Altering the price of a food product can have an immediate impact on taste perception, as well as feelings of overeating and guilt, according to new research.
The new research, led by Professor Brian Wansink of Cornell University, suggests that cutting prices may also cut down how much people will like your food.
The data, presented at the Experimental Biology 2014 meeting, found that increasing the price of food can raise consumer liking by more than 10% compared to those at a lower price point - while foods with a reduced price were more likely to lead consumers to feel like they had overeaten.
"We were fascinated to find that pricing has little impact on how much one eats, but a huge impact on how you interpret the experience," said Wansink. "Simply cutting the price of food at a restaurant dramatically affects how customers evaluate and appreciate the food."
"This is an example of how a really small change can transform how a person interacts with food in a way that doesn't entail dieting," he explained.
The US-based team partnered with a high-quality Italian buffet in upstate New York to investigate how pricing affects customers' perceptions. The team presented 139 diners with a menu that offered an all-you-can-eat buffet priced at either $4 or $8. Customers were then asked to evaluate the food and the restaurant and rate their first, middle and last taste of the food on a nine-point scale.
Those who paid $8 for the buffet reported enjoying their food on average 11% more than those who paid $4, though the two groups ate the same amount of food overall, said the researchers.
Meanwhile people who paid the lower price also more often reported feeling like they had overeaten, felt more guilt about the meal, and reported liking the food less and less throughout the course of the meal.
"We were surprised by the striking pattern we saw," explained Ozge Sigirci, a researcher at Cornell University Food and Brand Lab who conducted the study. "If the food is there, you are going to eat it, but the pricing very much affects how you are going to feel about your meal and how you will evaluate the restaurant."
The study fits within a constellation of other work by Wansink and his colleagues that offer insights about how health behaviours can be manipulated by small changes, such as putting the most healthful foods first in a display or using a smaller dinner plate.