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Healthy looking staff equal healthy choices, restaurants told

Women eating in restaurants and cafes are subconsciously influenced in their menu preferences by the server’s appearance, according to new academic research.

Posted: 5 March 2015

image for news story Healthy looking staff equal healthy choices, restaurants told
Professor Sabine Benoit

A study of more than 100 twentysomethings found 60 per cent were likely to consider an unhealthy meal option when they were served by a waitress who appeared to have an unhealthy lifestyle – which the study argues includes pale skin, tattoos and particular hairstyles, and who appeared to smoke, according to the findings of a research study.

The results of the research revealed appearance rather than size, was a much more important trigger to people’s eating habits. Part of the field work involved dressing the waitress in a fat suit to judge whether her size influenced what people chose to eat. When the results were assessed, this did not make a difference, although her apparent lifestyle did.

Sabine Benoit, Professor of Marketing at the University of Roehampton's Business School, was part of the team that carried out the study. She said: "Restaurant and coffee shop staff who look like they’re in a bad state of health or who live a hedonistic lifestyle do affect what customers eat, even if they are perceived as slim. Restaurateurs who want to encourage healthy eating among their customers need to think more about how employees are turned out, instead of how much they weigh."

The study, published in the journal Psychology & Marketing revealed how advance laser eye scanning equipment was used to detect which dishes from a specially designed menu the women in the trial looked at for longest, which led to their choice.

Methodology:

  • The women were shown a film of the same waitress handing them a menu, one looking healthy, one wearing a fat suit, and one looking badly nourished but without the fat suit.
  • They were then shown the menu on screen and asked to read and make choices.
  • Dishes like burgers and chips, lasagna and nachos as unhealthy choices were placed alongside a salad, fish soup and chicken and vegetables as healthy choices. 
  • The high-tech eye scanning software was used to record subconscious ‘true’ preferences.
  • These preferences gave a clear indication that appearance and clothing choice counts for much more than size.

Professor Benoit has now said restaurant owners could provide uniforms, and basic guidance on appearance for employees, similar to schools. Based on the research findings, doing so would encourage people to enjoy a healthier meal out.

"Britain is suffering from the effects of obesity without a doubt, the NHS especially, so restaurants and cafes need to act now to encourage people to eat well and enjoy dining out but also eat healthily," she said.

"Asking your staff to be sensible about their choice of clothing and make-up, and their demeanour as well, could make a considerable difference. If you want to encourage people to eat healthily, staff need to look healthy."

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