Pop quiz: You’re out to dinner at a restaurant you've been dying to try—it's gotten amazing reviews. You should order an app and an entrée to sample as much of the menu as you can, right?
Might seem like a no-brainer but, turns out, downing that delicious starter could actually prevent you from fully enjoying the main dish to come, according to new research in the journal Food Quality & Preference.
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Each participant of the study ate a simple meal: bruschetta followed by pasta with garlic and oil. Half of the subjects ate a bruschetta that had been rated as delicious and very enjoyable while the other half ate a mediocre bruschetta; all ate the same pasta afterwards. Afterwards, people who'd eaten the "good" appetizer enjoyed their pasta far less than those who had an altogether average meal.
These results are due to a phenomenon called hedonic contrast. "Hedonic" means "pleasure"; "hedonic contrast" means that after experiencing something pleasurable, we tend to compare it to the next experience that comes along, often unfavorably.
And that's what study co-author Jacob Lahne, PhD, an assistant professor in the Center for Hospitality and Sport Management at Drexel University, thinks happens when we eat a crazy-tasty app, whether it's bruschetta, guacamole, nachos, or mozzarella sticks.
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"If you have a fantastic appetizer and then the main seems lackluster, that could be because of this type of contrast effect. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have fantastic appetizers!” Lahne said in a Drexel press release.
It does mean, though, that if you really want to savor the main course, consider skipping the starter or at least going with something neutral like a simple salad so your entrée doesn't pale in comparison. The only question now is, does a killer dinner mean you'll be disappointed in dessert? You'll have to see for yourself.