Is Dining In Dim Romantic Lighting Making You Overindulge?
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“If food is the prose of a party, lights are its poetry,” they say. There is a deep and delicate connection between ambient light and the food choices that one makes at a restaurant. So much so that a few studies have also been conducted in the recent past to better understand the science of atmospherics, and explore how luminance serves as a sensory cue for food preferences. For ages, candlelit dinner is regarded as a hallmark of a romantic date, where the dim light is just as important as the meal, flowers and violins. This holiday season as we all are making plans to soak in the festive vibe with our family and friends at our favourite eateries, let’s also talk about how lighting helps a great deal to lift our moods and pick the best from the menu.

According to a study - titled Shining Light on Atmospherics: How Ambient Light Influences Food Choices - consumers are more likely to pick less healthy foods when the ambient lighting is dim, as compared to bright lighting. The paper further stated that “while restaurants can use these insights and their ambient light switches to nudge consumers toward targeted food choices, such as healthy or high-margin signature items, health-conscious consumers can opt for dining environments with bright ambient lighting”.  

As a discipline, atmospherics harps on the concept of sensory compensation. Scents, sounds and temperature, along with lighting, make a huge impact on overall customer experience. But when it comes to taste perceptions, it is also believed that dim light encourages one to eat larger portions. That said, romantic lighting doesn’t automatically mean a good dining experience. There have been times when ill-placed lamps (even at high-end restaurants) have put off visitors, with people complaining that they can’t even read the menu under the low light. 

In another research paper, titled Less Light, Better Bite: How Ambient Lighting Influences Taste Perceptions, experts have stated that taste perceptions are created through the integration of information provided by the visual, olfactory (smell) and gustatory (taste) senses. “Gustatory information is provided by taste receptors located on the tongue, which perceive the five accepted taste dimensions of food - sweet, salty, sour, bitter and savoury. The removal of a source of sensory information alters the taste experience with the food item. So much so, if you were to close your eyes and plug your nose, eliminating visual and olfactory information, it would be nearly impossible to ascertain the difference between an apple and an onion,” the report elaborated. 

Dining in well-lit rooms means that you are more alert about what and how much you are eating. According to researchers, you are nearly 25% more likely to order healthy foods (for instance, grilled chicken or fish and vegetables) when sitting in bright lighting. This compares with the choices made in dimly lit rooms, where one tends to eat at a slower pace. The tendency to consume more unhealthy food items (such as chips, fried food, chocolates and desserts) is also seen among those who enjoy eating while watching television. In fact, statistics show that people dining in darker rooms have ordered up to 39% more calories.

Thus, although we are inclined to feel more calm and relaxed when dining in the dark, the odds of overindulging cannot be ruled out. Bright lighting, on the contrary, helps us stay alert and make healthy food choices, and likewise keep a tab on our calorie intake. You might want to bear this in mind while dining out this holiday season.