The Higher the Goal, the More You Eat: Reference Dependence In an “ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT” Restaurant
While many factors have been proven to affect eating behavior in all-you-can-eat restaurants, little attention has been paid to the influence of reference dependence on the quantity of food consumed in this context. This study conducted an experiment with 224 customers (90 tables) in a Korean BBQ buffet restaurant that had 2 menu options, a premium option and a standard option, with a price difference of about $3. Customers were randomly assigned to one of 3 experimental groups based on the option they initially chose: (1) participants who chose a premium option and paid a premium option price (2) participants who chose a premium option and were given a discount to pay at the standard option price and (3) participants who chose a standard option and were awarded a free upgrade from the standard to the premium option. The results indicate that when participants initially chose a premium option and were given a discount to pay at the standard option price, they had higher consumption volume as compared to those who chose a standard option and were awarded a free upgrade from the standard to the premium options. This study reveals that consumers set their reference point on how much to consume by factoring in their perceived meal characteristics. Consumers with the greater reference point end up consuming a significantly larger amount of food than those with a lower reference point. Our research provides compelling evidence that the reference-dependent preference affects consumers' decisions on how much to consume in an “all-you-can-eat” context.