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21. October 2022, 4 min read

Do colours affect the dining experience?

Author: Marie Elbo
A peach on a pink cheramic plate
Photo: K8

Did you know that the colours of food and dinnerware can have an impact on the overall dining experience? Come along on this colourful ride, get to know the do’s and don’ts and learn how to use colours to your advantage.

Numerous studies have shown that colours play a role in the dining experience. For instance, some colours can make guests feel full and some coloured food containers can enhance flavours. Whether you want to nudge your guest to eat less or more, intensify flavours or perhaps use the colours in the battle against food waste, we have tips and tasty information for you!

Contrasts between the meal and dinnerware

Portion sizes matter, but did you know that colour contrasts and plate sizes significantly affect how fast your guests feel full? A 2012 study indicates that people eating from dinnerware with a low colour contrast eat more than people eating from plates with high colour contrast. 

Maybe you’ve heard of the Delboeuf Illusion? It’s an optical illusion where two discs of identical size are placed near each other.

When a ring surrounds these discs their sizes will be perceived differently, depending on the positioning of the ring.

Delboeuf illusion

The same goes for plate size and plates with edges with contrasting colours. People tend to eat more if there is excess space on the plate, but low colour contrasts can suppress this illusion of a small serving.

Colourful macarons
Photo: Wes Hicks

Blue fries anyone?

Experimenting is fun and so are radiant colours, but you have to think twice before going all in with food colouring. According to a psychological study from 2020, everyday food items in unconventional colours, like blue and red, can have an appetite-reducing effect.

If you want your guests to taste everything on the plate and hopefully order more, the best option is to stick to ingredients in natural colours. However, if you want to influence the dining experience with colours and have your guests feel full from a small serving, you can try to apply red or blue strategically in desserts.

Brown espresso cup filled with coffee beans
Photo: Morberg

Hot chocolate in an orange cup, please!

Some flavours can be perceived as more or less intense depending on the colour of the dinnerware food and beverages are served in. If you’d like to enhance the flavours of your hot beverages, you might profit from the outcome of these studies. 

A 2012 study showed that a cup’s colour impacts the flavour intensity and adds to the enjoyment of hot chocolate. Serving hot chocolate to a group of participants from cups in four different colours, notably white, red, orange and dark cream, resulted in the following: 

Therefore, you might want to consider serving hot chocolate in to-go cups or mugs with colours such as orange and dark cream if you want to enhance the chocolate flavour, richness and aroma.

When it comes to coffee, another study with 200 participants revealed that 73 % thought that the coffee was too strong when being served in a brown cup. However, 80% of the female participants suggested that the coffee had a richer and fuller aroma when served in a red cup. 

Another study from 2013 suggests that the colour and shape of the plate influence taste perception. The study indicates that people experienced a 20% enhancement of sweetness and 30% more flavour intensity when eating cheesecake served on a white, round plate.

Binging on coloured crisps is harder

The introduction of unusual colours affects food intake. A 2012 study has shown that colourful food items can increase consumption awareness which leads to people eating less. Consumption awareness is a state where the consumer is aware of the food he or she is consuming instead of eating mindlessly. The study was conducted twice with groups of participants eating crisps from a tube while watching a movie.

The control group would consume regular-coloured crisps and the second group from both studies would eat red-coloured crisps introduced in segmented intervals. The red-crisp group consumed less than 50 % of the control group. Experts have suggested the following reasons behind the reduced intake: 

If you want your guest to slow down, reflect upon and enjoy the meal, you can innovatively apply this knowledge when arranging the elements on the plate. 

How to profit from the colours

Whether you serve small, medium or large portions, there’s a plate for you. If the servings are small and you wish to nudge guests to feel full from a small quantity, you might want to consider using plates with high colour contrasts. However, if your servings are medium or large, you should consider sticking to plates with low colour contrast. And while you’re at it, why not experiment with coloured dinnerware to enhance the flavour of your tasty dishes? Use the colours wisely to influence the dining experience.

Left hand with the fingers painted green holding a small branch with three green leaves. White background.
Photo: Alena Koval

Reducing food waste

Do you have waiters bring many plates with leftovers back to the kitchen? If you want your guests to finish their meals, it’s worth considering the volume of the food and the colour contrast between the meal and the plate. Do you serve large dishes, maybe you should consider using plates with low colour contrast.

You can also reflect upon the colour of your meals. If you experiment with funky-looking colours in your meals, you might consider sticking to the product’s natural colours. By doing this, you’ll hopefully experience that less of your food ends up in the bin.

An economic perspective 

Are you looking for ways to cut costs? Investing in some new dinnerware might pay off in the long run. Perhaps you could try and serve smaller servings on plates with high colour contrast. Your guests might not even notice a change in portion size. While saving money, you’ll have better chances at decreasing food waste!

Did you know that music also affects the dining experience? Click here to read the article