Candle-lit restaurants have an enjoyable ambience, but sitting in an especially dark corner might sway your judgement when you're out to eat.
According to new research in the Journal of Marketing Research, diners in dimly lit rooms are making more unhealthy choices than diners in well-lit rooms. In the study, diners ordered up to 39% more calories than diners in well-lit rooms. On the flip side, diners in brightly lit rooms were 16 to 24% more likely or order healthy foods like grilled or baked fish or white meat instead of fried dishes.
It's all about alertness. "We feel more alert in brighter rooms and therefore tend to make more healthful, forward-thinking decisions," lead study author Dipayan Biswas, PhD, of the University of South Florida said.
After performing the initial study, researchers investigated how a caffeine placebo and a command to be alert in a dimly lit room influenced diners' food choices. Both the placebo and the command made participants just as likely to make healthy choices in a dimly lit room as participants in the well-lit rooms.
It's all in the head — by merely thinking that they were more sharp, diners ordered healthier dishes.
"Dim lighting isn't all bad," co-author Brian Wansink, PhD, Director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, said in a press release. He noted that dim environments help people eat slower, eat less food and actually enjoy food more. The key, he said, is to figure out how you can be more alert in dark environments.
It's not as hard as it sounds. Taking deep breaths, engaging in lively conversation, having good posture, and drinking water are all easy ways to boost energy, Greatist reported.
So don't blame that belly-busting meal on getting hoodwinked by the dark restaurant. That one might be on you.