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When Food’s Expensive, People Think It Tastes Better

It’s no secret that price tags influence our perception, and restaurants meals are no exception—the higher the price, the higher our perceived enjoyment. Is that why humble toast is $4 now in the Bay Area?

In a study of 139 diners at an Italian restaurant in upstate New York, Cornell Professor Brian Wansink had one group pay $4 for an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet and another pay $8 for the same thing. He found that those who paid $8 had a higher rate of enjoying their meal than those who paid less, reported news site

Those who paid less also reported feeling as if they had overeaten, even though both groups consumed the same amount. They also said they felt guilty and their enjoyment of the food steadily declined throughout the course of the meal. So much for offering your customers value.

The price-pleasure correlation has also been reported for wine. Of course, restaurants need to price competitively, but it does highlight how consumers will swallow the quality-based-on-price mirage. Still, at some point, reason usually does kick in, and sticker shock tends to leave a bad taste in people’s mouths.

Wong is an associate editor for Bloomberg Businessweek. Follow her on Twitter @venessawwong.

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