Everybody knows sound can have a big impact on your dining experience. A crowded, noisy dive bar has a way different vibe than a quiet, upscale steakhouse. But can the volume of these disparate atmospheres have an effect on what you actually order? A new study, one that claims to be the first of its kind, says yes.

Researchers found thatsimply raising or lowering the volume of music in a restaurant led people to order unhealthier or healthier food. Here’s why. Volume has long been known to impact heart rate and arousal. In places with quieter and softer music, diners tend to be calmer and more aware of what they order, usually resulting in a healthier meal. Louder sounds result in stimulation and stress, driving us to unhealthier choices. Maybe we should wear ear plugs to the bar next time so we don’t order a second serving of curly fries?

The research team analyzed this theory by taking over a cafe in Stockholm. They coded the menu items as healthy, unhealthy, and neutral and played music of various genres on a loop at both 55 and 70 decibels. Of the 549 menu items that were sold over the course of the experiment, 20 percent more customers ordered something unhealthy when the music was louder. The number of non-healthy items sold also jumped 10 percentage points during the times of louder music, while healthy choices dropped seven percent. These findings were published in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Sciences.

While most of us know what we’re in the mood for before going out to eat, these findings can still help us make healthier decisions, just by making us more conscious of how many seemingly minor factors impact our choices. Though who are we kidding? If you have your mind set on pizza, you’re not going to get a salad instead.

The implications beyond individual choice are also fascinating. Dipayan Biswas, marketing professor at USF’s Muma College of Business and leader of the study, also had this to say, “Restaurants and supermarkets can use ambient music strategically to influence consumer buying behavior.” In other words, be wary of any smoothie bar blasting punk rock.

Header image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Jessica is a former Associate Editor at Chowhound. Follow her on Twitter @volume_knob for updates on snacks and cats.
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