You'll Spoil Your Dinner: Attenuating Hedonic Contrast in Meals Through Cuisine Mismatch

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Previous research (Lahne & Zellner, 2015) has shown that hedonic contrast occurs in a multi-coursed meal such that good appetizers reduce the hedonic evaluation of an entrée. This paper extends that finding by examining whether hedonic contrast between courses served in a real restaurant meal can be attenuated or eliminated through a categorical mismatch of cuisine (Italian vs Thai). Subjects (N = 143) ate a meal in a University teaching restaurant in which the cuisine of the appetizer (soup) was manipulated so that it either matched (Italian minestrone) or did not match (Thai tom kha) the main course (Italian pasta aglio e olio). Subjects reported on their affective response to the meal. When the cuisine matched, hedonic contrast occurred: good minestrone caused subjects to like the same pasta – and the entire meal – significantly less. However, when the cuisine did not match there was no evidence of contrast: good tom kha did not depress liking ratings for the pasta dish, and in fact the overall meal was rated as better with the good appetizer. Thus, hedonic contrast can be attenuated by a mismatch of cuisine category. This research has important implications for restaurants, in that it both provides further evidence that main courses may be negatively affected by appetizers that are “too good”, and that actively varying the cuisine categories of dishes between menu sections may ameliorate this effect.



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