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Peak-end pizza: prices delay evaluations of quality

Just, David, Ozge Sigirci and Brian Wansink (2015). Peak-end pizza: prices delay evaluations of quality. Journal of Product & Brand Management, 24(7), 770-778.  doi: 10.1108/JPBM-01-2015-0802

The peak-end rule states that we judge experiences based on how they were at their most intense part and at their end. In this study, we aimed to understand the relationship between price paid and the peak-end rule by examining the importance of peak and end experiences under two different pricing regimes.

139 diners at Aiello’s Italian Restaurant, an all-you-can-eat restaurant in upstate New York, were divided into two separate groups. One group was charged $4 while the other group was charged $8 for a lunch buffet. After the meal, the diners evaluated the taste, their satisfaction, and their enjoyment of the first, middle and last slices of pizza they ate. Other measures of behavior and self-perceptions were also recorded. Regression analyses were conducted to determine whether the peak-end rule appeared to hold true under these circumstances.  

Brian Wansink, PhD (left) and members of his research team in front of Aiello’s in Whitney Point NY, where the study was conducted

We found that the peak-end rule applied for the overall taste, satisfaction, and enjoyment evaluation of the pizza when the price for the buffet lunch was $4. Diners who paid $4 for the buffet rated the pizza based on the taste of the last piece of pizza and the peak taste.  However, diners who paid $8 for the all-you-can-eat buffet based their evaluations on the first slice of pizza they ate. A possible explanation for this could have been that the higher price set an initial expectation about the experience, influencing the evaluation of the first slice of pizza but not that of the following slices. Every part of an experience is not taken into account when the experience is evaluated. Instead, just a few moments appear to affect overall evaluation. The findings of this study suggest that, when prices are moderate to high, restaurants may benefit from giving customers the best experience first.