Diners are more likely to choose unhealthy food if their waiter looks unhealthy, according to new research carried out at BI Norwegian Business School.
The researchers showed 100 females a video clip of three waitresses. One version showed her as her normal self, fit and healthy, 171cm tall, weighing 56kg. Another clip featured her at the same height but with extra “padding” so she looked slightly overweight. The last was at her normal weight but made-up with a tattoo, sallow skin, high-piled hair and a generally unhealthy appearance.
The team then measured the diners’ eye movements over the menu to see where their eyes lingered, as well as what they ordered.
The study showed that healthy or slightly overweight waiters often influence the customer to choose a healthier meal option.
“Our decisions when choosing from a menu aren’t conscious – we choose an automatic response to stimulus,” explained Anders Gustafsson, a Professor at the school’s department of marketing.
“Often, when picking what to order, we compare ourselves with others to make sure we don’t break the norm,” he continued. “When we meet a healthy, or even slightly overweight waiter, we subconsciously choose to follow this norm and pick our meal accordingly. Yet when we meet an unhealthy waiter, we choose whatever we feel like eating.”