ITHACA, N.Y.—Dining at a restaurant that has softer lighting and music increases a person’s dining experience and leads to an 18% reduction in calorie intake, according to a new study published in the journal Psychological Reports. The findings counter the popular notion that people who dine in a relaxed environment, with soft lighting and mellow music, will order more food and eat more than those in a more typical dining environment.
“When we did a makeover of a fast-food restaurant, we found that softer music and lighting led diners to eat 175 fewer calories and enjoy it more," said the lead author Brian Wansink, professor of marketing and director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab.
The researchers found that softening the lighting and music in fast-food restaurants didn’t change what people ordered, but it caused them to eat 18% less of what they ordered—775 calories instead of 949. They also rated the food as more enjoyable.
“These results suggest that a more relaxed environment increases satisfaction and decreases consumption," he said. “This is important information for fast-food restaurants, which are often accused of contributing to obesity: Making simple changes away from brighter lights and sound-reflecting surfaces can go a long way toward reducing overeating—and increase their customers’ satisfaction at the same time."