While it is known that price, not just taste, can impact our evaluation of a restaurant meal, researchers have now discovered which part of the meal matters the most in judging quality of a pricey food. How much you like a platter that you consider to be expensive depends on your experience of the first food that you eat, the findings showed.
"There had been several studies showing that price influences overall evaluation. This is a first look at how price can change what you pay attention to in judging quality," said one of the researchers David Just from Cornell University in New York.
Psychologists have long thought that we judge experiences based on their most intense moment (the peak) and the last part of the experience (end). However, the new study found that this rule can change dramatically depending on how much customers pay for the experience.
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For the research, 139 diners at an all-you-can-eat restaurant were divided into two separate groups. One group was charged $4, while the other group was charged $8 for an Italian lunch buffet. After the meal, the diners evaluated the taste, their satisfaction, and their enjoyment of each slice of pizza they ate. Other measures of behaviour and self-perceptions were also recorded.
It was found that the peak-end rule worked for the overall taste, satisfaction, and enjoyment evaluation of the pizza when the price for the buffet lunch was $4. Thus diners who paid $4 for the buffet rated the pizza based on the taste of the last piece of pizza and the peak rating of taste.
However, when diners paid $8 for the all-you-can-eat buffet, their evaluations appeared to be completely dependent on their impression of the first slice of pizza they ate.
"It is really remarkable how simply increasing the price can lead one to focus so much less on the end experience and so much more on that first impression," Just said.
The findings of this study suggest that when prices are moderate to high, firms may benefit from giving customers the best experience first. Lower priced restaurants may wish to save some of the best for last.
The findings appeared in the Journal of Product & Brand Management.