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    To Be Healthy, Eat With the Lights On

    How ambiance influences choices

    The Journal of Marketing Research just published a study that suggests that dim lights are a way of getting patrons to let their guard down and make impulsive decisions in restaurants.

    Think about it. A dimly lit restaurant makes you feel cozy, more romantic, the ambiance whisks you away from your day-to-day worries and you relax. Ahhh. 

    Just like the science behind menu design, background music and aroma filled restaurant spaces, lighting plays a huge role in the decision-making process of unsuspecting diners. 

    Munchies reports that people eating in well-lit restaurants were 16 to 24 percent more likely to order healthy food than those in dimly lit rooms. Conversely, according to sales records, diners in dimly lit rooms ordered 39 percent more calories. Those in the brighter rooms ordered tended order dishes like grilled or baked fish, vegetables, and white meat, whereas their low-lit counterparts opted for more fried food and desserts. 

    Alertness is the causal factor, according to the authors of the study. “We feel more alert in brighter rooms and therefore tend to make more healthful, forward-thinking decisions,” lead author Dipayan Biswas explained in a press release.

    Another interesting find: When administered caffeine, those in dimly lit rooms also began to make healthier choices. By isolating alertness with a low-light/caffeine control group, researchers concluded that it was not the lights per se, but rather the alertness that they create, that makes dining decision more…enlightened.

    Says study co-author Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab: “Dim lighting isn’t all bad. Despite ordering less healthy foods, you actually end up eating slower, eating less, and enjoying the food more.”

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