At a university in Holland, there is an on-campus restaurant where diners are under constant scrutiny, and we are not talking about surveillance looking to catch someone sneaking silverware into her purse, either. Rather, the eatery is designed to study the behavior of restaurant patrons (and restaurant staff).
Located in Wageningen University’s Center for Innovative Consumer Studies, it looks like an upscale self-service-style cafe with black marble countertops and glass walls. Diners choose their selections from self-serve displays as in a typical college dining hall and take them back to their tables.
The only difference is that they must sign a consent form before entering that gives the researchers permission to observe them through unobtrusive cameras mounted throughout the space. The researchers then manipulate various factors (lighting, music, even staff behavior) and study the reactions. The goal is not just to see how customers react to different conditions, but how they behave: how they move through the space, what catches their eye, how they choose a table and even how they eat different dishes (a separate bank of cameras studies the staff and how they react to and use different pieces of equipment).
A suggestions for diners at Wageningen’s cafe: don’t do anything (like pick your nose while you eat or hit on your friend’s girlfriend while his back is turned) that you don’t want caught on camera. You never know what might end up on YouTube...
The illustrations for FM's Just Desserts column are by Dave Clark. You can see more of his work at Clarktoons.