People think food is better is it costs more, according to a new study. No, they did not mistake a McDonald’s burger for a steak house one. But, the researchers found that the price paid for a meal improved the opinions diners expressed about it.
Customers perceive restaurant food as tastier if they pay more for it was demonstrated by research into the psychology of taste at Cornell University. The Ithaca, NY, university researchers partnered with a local Italian buffet to investigate how pricing influences the customers’ perceptions of the food.
The research team offered 139 customers a choice between paying either $4 or $8 for an all-you-can-eat buffet at the restaurant without knowing the food options were the same. The diners were invited to evaluate the food and restaurant, rating their first, middle and last taste of the food on a nine-point scale. The survey results showed that people who paid for the $8 Italian buffet enjoyed their food more than the people who chose to consume and pay for the $4 buffet.
On average, the $8 diners gave the restaurant’s food an 11 percent higher score than the $4 diners and were satisfied with the amount they ate. By contrast, the $4 buffet customers were more likely to feel that they had overeaten and reported that they liked the food less and less as the meal went on. These differentials were despite the two groups eating about the same amount overall or the same food.
The researchers found that if the food was there, people ate it, regardless of the costs. But, the priced they paid for the meal affected how they felt about it and evaluated the restaurant in the surveys, noted Ozge Sigirci, a researcher at the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab. Sigirci, who presented the findings at the Experimental Biology 2014 meeting, indicated that the findings surprised the research team.
Public health officials have long expressed concern over all-you-can-eat buffets. They feel they promote overeating – as any cruise passenger can attest. The fear is that too many buffets contributes to obesity. Some health advocates have event proposed special taxes for buffet customers or the restaurant owners. While the Cornell study did not examine the public health concerns over all-you-can-eat buffets, the researchers were interested in the psychology behind the consumer experience and pricing. As the study demonstrated, price did not impact how much the buffet customers actually ate, just their perceptions of the meal.
The research team did recommend that consumers who want to dine at a buffet restaurant should choose the most expensive buffet they can afford. “You won’t eat more, but you’ll have a better experience overall,” noted Cornell professor Brian Wansink, PhD, from the university’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, who oversaw the research.
Wansink expressed the group’s fascination in finding out that pricing has little impact on how much one eats, but it had a huge impact on how diners interpreted their experience. He noted that by simply adjusting the price of food at the Italian restaurant dramatically affects how the consumers evaluate and appreciate the food. In other words, food tastes better for many consumers when it costs more.
By Dyanne Weiss