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Lower Buffet Prices Lead to Less Taste Satisfaction

Just, David R., Özge Sığırcı, & Brian Wansink (2014). Lower Buffet Prices Lead to Less Taste Satisfaction. Journal of Sensory Studies, 29(5), 362-370. doi: 10.1111/joss.12117.

Previous literature exploring all-you-can-eat (AYCE) buffets has typically focused on the amount of food consumed. Yet, an important area that has been overlooked is how the price of a buffet and the amount eaten influence one’s taste evaluation and sensory experience. Understanding this relationship, how one’s taste experience changes over the course of a buffet meal, could be useful for both buffet owners and diners. Therefore, we hypothesized that diners will evaluate the food as better tasting when paying more for the buffet. Additionally, we hypothesized that as one consumes more, taste evaluations may decrease.

This field study was conducted at a real Italian restaurant with an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet to avoid any discrepancies from simulated environments. The buffet consisted of conventional foods such as pizza, salad, breadsticks, pasta, and soup. When walking to the restaurant entrance, patrons were asked to participate in a short survey related to the restaurant and then given a flyer. Groups were given flyers that alternated in promoting an $8 buffet and a $4 buffet. Neither price was advertised as a special deal, nor was the regular buffet price posted elsewhere. Thus, patrons unfamiliar with the restaurant were likely to consider the price on the flyer as the true price of the buffet. After diners completed and paid for their meals, they were each given a short questionnaire that asked for demographic information along with a variety of questions asking how much they believed they ate, and their taste and quality evaluations of the pizza eaten. 122 total responses were used in the analysis. In both conditions, diners ate an average of three slices of pizza.

The general taste evaluation, along with the satisfaction and enjoyment evaluations, of pizza eaten were significantly higher for the $8 diners than the $4 diners. Results also found that a diner’s taste evaluation decreased with each additional slice of pizza eaten. The $4 group shows a significantly greater decline in their taste, satisfaction, and enjoyment evaluation from one slice of pizza to the next relative to the $8 group, which did not decay much over the first three pieces of pizza.  

This research draws attention to two important findings. The findings suggest that the higher the price people pay for an AYCE buffet, the more they will “like” their food in terms of taste, satisfaction, and enjoyment. The study results also show that with each subsequent piece of pizza, the gap in taste, satisfaction, and enjoyment evaluations grew.

In conclusion, the less people pay for an AYCE buffet, the more their taste, satisfaction, and enjoyment evaluations will decrease with each additional piece of pizza they consume. Although AYCE restaurants may employ a low-price strategy in order to attract the business of customers, when considering the possibility that these customers end up evaluating the food unfavorably, the low-price strategy may not be as profitable in the long term. More work must be done to determine how these taste ratings eventually impact return business in the future. The key to this relationship may be whether the cost of the experience is more salient than the taste in the consumer’s memory of the experience.