Study: The better the appetizer, the 'worse' the entree

Pasta dish by chef Richard Pepino used in experiment at Drexel University.

Want people to rave about your entrees more often? Back off on your performance preparing the appetizer.

A Drexel professor has released a study that finds that serving a good appetizer can make people enjoy the main course less, and conversely, that a mediocre appetizer can make them enjoy the main course more.

Jacob Lahne, an assistant professor in Drexel's Center for Hospitality and Sport Management, tested and analyzed subjects’ responses to a main dish of pasta aglio e olio (pasta with garlic and oil) after they had either a good or mediocre bruschetta appetizer. The good bruschetta was judged better than the mediocre bruschetta, but the pasta dish was liked more when preceded by the mediocre appetizer.

The good bruschetta was made with extra ingredients, such as balsamic vinegar and lemon zest, as well as fresher and better quality ingredients, such as extra virgin oil and fresh basil. The mediocre bruschetta used blended olive oil and dried basil.

Lahne's article in the journal Food Quality and Preference - titled "The great is the enemy of the good: Hedonic contrast in a coursed meal" - hypothesizes that appetizers, "meant to pique appetite, may cause customer dissatisfaction with mains."

One possible explanation for this is that the nature of the appetite-whetting first dish sways the consumer to compare it with the subsequent courses, to the latter’s potential detriment.

Drexel's Alissa Falcone summarizes Lahne's findings here.

Chef Richard Pepino, executive chef of Drexel's Academic Bistro, played along with the experience, using Barilla brand pasta from a box. The dish was served in a white china bowl on a white china plate with a paper doily, and two pieces of bruschetta were served on a rectangular, white china plate.