Have you ever walked into a restaurant fully intending to order that strawberry-walnut with Gorgonzola salad you’ve been dreaming about the whole car ride over, but next thing you know, you’re reaching into a basket of bottomless fries and staring down a cheeseburger dripping with grease? You were probably thinking to yourself, “What went wrong here?”
Science can answer that: Apparently, it may have something to do with the music playing in the restaurant.
According to a study released in April in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, low-volume music and noise leads to a more relaxed mood, which leads to an increased sale of healthy foods. (You can probably see where this is going), while, high-volume music and noise enhances excitement levels, leading to unhealthy food choices.
It makes sense — because while you may have wanted to go with a healthier entrée, you likely always opted for a plate of chicken wings or that hearty burger with an ice-cold craft beer on a Friday night with your friends at the nearby brewery, right? Did anyone order a salad that night? Probably not.
“Restaurants and supermarkets can use ambient music strategically to influence consumer buying behavior,” writes Dr. Dipayan Biswas from the University of South Florida.
“Retail atmospherics is becoming an increasingly important strategic tool for stores and restaurants. Ambient music and background noise are especially important atmospheric elements given their ubiquity in retail settings.”
As part of the study, the team conducted an experiment at a café in Stockholm, Sweden, over several hours on multiple days. They played different genres of music on a loop on two different volume levels, 55 decibels (similar to the hum you hear from a refrigerator or an air-conditioning unit) and 70 decibels (a volume level close to that of a vacuum cleaner). In the end, 20 percent more of the customers ordered something unhealthy when exposed to louder background music than those who dined while 55-decibel music played.
According to Science Daily, this is the first study to look specifically at how volume dictates healthy versus unhealthy food choices.
So, next time you’re out to dinner, listen up and fight the urge! Or cave if it’s your cheat day. We know we still will.