It is well known that people serve themselves more, not to mention eat more, when dining from larger bowls and plates than from smaller ones. But what about the other visual qualities of the plateware? Does the colour, shape and finish also influence a diner’s behaviour? How important are these extrinsic visual properties, or even the visual arrangement of the elements on the plate itself, in terms of modulating a diner’s eating behaviours and experiences? At a time when so much is known about the influence of the colour of individual food products on taste and flavour perception, and when so many modernist restaurants are using an increasingly eclectic range of visual designs for their dishes, there has been surprisingly little scientific research on how the more complex visual properties and arrangement of food presentations may affect the diner. Below, we argue that the exploration of these effects constitutes the next natural step in an increasingly fruitful interdisciplinary collaboration between chefs, psychologists, sensory scientists and designers. The most important research questions, then, are to identify the kinds of effects that the presentation style has on the multisensory consumption experiences and behaviours of diners, and to study the interactions between the different visual cues that are provided. Taken together, the evidence reviewed here helps to emphasize the fact that getting both the plateware and the plating right constitute surprisingly important components to sublimate the flavours of the food, in the delivery and experience of a great meal.
Alex’s notes: The eating environment plays a huge role in feeding behavior. Between the seemingly expensive meal in the overly nice restaurant and the mindless snacking at the movie theatre, we are all exposed to subconscious manipulation. Some of us may be aware of this and yet still succumb to its influences, and it is only recently that a scientific outlook has been given to the more perceptual and hedonic effects of the visual properties of the eating environment, such as a plate’s color, shape and size. This free review of the pioneering studies conducted in this area, which all converge to suggest variations in the visual presentation of food can indeed exert an effect on our eating experiences, is an excellent read and recommended for anyone interested in the psychological aspect of eating behavior. I will briefly summarize some interesting points below.
It is now well known, at least by psychologists, that diners are influenced by the size of the plateware, mostly when it comes to calculating how much food to serve themselves and/or how much they eventually consume. Given that the average plate size has increased by about 20%, is it any wonder that the typical Westerner’s waist size has increased as well? The larger plates lead to larger portions that lead to greater food intake.
Then we have color. I’m sure everyone has at least one white plate they use. The color of the plateware exerts a significant influence on people’s perception of the food, but this effect varies as a function of the type of the type of food served. In one example, researchers compared the taste of a strawberry-flavored mousse (of a homogenous texture and color) that was served on either a black or a white plate. The dessert served from the white plate was perceived as being 15% more intense, 10% sweeter and was 10% more liked than exactly the same mousse when served from a black (otherwise identical) plate. In this case, the color of the plate may have affected the perceived color of the food by means of the well-known phenomenon of color contrast.
Finally, there is shape of both the food and the plateware, as well as the material of the plate and other properties. For instance, it may well be that really angular plateware is needed to emphasize the sharpness of the taste of a dish, and silverware, although it is not a common material nowadays, has always been associated with high quality plateware, an association that we have from our ancestors. Taken together, the results of several studies now support the conclusion that one of the best ways in which to keep the calorie count down while keeping our expectations fulfilled may well be to serve the food on a round white plate.
But now that you have the plate, how should you serve yourself? Those working in the food sector can apply theories from the psychology of aesthetics to make food products more visually appealing, thereby positively affecting a diner’s food perception (and, on occasion, influencing the food choices that they make). Assuming that there is nothing too unpalatable on the plate when they eventually come to taste it, the diner’s hedonic and sensory perception will largely be determined by the expectations that the diner has.
And what about those around you?The sensory dimensions of the plate might be the central part of our experience of eating, but it is certainly not the only one. Concentric to the dish, how the table is arranged can be considered as a wider frame for the plate. In addition, food rarely comes to the table without a simultaneous verbal description, often orientating and biasing the diner’s perception. Then the atmospherics surrounding the table (and its many variables), and the social context all play a role on our behaviors, and how enjoyable and healthy the food finally is.