Restaurant Lighting Can Affect What You Eat?

Ambient lighting in a restaurant can be romantic, and give off sort of a calming effect. Whether the restaurant lighting is by candle light or dimmed down to set the mood, we can definitely admit to feeling more relaxed, and even a little “lovey-dovey”. But can this lighting be more detrimental for those of us counting our calories? Yes, and no.


A recent study published by the Journal of Marketing Research demonstrated that restaurant lighting can definitely play tricks with our brains. In this experiment, researchers from Cornell University studied 160 people in 4 different chain restaurants, and examined their ordering behaviors in dim lighting and bright lighting. The results: the patrons who were seated in rooms with dimmer lighting ordered meals with an average of 39 more calories! It was found that the people in the brighter rooms ordered healthier options like vegetables, grilled fish, and white meat chicken, while the people in the dimly lit rooms ordered more fried foods and desserts!


This analysis would clearly indicate that how and what we order is affected by the type of restaurant lighting. But why? Bright, well-lit rooms equal alertness. Simple as that. When our brains are alert, we make more conscious, healthy decisions about what foods we put into our bodies. When our brains are not as alert like demonstrated in a dim-lit room, we tend to make more unhealthy food choices when ordering a meal.


To demonstrate the alertness theory, the researchers at Cornell decided to conduct the study on 700 young adults (college-aged), but this time, they gave caffeine placebos to the people sitting in both dim lighting and bright lighting rooms of the restaurants. The results: people sitting in both restaurant lighting settings made healthy choices when ordering food, thus concluding that restaurant lighting isn’t so much the culprit as is the act of being alert, and our self-awareness.


If we take the alertness and self-awareness aspect into play, we can all make healthier decisions, even in a dimly lit room when ordering our dinner. Because restaurant lighting may fool our brains to react and order the side of french fries instead of the steamed broccoli, those of us counting our calories can’t become influenced by the environment.


Now that you are aware that dim lighting in restaurants may make you feel like you need to eat more calories and choose less healthy options, think slowly and carefully when looking through the menu. After all, it isn’t necessarily the ambiance lighting directly that forces you to choose the fried pickles, it’s how alert you feel! So make yourself alert and aware even in a less bright atmosphere before ordering the cheesecake. Dim lighting is actually a great ambiance feature, and it actually makes us eat slower. It’s not all bad news!