Turning down the music and dimming the lights needn't be restricted to romantic evenings –– a US study suggests it makes fast food diners enjoy their meal more and eat less.
The researchers reduced the volume and lowered the lighting in an Illinois fast food restaurant and found that customers ate 18 percent fewer calories than those eating in the regular part of the restaurant.
"When we softened the lights and softened the music in the restaurant it didn't change what people ordered, but what it did do was lead them to eat less and made them more satisfied and happier," said Brian Wansink, a professor of marketing and consumer behavior at Cornell University in New York.
Wansink suggests that the bright lights and colours as well as sound-reflecting surfaces make fast food restaurants un-relaxing.
But when they improved the vibe by changing the music and lighting, plus added plants, paintings, candles and tablecloths, they found people not only consumed fewer calories, but they ate slower and rated the food as more enjoyable.
"Spending that extra time eating a little more slowly at a more relaxed pace made a world of difference, not just to how much they ate but how much they liked it," said Wansink, author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More than We Think.
"These results suggest that a more relaxed environment increases satisfaction and decreases consumption."
Wansink suggests people try the same approach at home.
"If softer music and softer lighting seem to get people to eat less in a fast food situation, why not try the same thing at home?" he said.
Bryan Lukas, a professor in marketing at the University of Melbourne, told ninemsn that it's not surprising that changing the restaurant's atmosphere influenced people's behaviour.
"It is well known that ambience –– lighting, furnishing and architecture –– affect people's purchasing behaviour," he said.
Lukas said retailers, restaurants and airlines have long used lighting and other methods to change how people behave, and he's not surprised to find it could have impacts on people's weight.
"The look in the restaurant was designed to make you eat slower and be more comfortable, so you would eat less because you're not in a rush," he said.
"The same amount was purchased at the counter so the sales level was the same, it was then affecting the mood while taking it in –– and the volume eaten is what affects health."