Study Shows People Will Pay More For Food If You Make It Look Like Art

Not only does food taste better when presented like art, people are also willing to pay more for it, a new study published in the journal Flavour suggests. We originally saw the paper on WonkBlog’s KnowMore site.

The paper starts with a quote from Massimo Bottura, Chef at Osteria Francescana, from an interview in Swide:

I try to interpret the artist’s message and to make it mine, to translate it in my life and in the dishes.

Here’s how the researchers came to their conclusions.

They plated out a salad in three ways: 1) to look like a Kandinsky painting (the first block) 2) as a simple stack of ingredients and 3) in a “neat” presentation with all the food bits separate. Here are the example salads, with an actual Kandinsky painting on the far left:

Fancy salad plating

The salad had 30 ingredients, including fancy mushrooms, broccoli, endive, and red and yellow peppers. It also had multiple sauces and vegetable purees.

They had people dine on the salads in a dark room, with all white sheets. The food lit with a simple desk lamp. It actually looks kind of romantic:

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The participants filled out a questionnaire about the food, ate, then filled out another. The researchers, led by Charles Michel of the University of Oxford, concluded:

[T]he art-inspired presentation resulted in the food being considered as more artistic, more complex, and more liked than either of the other presentations. The participants were also willing to pay more for the Kandinsky-inspired plating. Interestingly, after consumption, the results revealed higher tastiness ratings for the art-inspired presentation.

Art food chart
Pretty food is tastier, even after eating. Flavour, 2014

That increase in price? The 60 participants said that, on average, they’d pay over $US8 for the dish (4.25 British pounds). They’d only pay about $US3.50 (2.08 British pounds) for the stacked salad and a tiny bit more (2.14 British pounds) for the “neat” one.

There were some limitations to the study: 1) The flavours may have mixed differently in the different presentations, since there were multiple sauces on the salad. 2) The lab is a weird place to eat a fancy meal. 3) The participants were paid to eat, which may have changed their feeling about how much they’d spend on the meal.

Would you pay $US8 for this Kandinsky salad? It’s tiny!

Kandinsky salad