When Atmosphere Ignites the Table

By Christina Meyer Jax, Tastemaker in Residence


I recently took a trip to the Bahamas where every dining experience came with amazing views of aqua water and pink sand.  I’ve always valued the “atmosphere” as much as the food in any dining event.  As a funny little kid, I begged my parents to go to restaurants with unusual décor or themes.  As a food geek the Disneyworld dining was almost more fun than the rides for me.  Now, as a nutrition professional, I’ve wondered how ambiance affects our meal experience and food choices.  

Guess I’m not the only one!  Brian Wansink, professor of marketing and director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab and Koert van Ittersum of the Georgia Institute of Technology, looked at the impact of ambiance on the dining experience. They co-authored a study, in Psychological Reports, to test the theory that our environment may play a role not only how we eat, but how much we eat.

What did they find?  The diners in their study ordered similar amounts of food and from the same menu. The individuals who ate in the fine dining area (relaxing music, comfortable seating, soft lighting), took longer to eat and stayed longer than the individuals that were put in a fast food style area (louder rock music, bright lights, crowded seating).  The “fine dining” environment eaters also ate 18% less food than those eating in the fast food dining area. Those in the fine dining area also reported a higher satisfaction with what they ate.

So do you have to go to the Bahamas to achieve this? Maybe the “new” table with a view is about creating a pleasant atmosphere, with less distraction?  I’ve fallen victim many times of eating lunch at my desk, while multi-tasking on my computer.  Do I even remember that I ate, let alone enjoy it?

To “Mindfully Eat” may be worth the effort for both our psychological health and our waistlines.  But how do I practically do this?  Check out The Center for Mindful Eating: thecenterformindfuleating.org

Light a candle, get out nice napkins, invite a loved one, and enjoy the view!