New research indicates that the floor plan where you are eating can influence how much you consume. Open floor plans may lead to more eating.

“As an architect and environmental psychologist, I am interested in how the built environment – spaces, buildings, and cities – affects our physical and mental health and health behaviors,” explained the study’s corresponding author, Kimberly A. Rollings of the University of Notre Dame. “Many studies have investigated how factors such as food pricing, display, layout, and portion sizes affect consumption, but few studies have investigated potential effects of interior design attributes on eating behaviors.”

The study was published in the scientific journal Environment and Behavior.

For their study, the researchers conducted a controlled experiment with 57 college students in the Cornell Food and Brand Lab’s kitchen and dining area. Three to seven students at a time ate in the dining area while serving themselves from a buffet in the kitchen.

Wooden screens were used to transform the open kitchen and dining area into a closed area. Some students ate in an open area, while others ate in a closed area. Hidden scales under the food were used to measure how much each participants served him or herself — and then the leftovers were weighed to determine how much had been consumed.

The researchers found different patterns of food consumption in the open vs closed floor plans.

“Eating meals in an open kitchen-dining area with a view of the food served from the kitchen area was associated with increased consumption,” Rollings told PsyPost.

“Each additional serving trip was associated with 170 more calories consumed, on average. Participants in the open plan made 0.21 more food serving trips, served 37.32 more calories, and consumed 36.35 more calories, on average. Considering that decreasing calorie consumption by 50 to 100 calories per day can reduce or avoid the average annual weight gain of one to two pounds among U.S. adults, results have important implications for diners.”

“The results have important implications for designers of and consumers wanting to reduce food consumption in residential kitchens; college, workplace, and school cafeterias and dining areas; and buffet-style restaurants. The study may also have important implications for people who need to eat more in health care, group home, and military settings.”

The study has some caveats.

“Floor plan openness is one of many factors that can affect how much we serve and consume,” Rollings said. “Future work should explore effects of floor plan openness in field settings when other environmental influences on diet are present, and among populations other than college students.”

If your goal is to consume less calories, Rollings recommends that you eat where additional food isn’t visible to you.

“To eat less, diners can serve food from an area that isn’t visible from the dining table and ideally is in a separate room. Diners may also choose to eat in areas facing away or separated from buffet-style serving areas,” she explained.

The study, “Effects of Floor Plan Openness on Eating Behaviors“, was also co-authored by Nancy M. Wells.