7 Ways Restaurants Screw You Over (With Science)
Hunger is one of humanity's most basic, primal motivators -- a fact that businesses have been using to manipulate people and get rich since we first figured out which berries don't give us the death poops. Everyone knows that food commercials are just the fakest goddamn fakes that ever faked, but we sort of assumed restaurants are more honest than that. After all, how could they possibly trick you when you have a dish right in front you?
The answer, it turns out, is "very easily," thanks to devious ploys like ...
Where You Sit In The Restaurant May Determine How Much You Eat
Want to spend less at restaurants? Channel your inner Swayze and don't let them put you in a corner. The reason is pretty simple: People who sit in well-lit areas and/or by a window (so, in plain view of judging eyes) order healthier food than those in dark, hidden places where they are free to indulge their gluttony under a dark canopy of shame. And the waiters know this, of course, so they'll try to steer larger parties to the more secluded spots.
"I promise you, mademoiselle, this is the best table in the whole establishment."
What's more, according to preliminary research from Cornell University, sitting far from the front door prompted customers to order more desserts, probably because you're piling on calories for the long walk back to the car. Even the shape of your table can be used to manipulate you -- Starbucks' small, round tables are designed that way to make the customer feel more comfortable when they're seated alone, so they'll stick around for longer. Which is important, because the Starbucks experience is like 10 percent coffee, 90 percent looking cool in front of strangers.
This guy was stoned to death with blueberry muffins for not bringing a Mac.
On the other hand, some restaurants go as far as designing their venues to try to force customers to eat and clear out for the next lab rats to shuffle in. When diners sit in the center of the room, exposed to the action of the business, they'll be less comfortable and unlikely to hang around. The chairs are also made intentionally uncomfortable, so those snarky waiters aren't always the only pain in the ass. You know a restaurant actually wants you to stay in it when the seating is more convenient and the chairs are nicer than your bed.
Stay here, however, and you'll be wailing in pain louder than that poor chair is.
So next time you eat out, pay attention to where you sit; it might end up determining whether you can stand back up again.
Getting A Free Chocolate With Your Bill Guilts You Into Tipping More
You know you're in a fancy-ass establishment when it comes time to ask for the check and they actually pay you. Some restaurants give you a little complimentary piece of candy with your bill, as if to inform you that you performed well as a client and are allowed to come back. Aw, isn't that nice? They did something nice for you, expecting nothing in return.
Well, guess what, motherfucker: You just got played.
They're not content with leaving a hole in your wallet: They want one in your tooth, too.
A group of researchers at Cornell set out to determine the effects of complimentary chocolate on restaurant tipping, because they have to study something now that all known diseases have been cured forever. They found that when customers were given a small piece of chocolate with their check, they tipped more than customers who received no reward. Not only that: The more free chocolate you get, the more money you leave on the table. No wonder the Easter Bunny has been doing his job for no salary for so long -- he's making a killing in tips.
Amount of patrons who exploded: undetermined.
And it's not just chocolate: previous studies (seriously, did we already conquer the entire universe and no one told us?) concluded that writing a helpful message, a simple "thank you," or even just drawing a happy face on the bill increases the tip considerably too. The most likely explanation for this is the norm of reciprocity. In human language, that means that people generally feel obligated to repay acts of generosity even when they weren't expected or requested. This can pay off massively for servers: Those who handed out sweets ended up getting around a 20 percent increase in their tips for very little cost. That kind of money builds up if you're dishing out sweets for every customer each shift. If you're the kind of person who prefers to tip minimally, don't take candy from strangers.
Related: 5 Bitter Truths About Chocolate
Restaurants Are More Than Willing To Fake A Yummy Smell To Lure You In
When it comes to deciding on what you will invite on your digestive roller coaster, there are few things as important as the smell. Who can resist the waft of that enticing pie, the aroma of a sizzling steak, or the it-might-still-be-edible scent of that burrito you left in the fridge for a fortnight? Businesses know that, and that's why they're bending over backwards to throw out whatever funk they need to seduce your nose -- even if you don't realize it's happening.
Bakery chain Cinnabon, for instance, buys ovens with "the weakest hood" legally possible and places them near the front of the store so that the maximum stench will leak out. Some Cinnabon stores go so far as to bake extra sheets of brown sugar and cinnamon to artificially keep the aroma in the air. Ever noticed that you only ever see a Cinnabon in airports and malls? That's intentional: It's so that smells are trapped and can linger even longer, like a fart in an elevator. A warm, delicious fart that makes you open your wallet.
They then keep you there by weighing your ass down with 10,000 calories worth of jumbo frosted churros.
They're far from the only store in the nasal game, though. Panera Bread moved their bakers' shifts from night to day to make the venues smell more like a bakery. Starbucks created an "Aroma Task Force" (lamest '90s cartoon show ever) to tackle an important problem: The smell of cheese was overpowering the coffee aroma. They actually stopped selling sandwiches for six months in 2008 because of that, until the ATF solved the issue and presumably flew back to the Aroma-Dome to gear up for their epic battle with Dr. Flatus.
Burger King, meanwhile, spends millions washing off the scent of desperation from their stores.
So, does all of this work? Science says yes. According to the Monell Chemical Senses Center, a nonprofit group that researches taste and smell, our nose is closely connected with the area of our mind associated with memory and emotion, which means that smells waft up there without being processed by our thalamus (our conscious radar). By the time we think about what we're rubbing our nose up against, it's already entered our emotional brain. This part of the brain is the biggest influence on what we buy and eat, which explains why it's so profitable for businesses to blitz your boogers.
A Larger Variety Of Color Means You Will Eat A Much Larger Portion
Variety, or even simply the illusion of variety, is enough to trick our (way too easily tricked, we're realizing) brains into overeating. The big lump of mush upstairs is still just like a child -- show it too many bright colors and it gets overstimulated, then starts making poor decisions.
The way food is presented is something seemingly small that can have a massive effect on what you end up putting in your mouth. A paper published in the Journal Of Consumer Research looked into how the organization (or lack thereof) of food portions can influence overeating. When adults were offered a bowl of jelly beans totaling six different flavors, they ate freaking 69 percent more than they did when the same six flavors were distributed in different bowls.
Another experiment saw different groups of participants receiving the same amount of M&M's, but in 10 colors versus seven colors. Those participants who had the 10-color batches ended up gobbling more candy orbs.
THE BEEF INDUSTRY: By gum, we've cracked it! Rainbow tripe!
The researchers already knew from previous studies/breakups that people eat more when there's more variety, but the significance of the candy experiments is that they confirm you don't actually have to add more flavors to make this happen -- just make it look like you did. In this case, there was no actual disparity in variety, but the illusion of it was still enough to make people go, "Wow, look at all these options! Better keep eating more."
For restaurants, this means they can trick you into eating more just by organizing the food in a certain way. The meat at your local buffet might be in different trays, but they're still all made of horse hooves and pig guts, so don't let them deceive you -- one serving should be enough.
Action-Packed And Sad Movies Make You Eat More Than Funny Ones
Watching television while snacking and contemplating what your life has become is a classic American pastime. That's why researchers decided to gain a better understanding of how your snacking habits are affected by different genres of film and television, in a study from 2014 that narrowly avoided being titled Netflix And Grill.
They confirmed what we all knew: Walking Dead and noodles isn't a good idea.
In the study in question, 94 undergraduate students were split into three groups and had to watch 20 minutes of television while eating (and muttering, "I would have done this for free"). One group watched an excerpt from action flick The Island, another luckier group watched the same film with no sound, and the final group watched interview program Charlie Rose. The participants were provided with a variety of snacks, ranging from M&M's to grapes, because that was the only chance undergrads would get to have a balanced meal that week.
When the viewing had finished, researchers weighed what food was left. They found that the groups watching The Island ate twice as much food as the interview watchers. Even those who had to watch Scarlett Johansson run from explosions in a silent universe ate more of the snacks than the group subjected to Charlie Rose, which means that the show's host (whose name escapes us right now) can either really engage an audience or can't even keep them awake. Supposedly, fast-paced shows with a lot of camera cuts distract us from what we're eating, leading us to pay less attention to how much food we're putting in our mouths, and therefore we consume more.
Just looking at this face should make you start salivating.
Further research done at Cornell University found that sad, emotional movies made viewers eat up to 55 percent more popcorn than funny flicks Sweet Home Alabama and My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The salty tears shed during depressing films must make those cardboard chunks cinemas call popcorn actually taste all right. The results led the research team to believe that movies generate emotional eating, and the best way to get that response is through either action-packed or very emotional films. By this logic, brace yourself for Orphaned Puppies Exploding For Hours: Presented By Hot Pockets, coming Christmas 2017.
Your Surroundings Affect What Flavors You Taste The Most
The room around you can really affect the sensations and tastes you experience from alcohol, as anybody who has gotten drunk alone in their bedroom can testify. Experimental psychologists at Oxford University asked participants to taste the same whiskey in three different rooms -- a detail that actually had an impact on how the drink tasted. The red room increased the power of dark berry flavors, the green room increased reported tastings of grassiness, and the final room with wood panels and wood fires led to more tastings of ... woodiness.
Similar results were observed in a fourth room festooned with porno calendars.
There's even a strange relationship between the perceived ethnicity of a food and its attractiveness to customers, which can be manipulated by restaurants. A British restaurant offered both British and Italian dishes on its menu while using different decorations: Its normal look and an Italian theme, complete with ethnic names for the dishes. When the Italian theme was in place, pasta and dessert sales went up and sales of fish went down. This makes sense: People probably just figured that Italians are better at making pasta, right? The weird part is that even dishes like fish and veal were judged as more "Italian," even though they hadn't changed at all -- they just had different decoration around them.
This is actually Taco Bell takeout.
In other words, by carefully choosing the interior decorations to reflect what kind of food they want you to think they offer, a savvy restaurateur can trick customers into thinking their sloppy joes are ... uhhh ... East Timorese Auroch Poultices.
You're Much More Likely To Eat The First Thing You See
When we're presented with a range of options, our brain has a sophisticated system of sorting and calculating what we should choose: We just eat the first fucking thing we see. Seriously. People are three times more likely to decide to eat the first thing they lay their eyes on. Once you open up that cupboard, you've made up your mind; you're only looking through the back so the rest of the food doesn't feel unwanted.
"HOLY SHIT, A GIANT COCKROACH! Hmmmm ..."
Of course, restaurants can and do use this to their advantage: Menus are structured so that you'll order the most profitable items available. The meals they want to sell will be placed in hot spots where your gaze is likely to linger, while the less profitable ones are literally in the last place you'd look. Ever notice that the dishes are rarely ordered by price? That's so you can't easily move down the page and land on the cheapest item. You have to work for it.
But if you're feeling lazy, drooling over glossy, Photoshopped pictures of $40 steak
takes no effort at all.
According to The New York Times, menus are designed like newspapers, which must mean nobody reads them anymore and most meals are ordered online. Some restaurants place their most profitable items at the top right of the menu, where a newspaper would place the most important stories, and use white space or boxes to draw attention to specific meals. The most effective tactic, as it is in anything that involves reading, is to use a picture to capture the audience's fleeting attention span. Putting a photograph or an icon that represents the meal will grab the customer's attention and lead them to buy more of that product. Shame on them for using such shady tactics.
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And be sure to check out 5 Disgusting Truths About Every Restaurant (From A Chef) and 4 Theme Restaurants Clearly Designed by Crazy People.
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