You’re part diner, part test subject.
Hidden floorboard scales weigh you as you walk to your table.
Take a seat and chair sensors monitor your heart rate while bites are counted, eye movements are tracked, and facial expressions are analyzed. The soup of the day is lentil.
This is the canteen at Holland’s Wageningen University, where campus hangout meets research facility.
The restaurant is a living laboratory of dining behavior, and its research is followed closely by agribusiness groups, nutrition, sustainability, and health policy makers, food scientists, and the hospitality industry.
Everything about it is modular and malleable to suit experimentation. Scientists can test the effects of center islands vs. long buffets; waiter service vs. self-service; lighting that’s dim, colored, or bright; communal tables, counters, or booths. They look for different eating patterns when sandwiches are cut in triangles vs. rectangles; fruit is sliced, cubed, or kept whole; food odors are enhanced or masked.
The control room trumps the kitchen as the real heart of the restaurant .
Joy-sticks let researchers zoom in with the dozens of cameras concealed in the ceiling. They study every move, large and small: who sits where, who lingers at the salad bar, who’s talking, smiling, and frowning. They count bites and time chew speeds, document a hesitant hand reaching for the dessert menu, and analyze food waste.
They’ve learned that coffee tastes stronger in brown mugs, small biters eat less, and when the usual conventional milk is relabeled as organic people complain of a funny taste. Fresh flowers on a table will improve the mood of table mates, nobody likes to eat in a room with blue lighting, and chairs upholstered with flowery pink fabric will be the first seats chosen.
There’s no shortage of volunteers.
Wageningen faculty, staff, and students are willing diners/test subjects. They have to sign a research waiver and photo release form, but few have balked at the prospect of lunch as a behavioral guinea pig. They’re unfazed by the scrutiny and surveillance, many even choosing to lunch there daily. It doesn’t hurt that the lentil soup is reputed to be thick and tasty and that the restaurant’s low prices make it one of the best bargains in all the Netherlands.
The canteen at Wageningen University, also known as The Restaurant of the Future, is open every school day for lunch.
I couldn’t help but notice that its Facebook page has just 2 likes.