Have you ever been out to eat and noticed that a whole table of people had nearly the same dish? A new study might explain why such a weird phenomena happens — when people order in groups, they want to be like their friends, even if that means having to order something they typically wouldn’t choose.
Over a 19 week period researchers analyzed the receipts of 1,459 diners who ate in groups at one particular restaurant in Oklahoma. The eatery had 51 items on its menu that fit into eight categories. Some tables were given menus that included calorie information, and others had menus without the calorie information.
The researchers found that diners from the same table tended to choose meals that weren’t precisely the same as their friends, but fell into the same food categories. For example, one person might have choose a caesar salad, while another ordered the chicken salad.
“We want to be different from our friends a little bit, but not too different,” said study researcher Brenna Ellison,
There are a couple potential reasons why such a strange thing happens. Firstly, humans have a natural tendency to want to be part of a group, explains Ellison, who is also an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics. Secondly, some people may want to know what their friends are ordering so that they don’t have to wade through all of the menu’s options and choices.
The study suggests that friends can inadvertently steer their companions towards making healthier choices when eating out, effectively controlling their eating behavior.
“This concept is found, for instance, in the snack food industry. Trends start by friends copying friends, the Greek yogurts craze started because a group of individuals starting eating it and others caught on. Friends and social media influence tastes and trends significantly.” says David Rosenberg from Point32 Foods.
As for those who do not wish to be influenced by their friends’ choices, Ellison suggests looking at menus online prior to going out, so that some idea of the desired meal can be had.