Fast forward to 2016. Times have changed.
Technology rules. These days, when you stop
at a fast-food joint or convenience store, you’re
increasingly likely to order or pay for your
munchies via some sort of touchscreen device.
Call it i-ordering.
This got the brainiacs at the University of
Michigan at Ann Arbor pondering: Does the kind of
interface used by customers affect their food choices?
Well, five studies conducted last year at the university proved pretty conclusively that yes, it can.
More specifically, an iPad-like touch interface
often leads people to make more hedonistic food
choices over more healthful ones. That was the
conclusion of the study overseen by Aradhna
Krishna, professor of marketing at Michigan’s
Ross School of Business.
“When we first see things that naturally attract us,
there is an urge to reach out and grab for them,” says
Krishna. “We find that when you touch the screen to
order food, this mental interaction leads you to a more
emotional choice rather than a more cognitive one.”
The best way to test this hypothesis? Cheesecake,
of course. Krishna and her coauthors observed
study participants select either a cheesecake or
a fruit salad using an iPad or a desktop computer.
Their findings: 95% of those using the iPad ordered
cheesecake versus 73% using the desktop computer.
But they didn’t stop there. They ran other
experiments that measured the results between
iPads with touchscreens and those with a stylus,
iPads with mouse, and desktops. One thing was
consistent: Pleasurable food choices were more
strongly associated with the touch interface.
“All of this points to the driver being the mental
stimulation of reaching out to grab something
with your hand,” says Krishna, whose study
results are soon to be published in the prestigious
Journal of Market Research.
This same theory appears to have been proven
elsewhere. Chili’s reported that dessert sales
jumped 20% shortly after table-top ordering tablets
Bruce Horovitz is a former USA Today
marketing reporter and Los Angeles Times
marketing columnist. He can be reached at
email@example.com. Bruce’s monthly
“Endcap” column calls out trends and ideas
that should be on your radar as you look to
were installed several years ago. Ditto for Pizzeria
Uno, which reported dessert sales jumped 30%,
thanks to the visual, digital display. Another theory
for the hedonism bump: Customers no longer feel
as if nose-in-the-air waiters are passing judgments
on them for ordering extravagant desserts following
In other words: Touchscreens can conceivably
help restaurants or convenience stores sell more
lucrative, higher calorie foods. There’s one catch.
While we’re an indulgent nation, our unhealthy
indulgences are getting healthier.
Trends guru Marian Salzman, in a recent post
on Fobes.com, says that, “healthy indulgences”
have become a cultural buzzword. And, it turns
out, some formerly suspect foods, like eggs and
butter, aren’t so bad after all, she notes.
Healthy indulgence is not necessarily an oxymoron. I Googled the term “healthy indulgences,”
and upwards of 500,000 results showed up. The
first one I stumbled upon was something called
healthy vanilla coconut cake—which, I kid you
not, is sugar-free, gluten-free and grain-free. In
the end, we must each define what healthy—and
Back at that convenience store stop in 1963,
not far from the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I was
a freckle-faced 10-year-old who had no definition
whatsoever for healthy, but I did have one for happy.
Anything injected with sugar made me happy.
Now, in an era where healthy and happy are
desperately trying to co-exist—which Salzman
calls healthy hedonism—c-store owners have an
unusual opportunity to cash in with a conscience.
Touchscreen or not.
Pleasurable food choices were more strongly
associated with the touchscreen interface.