There’s more than meets the eye (or the stomach) with tablescaping. We’ve all heard the diet trick about grabbing a smaller plate to grab a smaller portion, or have you? It basically goes like this: when you eat on a bigger plate, you feel significantly less full than if you have the exact same portion size on a smaller plate. The inverse is true as well: eating on a smaller plate satisfies your appetite more than eating it on a bigger plate will. It’s all about the Delboeuf illusion, and how our brains perceive size based on relativity.
Going deeper than just plate sizing, did you know that other environmental factors like color affects your perception too? A study from Cornell University shows that people are likely to serve themselves more when there’s little color contrast between the food and the plate they’re serving themselves on. Furthermore, serving food on a red plate reduces the amount people tend to eat, which is great news for the dieters among us.
But wait! Before you go out and exchange all of your current plateware to red, small dessert plates, you should know that the color of your plates don’t just affect your appetite but your sense of taste as well. This may be hard to believe, but think back to certain foods and how you perceive their tastes based on their colors. If a food’s color can change its taste, then it isn’t much of a stretch to believe that a plate’s color can affect taste too.
Really, have you ever considered why most basic plateware come in white? There’s a good reason for that beyond keeping your tableware spick and span! The contrast between the stark white ceramic and your food can actually increase and deepen its taste—or it does in your mind, at least.
Apparently, psychology researchers agree that there’s more to taste than your cooking skills. Aside from contrasting colors and how we perceive taste, research also shows that round, white plates tend to bring out sweeter flavors in food, while darker, more angular plates bring out the savory. And for some good news for us tablescapers, presentation on and off the plate also really matters when it comes to the flavors of the food.
Going further than even plateware, researchers have focused on the other aspects of a tablescape such as cutlery and even table linens. For the former, we have concrete evidence: different metals, like gold, silver, and copper, have distinctly different tastes when they come in contact with food. But aside from physical taste, studies also show that people regard food more highly when served with fancy cutlery like silverware (vs. plastic or cheap, lightweight utensils). I guess snobbery is ingrained deep in our psyche, huh?
As for table linens, it all goes back to the Delboeuf illusion. In this case, you want to have the least amount of contrast between your plateware and your tablecloth to eliminate the size of the plate in your perception. This apparently leads to undereating, although I’ve not exactly tried it myself. Give it a shot, after all, table linens are fairly inexpensive—at least, compared to buying all new sets of plateware.
So the next time someone says “we eat with our eyes first” (which, coincidentally, is one of the tenets of this website), I would show them this article and wholeheartedly agree. After all, how we see things does affect how we perceive them—the mind truly is wonderful, isn’t it? Now let the shopping commence!