“My conclusion from the research is that people want to be different, but not that different. We want to fit in with the people we’re dining with. It goes against the expectation that people will exhibit variety-seeking behaviour; we don’t want to be that different from others,” U of I food economist Brenna Ellison said.
Ellison analyzed the lunch receipts from a full-service restaurant in Stillwater, Oklahoma, for a period of three months. One section of the restaurant was the control group, with guests receiving menus with the item and price only.
Another section received menus with calorie counts for each entree. And a third section had both the calorie count and a traffic light symbol that indicated caloric ranges. Although the data in the research were based on information from the paper receipts, because the research hinged on each of the three versions of the menus being used at specific tables in the restaurant, Ellison also went undercover at the restaurant to observe.
Because she stopped by the restaurant every day to pick up receipts, Ellison said she was able to get additional information directly from the servers. Receipt data was analyzed using a random utility framework, where the utility, or happiness, each individual receives from his or her food choice depends not only on the characteristics of that choice (such as item price, calories, etc.), but also on the characteristics of the choices of one’s peers.