June 24, 2019

Even for the most simple meals, eating is a powerful sensory experience. Taste plays an obvious, foundational role, but it’s far from the only sense involved in enjoying a meal. Smell and taste are intertwined in many ways, and sight brings along anticipation and an understanding of how much food is left. Even touch can be important when it comes to finger foods, and mouthfeel is a major consideration for every meal.

Hearing may seem like the one sense that isn’t particularly important when it comes to eating. But while it doesn’t play as central role as taste and smell do, hearing has a significant impact on the way people enjoy their food. That’s true both in the common-sense aspect of creating an enjoyable auditory experience within a restaurant and more scientific considerations that have to do with the sense of taste being influenced by sound. Online culinary school students should keep all the senses in mind as they learn to be chefs.

A person eating a meal on an airplane.The loud, droning noise of airplane engines change the way people taste.

Understanding the science of hearing and taste interacting

Full Service Restaurant magazine offered some key insight into how sound can influence taste, noting that loud noises have direct, specific effects on taste. Research from Cornell University indicated that people who eat on airplanes have a dulled sense of sweet flavor and an enhanced sense of umami. Similarly, very loud and constant noises in a restaurant may have an unintentional influence on customers as well.

Sound can play even more direct roles in the way people enjoy food, without them ever realizing it. Food Republic pointed to a 2007 study from the U.K.’s University of Leeds that determined the sound of the crunch that comes from an assembled BLT sandwich is a vital factor tied to the enjoyment of the sandwich. Similarly, Dr. Tim McClintock, physiology professor at the University of Kentucky, told Food Republic that things like a satisfying snap of a piece of dark chocolate has an influence on overall enjoyment. The brain picks up signals from all possible sources to inform the eating process, not just directly through taste and smell. This is an important reminder that small details of dishes can have a major impact on the experience of eating, even if they have nothing to do with taste itself.

Common-sense considerations for sound and customers

A cacophony of sound, from the kitchen to TVs and customer conversations, can have a negative impact on the overall experience of customers. Along with the impact of loud noises on the sense of taste, a loud environment where customers have to struggle to speak with each other or their server simply won’t be enjoyable. That doesn’t mean music shouldn’t be played or customers should be shushed, but it does require a a thoughtful approach to how sound is heard inside a restaurant.

Speakers need to be distributed evenly throughout the space. They also need to be of sufficient quality to offer a pleasant experience as opposed to having low-quality audio annoy patrons and encourage an early exit, as FSR magazine pointed out. Additionally, take care to incorporate some soft surfaces into overall restaurant design, which can absorb some sound and lead to better acoustics.

Chefs and online culinary school students who are aware of the potential problems and opportunities associated with sound, along with many other factors, can control more of the dining experience for customers.

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