Lead author Brian Wansink, professor of marketing and director of Cornell University's Food and Brand Laboratory, said the mood for food can be changed by a restaurant's choice of music and lighting, leading to increased satisfaction and reduced calorie intake.
Wansink and co-author Koert van Ittersum of the Georgia Institute of Technology found softening the lighting and music in fast-food restaurants didn't change what people ordered, but it caused them to eat 18 percent less of what they ordered -- 775 calories instead of 949. The study participants also rated the food as more enjoyable, the researchers said.
The study, published online in the journal Psychological Reports, counters the popular notion that people who dine in a relaxed environment, with soft lighting and mellow music, will order more food and eat more than those in a more typical dining environment.
"These results suggest that a more relaxed environment increases satisfaction and decreases consumption," Wansink said in a statement. "This is important information for fast-food restaurants, which are often accused of contributing to obesity: Making simple changes away from brighter lights and sound-reflecting surfaces can go a long way toward reducing overeating -- and increase their customers' satisfaction at the same time."