The more expensive your food is, the better you feel about eating it, says a new study from Cornell University. I, for one, am confused by this finding, because nothing tastes as good as cheap feels, and clearly, those researchers have never had the vegetarian steamed buns from that place next to the Chinatown bus station in Philadelphia ($2! Huge buns!). But apparently, it’s a peer-reviewed fact: people love paying more.
To arrive at this alarming conclusion, the researchers teamed up with “a high-quality Italian buffet in upstate New York” — I’ll take their word for it — to present 139 very lucky diners with an all-you-can-eat buffet. Some of them were charged $4 for the meal, and others paid $8. But while both groups got exactly the same food, the people who paid the higher price reported enjoying their meals 11 percent more than the rubes in the $4 group. Those guys — despite saving a full four bucks on their high-quality Italian dinners — felt significantly worse about both themselves and their dining experiences: people who paid the lower price were more likely to say they’d overeaten, felt guilty about the meal, and liked the food less and less as the meal went on.
That’s not necessarily surprising: we’re conditioned to see cheap food as junk food and expensive food as quality food — it’s why people go to the artisanal ye olde fried chicken shoppe instead of Popeye’s. We like the $8 Italian buffet because it must be a better and more-Italian buffet than the cheapo $4 version ($4, to be fair, is suspiciously cheap). Accordingly, lead researcher Brian Wansink advises, “if you’re a consumer and want to eat at a buffet, the best thing to do is eat at the most expensive buffet you can afford. You won’t eat more, but you’ll have a better experience overall.”
By that logic, you might even spring for a pricier, non-all-you-can-eat-buffet menu, if we’re really going all out here. Not only will you look like a baller (if you’re into that sort of thing), but also, your date is going to think the food is way better, and those good feelings will rub off on you. Probably steer clear of the $8 all-you-can-eat buffet, though? At least, for romantic purposes — platonically, I will totally meet you there.