August 29/Ithaca, N.Y./Cornell University -- A new study suggests the mood or tone of a restaurant can influence healthy behaviors (even in a fast food joint).

Typically hectic, loud fast food restaurants are not designed with relaxation in mind. The setting encourages people to eat quickly and to move on.

In the study, researchers Brian Wansink and Koert Van Ittersum, Ph.D.,  examined if changing the atmosphere of a fast food restaurant would change how much food patrons consume. To do so, a part of Hardee’s fast food restaurant in Champaign, Ill., received a fine-dining makeover.

Soft lighting and even softer jazz ballad instrumentals were incorporated into one part of the restaurant. Participants were then randomly selected to eat in either the unchanged part of the restaurant or the fine-dining part.

Researchers unobtrusively documented individuals’ amount of time spent eating and the amount of food consumed. Participants were also asked to rate the quality of the food before leaving.

Researchers hypothesized that participants in the fine-dining part would consume more, as the relaxed atmosphere would cause them to linger longer and order more food than those in the fast food environment.

To their surprise, results showed that even though participants in the fine-dining area ate for longer than those in the main eating area they actually consumed less food. They also rated the food as more enjoyable.

Thus, changing the atmosphere can change food consumption and food satisfaction. If fast food restaurants want consumers to enjoy their food more, the study suggests they should tone down the lights and music and create a more relaxing atmosphere. By slowing down and enjoying the food more, individuals can recognize when they are full and not overeat.

Researchers conclude that a less distracting surrounding allows an individual to stay focused on food and be less likely to mindlessly eat. And, listening to a little jazz over dinner is a nice way to relax.