Restaurants use all kinds of tricks to make you spend more money, including some very sneaky menu design, but until now, employing overweight waiters wasn't one of them.
Maybe that will change with the results of a new study out of Cornell University's food psychology lab. It found that if your waiter is fat, you’re four times more likely to order dessert from them. "No one goes to a restaurant to start a diet," says lead author Tim Doering. "As a result, we are tremendously susceptible to cues that give us a license to order and eat what we want."
The Cornell study, published in the Environment and Behavior journal, looked at 497 interactions between diners and servers. It found that customers are four times more likely to order a dessert from an overweight server, and ordered 18% more alcoholic drinks than from skinny staff.
Perhaps surprisingly, the customers most affected by the weight of their waiter were the skinny ones. The researchers measured the Body Mass Index (BMI) of both wait staff and customers and compared them. The thinnest customers were the most likely to have their order swayed by a porky plate-carrier. "A heavy waiter or waitress seems to have an even bigger influence on the skinniest diners," said Doering.
Doering’s co-author and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, Brian Wansink, suggests a workaround. "Deciding that you’ll have either an appetizer or a dessert—but not both—before you get to the restaurant could be one of your best diet defenses," he says. But for many people, the choice to have dessert can depend on so many other factors—how big the rest of the meal was, for example.
If this study becomes widely known, then it may have an interesting side-effect. Weight discrimination in restaurants may disappear. Instead of shunning overweight hires, restaurants may embrace or even encourage them.