Music, Lighting Change Eating Patterns in Fast Food Restaurant

A new study from Georgia Tech and Cornell University shows that softer lighting and relaxing ambient music in a fast food restaurant affects the eating patterns of customers. The report shows that customers in fancier dining areas will eat up to 18 percent fewer calories than those in typical restaurant conditions. The findings are published online in the journal Psychological Reports.

Koert van Ittersum
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Koert van Itterum

Georgia Tech Professor Koert van Ittersum and Cornell’s Brian Wansink modified the dining area of a Hardee’s restaurant for the study. One half of the seating area was unchanged and featured the typical fast food environment: bright colors and lighting, loud noise and music. The other side of the restaurant was transformed into a soundproof, fine dining area, complete with pictures, window shades, indirect lighting and white tablecloths. Jazz music was also piped into the area.

Customers were randomly seated, timed while eating and surveyed after the meal.

As expected, van Ittersum noticed that people in both areas ordered similar foods and similar numbers of calories. “But those in the fine dining area ate an average of 18 percent less of their meals, even though they spent more time at the table,” he said. “Those sitting in the fancier area also rated the food as tasting better than those who sat in the traditional dining section.”

Previous studies have shown that people are more likely to eat faster and spend less time at the table if the restaurant is loud. 

“These are clues for people who want to control their calories,” said van Ittersum, a professor in the Scheller College of Business. “The more relaxing the environment, the less a person tends to eat.”