You might not want to bother with mood lighting or fancy wine for your next dinner party. Simply invest in a tablecloth and your guests will find your food much tastier, a study suggests.
Diners were more satisfied with their meal, lingered over it longer, and ate more when linen was used. It had a far greater effect than low lighting, often seen as essential for a special dinner.
Researchers fed more than 200 participants tomato soup under varying conditions. Dim lighting made it taste saltier but had no impact on other taste ratings, appearance, odour, consistency, or perceived quality. The inclusion of a tablecloth was, however, a game changer.
Participants ate more, thought the soup was better quality and sat at the table for longer. “The tablecloth seemed to have a higher impact on food amount, meal duration and overall taste perception than lighting condition,” the study concluded.
Diners were more satisfied with their meal, lingered over it longer, and ate more when linen was used.
The diners were asked to score out of 100 different aspects of their experience eating the soup. For “overall taste” they gave an average score of 57 when the light was dim and there was no tablecloth. When a tablecloth was added, this rose to 73.
The score for the food’s appearance increased from 68 to 77, while the time participants spent at the table rose from 581 seconds to 768 seconds.
The research from the University of Hohenheim in Germany is the latest to underscore how perceptions of food and drink can be manipulated by altering the environment, a field sometimes referred to as gastrophysics.
The study, published in the journal Food Quality and Preference, was part of an investigation into potential ways to limit excessive eating. This, the researchers observe, is the key factor for maintaining a normal body weight and avoiding obesity.
Professor Nanette Ströbele-Benschop, of the University of Hohenheim, who led the work, said that tablecloths and other appetite-sharpening tricks might be useful in retirement homes and hospitals to encourage people to eat.
Simply invest in a tablecloth and your guests will find your food much tastier, a study suggests.
“The human body is endowed with a sophisticated appetite control system which includes a variety of internal signals (eg. salivary and gastric acid secretion) that contribute to subjective feelings of hunger and satiety,” the researchers said.
Previous studies had shown conflicting results. One experiment found that obese people would eat more nuts if presented on a highly lit table rather than a poorly lit one. Another test had found that people ate more calories in dimmer areas of a restaurant because they ordered unhealthier dishes.
A previous study by Oxford University researchers, published in the journal Flavour in 2015, found that heavier cutlery changed how aesthetically pleasing a main course was deemed, how much diners liked their food and how much they would have been willing to pay for it.
Another experiment, by a group from Stanford University, gave subjects several glasses of the same wine. After they were told that glasses cost different amounts they consistently rated the “more expensive” ones more favourably. Brain scans even suggested they were deriving more pleasure from the glasses they believed were dearer.
Yet another set of studies suggests background music played in restaurants can influence how sweet, salty or sour a dish is perceived to taste, an effect known as “sonic seasoning”.