A study carried out by the Oxford Department of Experimental Psychology has revealed that service truly matters when it comes to dining; just one of the recent forays into ‘gastrophysics’, a field that merges multisensory design and gastronomy.
Last September, delegates at an international conference in Edinburgh were split into two groups and presented with three lunch courses, each designed to examine different food-extrinsic factors. Afterwards they were asked to rate how much they liked the food, how artistic the presentation seemed and how much they would have been willing to pay for it.
At the experimental lunch, the delegates’ starters were either off-set or at the centre of their plates, while their desserts were presented on circular white plates for one group and square black ones for another. These may seem like trivial details, but analysis of their feedback revealed that the centred starters scored much more highly in all of the criteria, as did the black-plated desserts.
For the main course, one group used the restaurant’s ‘banquet cutlery’, and the other used the ‘canteen cutlery’, which was 3 times lighter. Surprisingly, the weight of the utensils improved the perceived quality of not only the taste but also the presentation of the meal, and as a result the diners were willing to pay 15% more. This connection between the properties of the utensils and the eating experience could be attributed to ‘sensation transference’ – in other words, the diners’ sensory appreciation of the cutlery was transferred to what they were eating.
Although both groups were given the same amounts of the same food, the way it was presented significantly changed their enjoyment of the experience. Gastrophysics is relevant to chefs, designers and the general public alike, and further research could mean a revolution in our approach to dining.