Hidden Persuaders: It's Not Just the Food

Brian Wansink

Two restaurant labs at Cornell University have revealed some telling information about what, why and how much people eat. Cornell Professor Brian Wansink shared how, through interviews with guests and hidden cameras at the two restaurants, the school has disproved five time-honored assumptions by restaurateurs:

Myth: People know what they like. Reality: People taste what they think they will taste, so small changes, such a different label, can have a big impact on perceived taste.

Myth: Our food speaks for itself. Reality: It gets a lot of help from what else is on the plate. Garnishes and plating techniques can be a cost-effective way to improve evaluations.

Myth: People evaluate each component of a meal. Reality: Initial experiences can bias a whole meal, and some foods have a halo effect (e.g., olive oil). Lesson: A strong start can set the stage for an overall positive perception.

Myth: We run a tight bar. Reality: Alcohol costs due to overpouring are 20 percent higher than operators think. To reduce that waste, Wansink says an experiment showed that bartenders are more likely to be generous with short, wide glasses than with tall, narrow glasses; ironically, taller barware also gives guests the perception that it holds more. The upshot: choose taller glasses.

Myth: Turning tables is the key to turning profits. Reality: Longer dinner visits may have more benefits, including higher average checks and repeat intentions. You'd be better off trying "selective churning and turning," Wansink said.