Health | May 2014 | By Sarah Protzman Howlett

Healthy Surroundings

Study shows softer lighting, music contribute to healthier dining habits.

Fast food brands discover restaurant design can affect customer behavior.
Hardee’s sponsored a study on music and lighting, finding a correlation between design and consumers’ eating habits. CKE
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A study sponsored by CKE brand Hardee’s revealed a correlation between a restaurant’s interior design and its customers’ healthy dining habits.

While the study, “Music & Light,” was conducted at Cornell University’s Food and Brand lab in Ithaca, New York, in 2002, Hardee’s had exclusive use of the findings for 10 years, and it was published by lab director Dr. Brian Wansink in 2012.

Wansink details how his team gave a Hardee’s location in Champaign, Illinois, a casual-dining makeover in one sealed-off room to compare guest experiences.

He says part of the restaurant was enhanced with soft lighting and jazz instrumentals. In that space, guests spent 41 minutes in the restaurant (compared with 32 minutes in the unaltered space) and ate 18 percent less food.

“I think this is a logical outcome,” says Jack Willingham, senior vice president of construction and design at CKE. “Those studies seemed to show that the softer the music and colors of the restaurants, including softness of the seating and textures, the longer people stayed and the more they spent.”

Marilyn Schorin, owner of Louisville, Kentucky–based food consulting firm Schorin Strategies, monitors trends like interior design in strategically analyzing nutrition issues. She says the modern lifestyle doesn’t lend itself to eating mindfully.

“Ways to help us focus can enhance the eating experience and can make us more aware of what and how much we’re eating,” she says.

The study found that customers not only ate less under dim light and soft music, but also rated the food as better tasting, and their overall dinner experience more pleasurable.

Wansink says he thinks more brands in the industry should rely on research detailing the correlation between restaurant environment and consumer behavior.

“[These studies] help people eat better, but also help quick serves make even more money while doing it,” he says.