Diners are more likely to choose unhealthy food if their waiter looks unhealthy, new research claims.
Restaurant customers are subconsciously influenced by the appearance of their waiter when choosing from the menu, according to Anders Gustafsson, professor of department of marketing at BI Norwegian Business School, who carried out a study of order choices.
The researchers showed 100 females a video clip of three waitresses – healthy, overweight and unhealthy – before measuring their eye movements over the menu to see where their eyes lingered, as well as what they ordered.
Gustafsson says: “We used one waitress in the videos that we showed the participants, yet we altered her appearance drastically. One version showed her as her normal self, fit and healthy, 171cm tall, weighing 56kg.
“Another clip featured her at the same height but with extra padding so she looked slightly overweight. The last was at her normal weight but made-up with a tattoo, sallow skin, high-piled hair and a generally unhealthy appearance.”
The study showed that healthy or slightly overweight waiters often influence the customer to choose a healthier meal option – a big difference compared to an unhealthy looking waiter, and something that Gustaffson says customers should really be aware of.
“Our decisions when choosing from a menu aren’t conscious – we choose an automatic response to stimulus. Often, when picking what to order, we compare ourselves with others to make sure we don’t break the norm. When we meet a healthy, or even slightly overweight waiter, we subconsciously choose to follow this norm and pick our meal accordingly.
“Yet when we meet an unhealthy waiter, we choose whatever we feel like eating. They don’t look like they care what we eat, anyway. Our brain concludes that they are not someone we want to identify with.”