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Looks Good Enough to Eat: How Food Plating Preferences Differ Across Cultures and Continents

Zampollo, Francesca, Brian Wansink, Kevin Kniffin, Mitsuru Shimizu, and Aki Omori (2012). Looks Good Enough to Eat: How Food Plating Preferences Differ Across Cultures and Continents. Cross-Cultural Research ,46(31), 31-49. doi:10.1177/1069397111418428

Food is a central component of a culture that carries symbolic significance. As each culture has different ways of procuring, processing, and consuming food, they may also have implicit preferences for food plating. The visual preferences of plating and how they vary across cultures are important in influencing the perceptions and consumption of prepared food and may be of particular interest to chefs, marketers, and parents.

To explore potential differences between Eastern and Western cultures and differences between the United States and Europe, 199 people from the United States, 166 people from Italy, and 204 people from Japan were recruited to participate in an online survey. The participants were shown 24 different web pages with different plating options and asked to choose which plate was most aesthetically pleasing. Variables that were considered were: number and mixing of colors, number of components, position of the main component, crowded vs. empty plate, and organized vs. disorganized presentation.

Results showed that people living on different continents in contemporary cultures share several patterns of commonality, yet maintain some cross-cultural differences. The preferences that the culture’s shared involved the preference for 3 colors on the plate, 3 to 4 components on the plate, and the position of the main component on the right or lower right on circular plates and in the center of oval plates. However, there were some cross-cultural differences; American and Italian participants preferred plates that were casually presented, while Japanese participants preferred plates that were formally arranged. This difference may be due to the individualistic attitudes of Westerners as opposed to the more collectivist mindset of Easterners. Another significant difference was American and Japanese participants preferred relatively empty plates which may symbolize their cultural ideal of open space. Italian participants preferred full plates, which may be because modern Italy is not considered to have any recent frontiers.

These findings indicate that the commonalities that are shared across cultures can be used to promote eating of healthy foods, for example, by positioning them on the right, while placing less healthy foods in less optimal areas.