Noisy restaurants affect how you order — and not in a good way

People eating and drinking
Pay close attention to the volume of the music the next time you are about to order a burger and fries. (Image: oneinchpunch/iStock/GettyImages)

Are you watching your weight? You may want to stick to the quieter dining establishments. According to a new study, you are more likely to order something unhealthy when you’re eating in a noisy venue as compared to a place that is more chill.

For the study that was published in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Sciences, participants dined at a cafe where music was played at either 55 decibels (equivalent to the hum of a dishwasher running) or 70 decibels (on par with the level of loudness from a vacuum cleaner). When the ambient tunes were turned up, researchers found that 20 percent more customers ordered something unhealthy.

The reason is that loud environments can increase stress and excitement, explained study authors in a release, which apparently makes us crave the pleasures of comfort food rather than the health benefits of a green salad.

Softer music — like the kind that might go entirely unnoticed — seems to have the opposite effect, making us more thoughtful (or maybe just more self-conscious) about our food choices. Ever been in a restaurant that was too quiet and felt like all eyes were on you?

Restaurant owners have long known that music can influence customers’ habits — and the bottom line. Take uptempo tunes, for example. Previous research has shown that playing fast-paced music leads to faster eating, which can increase table turnover. (More tables served equals more profit.)

And a 2008 study showed that bar patrons guzzled more beer in less time when music was cranked up to 88 decibels — loud enough that focusing on downing another drink is far easier than making conversation with the person next to you.

But this latest study is the first to show how volume alone can sway customers to make either healthy or not-so-healthy food choices. Restaurants can use the findings “to influence consumer buying behavior,” said study author Dipayan Biswas, Ph.D., a marketing professor at the University of South Florida Muma College of Business.

Of course, that doesn’t mean every burger joint is suddenly going to crank up the volume to encourage customers to order the supersize option with extra fries. (Though, sure, some may.)

For many restaurant owners, music selection — and the volume it is played at — is more about creating a brand identity and a mood. “We play close attention to the vibe and energy,” says Brian Poe, chef and owner of three Boston-area restaurants, including upscale pub Tip Tap Room and local sandwich spot Parish Café. Poe tells LIVESTRONG.COM that he tries to keep the music upbeat with plenty of variety, a must when your clientele ranges in age from early 20s to 80 and older.

As for volume, Poe says that “just above conversation level” is ideal. (To translate that back to decibels, most experts put normal conversation at about 60 decibels, which is actually half as loud as 70 decibels.)

Come 11 p.m., though, the vibe — and volume — changes, which entices dinner guests to stay for a drink at the bar, notes Poe. (You don’t need market research to tell you that.) As for the louder music steering customers toward less healthy food choices, anyone ordering grub after 11 probably isn’t craving a salad anyhow, right?

What Do YOU Think?

Are you surprised by these findings? Do you tend to choose quieter restaurants over louder ones? Can a restaurant be “too quiet”? What’s the ideal noise level for you? Let us know in the comments below.

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