A study in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research found that the size of a table on which food is served has a considerable impact on how customers perceive portion size.
Researchers divided four large pizzas of the same size into eights and sixteenths before placing two on small tables that were little bigger than the pizzas themselves and two on large tables that were considerably bigger than the pizzas.
More than 200 students were then asked to sit at one of the tables and take as much pizza as they wanted to eat. Researchers found that students who sat at the small tables thought smaller slices looked roughly half the size of regular ones and took double the amount.
However, those at larger tables were distracted by the table size and presumed smaller slices were more regular sized, meaning that students who saw a pizza with small slices took the same number of slices as those who saw one with normal slices but served on a large table – eating less pizza overall.
There are many ways that presentation and setting affect the way food is perceived.
For instance, The Publican’s Morning Advertiser (PMA) recently reported that labelling dishes as ‘healthy options’ on menus could actually lead diners to consume more because of a subconscious bias to view ‘healthy’ dishes as less filling.
‘Food is never just food’
Charles Spence, of the University of Oxford, previously told the PMA: “Food is never just food, no matter how wonderful what you prepare is.”
Research by Spence suggested that heavier cutlery made people enjoy the taste of food more and made them more likely to pay a greater sum of money for a dish than if lighter cutlery was used.
Spence attributed this to diners associating extra weight with better quality. Even switching plates could be enough to instigate such a change in a diner’s perception, he said.
“Switching plateware from a rectangular piece of slate to a round white plate can be enough to help add a 10% perceived sweetness to a dish without adding any calories,” he added.