You are here

Fast Food Restaurant Lighting and Music Can Reduce Calorie Intake and Increase Satisfaction

Wansink, Brian, and Koert Van Ittersum (2012). Fast Food Restaurant Lighting and Music Can Reduce Calorie Intake and Increase SatisfactionPsychological Reports: Human Resources & Marketing, 111(1), 1-5. doi: 10.2466/01.PR0.111.4.228-232

The environment in which one eats has long been recognized as a key factor in consumption behavior. Fast food restaurants with their bright lights, stimulating colors, and fast music cause people to eat faster, while a fine dining restaurant with dim lights and more relaxing music cause people to eat slower. It has also been established that the longer people dine, the more people eat. In this experiment, we wanted to explore if changing the atmosphere of a fast food restaurant would change how much food patrons consumed. We hypothesized that because people would stay longer in the fine dining atmosphere, they would consume more calories than their fast food counterparts.

To test our hypothesis, we took over a Hardee’s fast food restaurant in Champaign, IL and separated it into two dining areas. One area remained unchanged with bright lights, colors, and loud music. The other area was modified into a fine dining environment by adding indirect lighting, plants, paintings, white tablecloths, and soft jazz music playing in the background. 62 lunch-time customers were randomly assigned to one of the two areas. Confederates measured participants time spent eating. The amount of calories consumed was calculated by weighing the plates after consumption. Participants also filled out surveys after the experiment o indicate their enjoyment of the food and dining experience.

Overall, the amount of calories that customers initially ordered was similar regardless of the dining atmosphere. Interestingly, results showed that although customers in the fine dining atmosphere ate for 4.7% longer, they ate less than their fast food counterparts *6% vs. 95%). Furthermore, not only were the people in the fine dining atmosphere no more likely to order additional food, but, when they did, it contained 14% fewer calories than participants in the fast food atmosphere. Participants in the fine dining condition also rated the food higher than those in the fast food condition.

This research has implications for fast food restaurant and consumers alike! 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 recognize when they are full and not over-eat.