Rude waiters make food taste worse (but only if you're working class)

Having a rude waiter can make food taste worse... but only if you are working class, according to new research.

Friday, 1st December 2017, 11:42 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 1:11 pm

Impolite restaurant staff make meals seem less flavoursome to them - although the same does not go for posh diners, say scientists.

The phenomenon also applies to hotel workers ruining the attractiveness of a room, for those lower down the social ladder, the study showed.

Interestingly, working class people are more likely to assume food will not be as delicious if the waiter is inattentive or rude.

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But higher class individuals - those with better jobs, more money and more education - do not typically make this assumption.

Marketing expert Professor Jaehoon Lee, of Southern Illinois University, explained: ‘This is because lower class individuals tend to perceive situations as interconnected and holistic.

‘People who have less economic resources, for example, may turn to others for help and feel more dependent, so are more attuned to external circumstances.’

He wanted to investigate when poor service influences a consumer’s opinion of other aspects of the product.

He suspected social class would play - and a series of experiments supported his idea.

Prof Lee said a holistic view of life creates what is known as a ‘carryover effect’ in which poor service leads to negative judgments about other aspects of the consumer experience.

But those from higher classes are less likely to experience this effect because they typically focus on their own internal state, ignoring influences in the environment.

They prefer an analytical thinking pattern in which people are independent and free to pursue goals and interests because they possess an abundance of social and economic resources.

This leads them to believe poor service is not connected to the quality of the food or other aspects of a consumer experience.

Prof Lee discovered the connection in a study in which participants read about a scenario related to celebrating a special occasion with a partner.

They were told to imagine they had a dinner reservation at a nice restaurant that was 20 miles away.

After placing their orders, the waiter informed them the restaurant was out of the vegetarian entrée they had selected.

They picked another item on the menu, but the waiter said the restaurant was out of all of them.

The volunteers were then asked to rate how much they agreed with the statement ‘The food is likely to be delicious.’

Prof Lee found those from lower classes were more likely to disagree than their higher class peers.

In another experiment, participants read a scenario about celebrating a special occasion with their partner.

They had reserved a nice hotel for the weekend, which was 400 miles away. When they arrived, there was a long queue.

The clerk answered several phone calls while they tried to check in, and then their room was occupied by another guest.

After reading about this poor service experience, participants were asked to rate how clean they expected the rooms to be.

Lower class individuals predicted they would not be clean, while higher class participants expected the cleanliness would be acceptable.

Prof Lee said: ‘All of the studies showed low class individuals were more likely to experience the carryover effect.

‘I was particularly interested in studying this because the number of Americans who identify themselves as working class or lower class has increased significantly in the last 15 years.’

According to a Gallup poll in 2015, 48 per cent of Americans identified with the working class, compared to just 33 per cent in 2000.

Added Prof Lee: ‘Marketers and practitioners have focused their attention on upper class consumers, but this means a large proportion of consumers are being neglected.

‘These consumers have different psychological thinking and judgement patterns than analytical high class consumers, and marketers should keep this in mind.’

The study was published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.