Two Tips for Not Overeating at a Restaurant

Going out to eat is usually a festive occasion, as it should be.

However, some people, many of whom may be quite disciplined with their eating habits at home, lose their self-control at a restaurant.

I recently came across two tips that may help people in such situations.

The first tip relates to something I read in a fascinating book by David Brooks, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement

In his book, Brooks notes that business owners long ago discovered that they could manipulate the unconscious thoughts of its customers simply by manipulating the environment of its stores. Brooks then relates some facts about eating at restaurants.

Research shows that people eat more at a restaurant depending on how many people they are dining with. People eating alone eat the least. People eating with one other person eat 35 percent more than they do at home. People dining in a party of four eat 75 percent more, and people dining with seven or more eat 96 percent more!

The implication is that the restaurant owners are aware of this research, and use it to their advantage by encouraging group dining.

So the first tip is to either avoid eating with a large group, or if that is not possible, or desirable, then at least be aware of the tendency to overeat in such situations, and act accordingly.

The second tip relates to a research study conducted by Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab. Researchers wanted to find if a restaurant server’s body-mass index (BMI, a measure of weight in relation to height) influenced what diners chose to consume. Using trained students who were part of the research team, the students observed interactions between diners and servers in 60 casual American full-service restaurants. The research team estimated the BMI of servers and customers, using a BMI cutoff of 25 as an indication of being overweight.

The results found that diners with servers over the BMI cutoff of 25 were four times likelier to order dessert and ordered 17% more alcoholic beverages. The disparity in ordering was particularly pronounced when diners below the BMI threshold of 25 had a server who was at or over the threshold – a heavy waiter or waitress seemed to have an even bigger influence on the skinniest diners.

One of the researchers speculates that the reason for such behavior is a sense of liberation; diners with a heavier server felt freer to order more fattening items.

So the second tip is to either ask for a server who does not appear to be overweight, or if that is not possible, then once again to at least be aware of the tendency to overeat in such a situation, and act accordingly.

One side note that was also brought up in the Cornell Study is whether restaurant owners should add this finding to their knowledge base about how to use the restaurant environment to manipulate customers by hiring overweight servers. The research did not look at the efficiency of such servers, or their ability to generate repeat business, so it is not possible to say if such a move would actually increase overall sales for the restaurant.

So in conclusion, it seems that the best way to avoid overeating at a restaurant is to go to a restaurant by yourself where you know all the servers are “skinny”.

But if that doesn’t appeal to you, at least keep these two studies in mind; you’ve been warned.

Bon appétit!

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