Hospitality & Catering

How you can use plates and bowls to manage guest perception

Insights, research, and fun facts in the area of consumer psychology all contributing to improving your guest experience in the restaurant.

November 29, 2022

Perception is the only reality

Consumer psychology has been, is and will be of great interest to those building businesses, market products and also operators restaurants. No matter who we talk to, for some reason people find it interesting to know more about the psyche behind the consumer and the way you can influence it. In this blog we will provide you with the latest insights, research, and fun facts in the area of consumer psychology all contributing to improving your guest experience in the restaurant.

‘The first taste is always with the eyes.” (Apicius, first century)’

Did you know that people serve more of a drink in a short, wide glass than in a tall, narrow glass? In a study conducted by Wansink (2005) it turned out that students poured 88% more alcohol in short, wide glasses and, even more surprisingly, bartenders were fooled by this trick as well and served 20-30% more. How come that we are so easily fooled by what we perceive with our eyes? In today’s blog we will focus on understanding the affect of different variaties of plates and bowls on consumer behavior. We will discuss different studies focussing on the color, size, weight, and shape and discuss how you can use this information in the battle against obesity and food waste. If you want to download the short read follow this link, otherwise keep on reading!


Color of the plate, multiple studies have been conducted in the area of the color of the plate. For example in one study it was found that people eat less when the food is presented on a red plate (Spence, 2018). Possibly due to the fact that the color red can be a sign of danger and is typically used as a ‘stop’ sign. A blue plate serves another purpose. Restaurant owners found that diners were satisfied with smaller portions of food if it was served on blue plates (Spence, 2021). White and black plates were also researched in a study conducted by Piqueras-Fiszman et al. (2012). They compared the taste of a strawberry-flavored mousse served on a black or a white plate. Interestingly, the same mousse served from a white plate was perceived as being 15% more intense, 10% sweeter, and was liked 10% more than from the black plate. This provides interesting implications for possible reductions of sugar in food while still maintaining the same perceived sweetness. 

Shape, in a study conducted by Stewart and Goss (2013) they even went one step further and added shape into the experiment. Participants were asked to eat a dessert (a cheesecake) from a white or a black plate that could be either round or square. In this case, they found that the dessert from a round white plate was rated as 20% sweeter and 30% more flavour intense than any of the other plates. Round and square plates are not the only shapes that have been studied. Richardson (2021) suggests that oval plates, which are smaller than round ones, can help reduce food waste. In a conducted experiment with round and oval plates the food waste per plate was 20 gram less on an oval plate. Changing the plate shape and size can therefore be an effective waste reduction strategy in all-you-can-eat contexts.

Weight, next to shape and color the weight of tableware has been investigated as well. Piqueras-Fiszman et al. (2011) studied whether the weight of the bowl from which people consumed yoghurt exerted any influence on their flavour perception. In their study participants consumed the exact same amount of yogurt from three bowls varying in weight. They were instructed to hold the bowls in their hand while consuming the yogurt and rating it on taste and flavour. The food from the heaviest bowl was rated as 13% more intense in flavour, 25% denser, 25% more expensive, and was liked 13% more than when sampled from the lightest bowl.

Size, the last variable to have been researched is the size of bowls. In a study conducted by Wansink et al. (2006) they examined varying the size of bowls on food consumption at a social event. When the participants in their study were given a larger bowl, they served themselves 50% more of the ice cream provided than those given a much smaller bowl. Next to this, since the participants almost always finished their food, those eating from a larger bowl ended up eating more ice cream overall. Van Kleef et al. (2012) obtained similar results. In their experiment they had two types of communal bowls (3.8 L and 6.8 L). The participants plates were all of the same size (23 cm in diameter). Yet, those who served themselves from the larger communal bowl ate 77% more pasta and felt more satiated than those serving themselves from the smaller bowl. 

Consumption norms, the results displayed above can be explained by consumption norms, these suggest a quantity (or a range) that is acceptable to consume. For example when you are served a plate in a restaurant you unconsciously consider this as the norm to finish that plate. You use cues (such as an empty plate) as rules-of-thumb to determine whether you have finished eating. One example of this were the bottomless bowls used by Wansink (2005). In his experiment people were served soup that was refilled without people noticing. It turned out that people ate about 73% more of the soup to comply with social norms, surprisingly they did not perceive themselves as eating more of being more satiated than those eating from normal bowls.

Case: A good example of how this information can be used can be found in ‘Het Helpende Bord’ (the helping plate) from Hak. This plate was specifically designed using information from consumer psychology to help parents in getting their children to eat more vegetables. For starters the plate is bigger than a normal children’s plate to match the plate of the parents. This responds to the concept of ‘mirroring’, where a child’s brain constantly mirrors that of his or her parents. They do wat their parents do. The bigger size of the plate also ensures that the portion of vegetables appears smaller. This is called the Delboeuf illusion. They also created a deep hole in the plate to serve more vegetables, in that way parents can serve more vegetables, without it appearing as more, and as people have a tendency to finish their plate, the children end up eating more vegetables. Lastly, they made some parts of the plate even more white than others. Placing the vegetables in the vicinity makes them appear more attractive. 

“Details are not the details but they make the concept”

The findings above prove that choosing the right tableware and knowing the implications of your choice are vital to take into account in the concept development process. By changing the properties of a plate or bowl people can be nudged to eat less and perceive food in a more intense manner. The importance of accurate visual cues play an important role in managing expectations, guest satisfaction, pricing, and also the prevention of unintentional overeating and waste. Or if you look at the economic side of it, reducing portioning and thus cost price. 

As Conceptional we strongly believe that the details are not the details but that they make the concept! We develop concepts from ideation to concept plan to implementation. Throughout this process we guide our clients in making the right choices to make sure that all touchpoint (e.g.  branding & communication, menu, design.) are in line with brand promise,  brand positioning, and brand goals, Choosing the right tableware is on of these important details. 

By Cynthia de With

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