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Can't Stand the Food You're Eating? Sit Down Then

By Keith Morelli

Dip Biswas

TAMPA (May 22, 2019) -- In Japan, restaurateurs continue to grow a centuries’ old tradition of forgoing seats and tables and providing space at counters where patrons order and eat while standing up. But there may be a downside to this trend – which is gaining traction in Europe and some parts of the United States – according to research headed by a sensory marketing expert at the University of South Florida’s Muma College of Business.

Dipayan Biswas has led research into the kind of marketing that lies just below the surface: How smells, colors, lighting and other ambient factors impact food choices and food evaluations. His research has changed the environs of eateries around the world. Now, he and a team of researchers have honed in on the effect standing versus sitting has on food perception.

The findings: Food that is widely considered tasty (maybe a medium-rare Delmonico) just doesn’t taste as good when you’re eating on your feet. And conversely, food that generally has a reputation of tasting bad (perhaps boiled okra), tastes relatively a little bit better when ingested while in an upright position. The research additionally tracks the volume of food generally eaten while standing (less) and sitting (more).

“The results of six experiments show that vestibular sensations related to posture (sitting vs. standing) influence gustatory (taste) perceptions,” he wrote in the abstract of the article, which appears in the Journal of Consumer Research, a premier research publication. “Specifically, standing postures induce greater physical stress on the body, which in turn decreases sensory sensitivity.

“As a result, when eating in a standing posture, consumers rate the taste of pleasant-tasting foods and beverages as less favorable, the temperature as less intense and they consume smaller amounts.”

The article, titled “Extending the Boundaries of Sensory Marketing and Examining the Sixth Sensory System: Effects of Vestibular Sensations for Sitting versus Standing Postures on Food Taste Perception,” is co-written by Courtney Szocs, assistant professor of marketing at Louisiana State University, and Annika Abell, a PhD candidate in marketing at USF, who will assume an assistant professorship at the University of Tennessee in the fall. Biswas is the Exide Professor of Business and marketing professor at the Muma College of Business.

“Given the increasing trend toward eating while standing,” the paper says, “the findings also have practical implications for restaurant, retail, and other service environment designs.”

Biswas says the research offers important insights for food-service managers.

“Eating while standing is becoming more common, not only in restaurants in Europe and Asia, but also in the U.S,” Biswas wrote. “Existing restaurants have also started to experiment with standing-only dining areas and alternative retail formats, such as pop-up restaurants and food carts, where individuals have the option of standing while eating. In addition, several restaurants in European countries and roadside eateries in India and Thailand offer only the option to stand.”

But an unintended consequence of standing while eating is in play, Biswas’ research has found.

“The results of our studies suggest that managers at restaurants might find it to be an optimal strategy to encourage diners to sit down while eating,” he said. “At the other end of the spectrum, restaurants with buffet or all-you-can-eat options might find it optimal to have standing sections since standing can reduce consumption volume.”

One practical application of this research is this:

Food samples handed out at grocery stores, trade shows or food courts often are eaten while standing. “Our findings suggest that it might be a better idea for companies to walk around to areas where individuals are seated and offer food samples in those locations.”

And for consumers: “The results … show that consumers evaluate unpleasant-tasting foods relatively more favorably when they sample in a standing (vs. sitting) posture. This finding suggests that parents might be able to make unpleasant-tasting, healthy foods seem more palatable to reluctant children by having them eat standing up.”

While Biswas has conducted extensive research into the effects of lighting, smell, and even the volume levels of music on food consumption, this is the first time posture is examined.

“With the increasing prevalence of eating while standing – such as when eating at a food truck, at a fair/carnival, at roadside eateries (which are very common in Asia), and even in many restaurants (especially in Asia and Europe) – it is imperative to understand how this aspect of the service element can influence food evaluations.”