant settings with contrasting atmospheres.

The researchers started with a fast-food restaurant (Hardees) that had two separate sections. One area they left unchanged, complete with bright lights, colors and loud music. The second area was given a fine dining makeover: complete with soundproofing, soft lighting, plants, candles, white tablecloths, and jazz.

Then about 60 diners were randomly seated in one of the two settings. Continue reading