Print this page Share

The Perfect Meal: The Multisensory Science of Food and Dining

ISBN: 978-1-118-49082-2
424 pages
September 2014, Wiley-Blackwell
The Perfect Meal: The Multisensory Science of Food and Dining (1118490827) cover image


The authors of The Perfect Meal examine all of the elements that contribute to the diner s experience of a meal (primarily at a restaurant) and investigate how each of the diner s senses contributes to their overall multisensory experience. The principal focus of the book is not on flavor perception, but on all of the non-food and beverage factors that have been shown to influence the diner s overall experience.

Examples are:

  • the colour of the plate (visual)
  • the shape of the glass (visual/tactile)
  • the names used to describe the dishes (cognitive)
  • the background music playing inside the restaurant (aural)

Novel approaches to understanding the diner s experience in the restaurant setting are explored from the perspectives of decision neuroscience, marketing, design, and psychology.

2015 Popular Science Prose Award Winner.
See More

Table of Contents

Foreword xi

1 Introducing the Perfect Meal 1

1.1 Introduction 1

1.2 A brief history of culinary movements 2

1.3 The search for novelty and surprise 8

1.4 The brain on flavour 12

1.5 Food and the perception of everything else 16

1.6 Gastrophysics: the new science of the table 18

1.7 Food perception is fundamentally multisensory 21

1.8 Isn’t modernist cuisine only for the lucky affluent? 22

1.9 Amuse bouche 25

References 27

2 Let the Show Commence: On the Start of the Perfect Meal 37

2.1 Introduction 37

2.2 On the social aspects of dining 42

2.3 On the design of the menu 47

2.4 Conclusions 62

References 62

3 Tastes Great, But What do We Call It? The Art and Science of Food Description 71

3.1 Introduction 71

3.2 Snail porridge 73

3.3 Can labelling enhance the taste and/or flavour of food? 77

3.4 Interim summary 81

3.5 On the neuroscience of naming food 81

3.6 Naming names 84

3.7 Does food labelling influence the perceived ethnicity of a dish? 85

3.8 Natural and organic labels 87

3.9 Health/ingredient labels 88

3.10 Local labels 90

3.11 Descriptive food labelling 91

3.12 Labelling culinary techniques 92

3.13 Surprise! 95

3.14 Expectations and reactions 96

3.15 Conclusions 98

References 100

4 Plating and Plateware: On the Multisensory Presentation of Food 109

4.1 Introduction 109

4.2 A potted history of food presentation 111

4.3 The plate: the essential element of our everyday meal 115

4.4 Interim summary 128

4.5 The plate that is not a plate 128

4.6 On the multiple contributions of the visual appearance of a dish 135

4.7 Individual diner responses to the visual presentation of food 141

4.8 Conclusions 143

References 143

5 Getting Your Hands on the Food: Cutlery 151

5.1 Introduction 151

5.2 The story of cutlery 153

5.3 The material qualities of the cutlery 159

5.4 Size matters 165

5.5 On the texture/feel of the cutlery 166

5.6 Colourful cutlery 168

5.7 Cutlery that is not 169

5.8 Finger food 174

5.9 Eating without hands 175

5.10 Conclusions 177

References 177

6 The Multisensory Perception of Flavour 183

6.1 Introduction 183

6.2 Perceiving flavours 183

6.3 Taste 186

6.4 Olfactory–gustatory interactions 188

6.5 Oral-somatosensory contributions to multisensory flavour perception 191

6.6 Interim summary 193

6.7 The sound of food 194

6.8 Visual flavour 196

6.9 The cognitive neuroscience of multisensory flavour perception 200

6.10 Conclusions 202

References 204

7 Using Surprise and Sensory Incongruity in a Meal 215

7.1 Introduction 215

7.2 How did sensory incongruity become so popular and why is it so exciting? 216

7.3 Defining sensory incongruity 218

7.4 Noticing sensory incongruity 219

7.5 A brief history of sensory incongruity at the dinner table 224

7.6 Colour–flavour incongruity 226

7.7 Format–flavour incongruity 227

7.8 Smell–flavour incongruity 230

7.9 Interim summary 231

7.10 The diner’s response to sensory incongruity at the dinner table 232

7.11 Molecular gastronomy and surprise 233

7.12 Sensory incongruity and the concept of ‘naturalness’ 236

7.13 Individual differences in the response of diners to sensory incongruity 239

7.14 Conclusions 241

References 242

8 Why You’ll Never Find Your Perfect Meal in the Dark 249

8.1 Introduction 249

8.2 The social aspects of dining in the dark 251

8.3 Why are dining in the dark restaurants so popular nowadays? 252

8.4 Seeing or not seeing (correctly) the food 255

8.5 Does dining in the dark really capture how the blind experience food? 264

8.6 Cooking in the dark 265

8.7 Conclusions 265

References 266

9 How Important is Atmosphere to the Perfect Meal? 271

9.1 Introduction 271

9.2 Atmospherics and the experience economy 275

9.3 The Provencal Rose paradox 278

9.4 Does the atmosphere really influence our appraisal of the meal? 280

9.5 On the ethnicity of the meal 280

9.6 Tuning up how much money and time we spend at the restaurant 282

9.7 Context and expectation 286

9.8 The lighting 287

9.9 The olfactory atmosphere 288

9.10 On the feel of the restaurant 291

9.11 Atmospheric contributions to taste and flavour perception 294

9.12 Multisensory atmospherics 298

9.13 Conclusions 299

References 301

10 Technology at the Dining Table 311

10.1 Introduction 311

10.2 Technology on the dining table 312

10.3 Transforming the dining experience by means of technology at the table 315

10.4 Augmented Reality (AR) food: A case of technology for technology’s sake? 317

10.5 Using QR codes to change our interaction with food 319

10.6 Fostering healthy eating through the incorporation of technology at the table 320

10.7 Technology and distraction 322

10.8 Using technology to control the multisensory atmosphere at the dining table 323

10.9 On the neuroscience of matching sound to food (and how technology might help) 324

10.10 On the future of technology at the dining table: digital artefacts 326

10.11 The SmartPlate 328

10.12 Anyone for a ‘Gin & Sonic’? 328

10.13 The tablet as twenty-first century plateware? 329

10.14 Tips from the chef at the tips of your fingers 331

10.15 Conclusions 331

References 333

11 On the Future of the Perfect Meal 339

11.1 Introduction 339

11.2 On the history of predicting the future of food 341

11.3 From the past to the future of food 351

11.4 Anyone for a spot of neo-Futurist cuisine? 363

11.5 Interim summary 366

11.6 Acknowledging our differences 367

11.7 The meal as catalyst for social exchange 367

11.8 Is it a restaurant or is it a science laboratory? 369

11.9 Pop-up dining, story telling and the joys of situated eating 371

11.10 Conclusions 372

References 374

Index 383

See More

Author Information

Charles Spence is Professor of Experimental Psychology and Head of the Crossmodal Research Laboratory in the Department of Experimental Psychology at Oxford University.

Betina Piqueras-Fiszman was Consumer and Sensory Researcher at the Crossmodal Research Laboratory in the Department of Experimental Psychology at Oxford University and is currently Assistant Professor in the Department of Marketing and Consumer Behaviour at Wageningen UR.

See More


Review featured in The Times - 19 December 2014

“This book is in a class by itself.  If you thought taste was located on your tongue, then this unique book will disabuse you of that notion and reveal how both eating and cooking are extraordinarily rich multisensory experiences.”  (New York Journal of Books, 1 November 2014)

“Their exhaustive analyses of everything from plate size to flavour incongruities are laced with details such as cutlery’s evolution from Victorian marrow scoops and chocolate muddlers to today’s textured spoons and “aromatic forks.”  (Nature, 30 October 2014)

The Perfect Meal can’t fail to entertain, inform and ultimately to dazzle.” — Heston Blumenthal, chef and owner of The Fat Duck.

"Not many people are as ready to realise the importance of the senses, not only in cooking but in eating, as Charles Spence and Betina Piqueras-Fiszman ...This book demonstrates beyond doubt that gastronomy is the most complex creative discipline that exists."  — Ferran Adrià, elBullifoundation

"Focussing on the brain's interpretation of our eating experience, pioneers Spence and Piqueras-Fiszman acknowledge the interdisciplinary nature of gastronomy, rendering a complex area of study both digestible and applicable." — Ben Reade, Gastronome and Head of Culinary Research and Development at Nordic Food Lab

"The Perfect Meal goes beyond the exotic ingredients and creative insights of the chef and into the realm of the diner’s psychology. Using an accessible writing style that neither talks down to the reader nor dumbs down the science, the authors take us into the relatively unexplored world of the dining context: the gastrophysics of the visual, acoustic, tactile – not to mention taste and smell – influences that we are exposed to in every dining experience.This is a new approach to thinking about dining that will appeal to and inform anyone who has ever been convinced to buy a cookbook by its illustrations or who persists, despite failure, to try to get a booking at The Fat Duck." —  John Prescott, Ph.D, author of Taste Matters: Why We Eat the Foods We Do.

"Nowadays a great many chefs are realising that science also has a place at the table; that a dining experience is made up of far more than just good food. By understanding how we use our senses to interact with and appreciate food we may be able to further enhance our guests' dining experiences. This book looks at many topics which will become increasingly relevant to both chefs and our food culture as a whole in the coming years." — Jozef Youseff, chef and author of Molecular Gastronomy at Home (www.kitchen-theory.com)

“...packed with insights that are fascinating to anyone in possession of an appetite.” — Amy Fleming, The Guardian

"One thing is for sure, after reading this book eating out will never be the same again...." — The Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food

See More
Back to Top