Customers order more food from overweight front-of-house staff, according to new research from Cornell University, New York.
After studying 497 interactions between randomly-selected diners and servers at more than 50 real restaurants in the United States, France, and Spain, university researchers Tim Döring and Brian Wansink concluded that customers ordered significantly more items when served by “heavy wait staff with high body mass indexes (BMI) compared to wait staff with low body mass indexes”.
The research, published in the article ‘The Waiter’s Weight: Does a server’s BMI relate to how much food diners order?’ in the peer-reviewed journal Environment and Behaviour, also said that customers were “four times as likely to order desserts”, and 17.65% more alcoholic drinks, from a bigger member of staff.
The study rated front-of-house staff – specifically waiters and waitresses serving at tables ‒ according to their BMI, which is a widely-used (although somewhat controversial) rating of weight and height. People with a BMI of between 18 and 25 are considered healthy; anyone over or under would be considered underweight or overweight; and those with a BMI of 30 or above are considered obese.
The BMI of the customer appeared to have no effect on the finding either way, nor did the race or ethnicity of either the customer or server, which was also considered.
The study included bigger chain restaurants, such as TGI Friday’s, in the study, but it mainly focused on small, independent places (58.8% of the sites). To qualify, restaurants needed to offer salad, soup and alcoholic beverages alongside other choices.
The paper claimed to be the first to analyse consumers’ behaviour towards staff weight within a full restaurant environment, in comparison to previous studies that only used people’s attitudes towards cookies or confectionery.
“Environmental settings have been recognised as crucial cues to a person’s eating behaviour,” wrote Döring and Wansink, adding that everything from lighting, music, smell, or the attitude of staff could also impact people’s food-related decisions, as well as the server’s weight.
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