The advice not to fill up on breadsticks at an Italian restaurant is well-known, if not always heeded. But appetizers can influence the meal even beyond whether they stuff diners before the main course arrives. New research shows that if the appetizer is tasty but the meal is mediocre, the contrast will ruin the whole experience, reports Erika Beras for Scientific American.
Researchers had 64 volunteers eat one of two meals. The meals were the same—bruschetta as an appetizer and an entrée of pasta with garlic and oil. The pasta that everyone got was prepared to be only so-so. But some of the volunteers first got a bruschetta that was made to be mediocre, while the others got one that was stellar.
The researchers made the good bruschetta with some extra ingredients like extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, fresh basil and lemon zest. The not-so-good bruschetta only got dried basil and lower quality oil.
Afterwards, the people who got the mediocre bruschetta actually rated their entrée better than the people who ate tasty bruschetta. In other words, the latter group got their hopes up only to have them dashed.
The researchers call this a "hedonic contrast." They reported their results in the journal Food Quality and Preference.
“It’s always worth remembering that our experiences are contextual—that is, what we like and don’t like, or taste and don’t taste, is not objective, but related to the environment, our state of mind, and many other variables," says Jacob Lahne, one of the researchers involved in the study, according to a press release by Alissa Falcone.
"That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have fantastic appetizers!” Lahne adds. Restaurants just may need to follow that up with an equally tasty main dish.