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Overeating in all-you-can-eat buffet: paying before versus paying after

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A widespread meal-serving system commonly blamed for contributing to the obesity epidemic is the all-you-can-eat buffet, where customers can help themselves to as much food as they wish to eat in a single meal for a fixed entry price. We set forth the hypothesis that buffet restaurants’ practice of collecting the price in advance, rather than at the end of the meal, encourages overeating. Viewing advance payment as a token of disrespectful treatment, we first establish this result theoretically by extending two recent and competing models on buffet behaviour to take account of the customer’s treatment experience. We then report the results of two experiments conducted in a sushi restaurant which support our hypothesis. The experiments reveal, ceteris paribus, that paying for the buffet meal after eating reduces sushi consumption by about 4.5 units, as compared to paying before eating. The result bears a straightforward and simple policy implication: To help reduce obesity, buffet restaurants should be banned from collecting the price in advance.

Keywords: D03; D11; D12; I18; all-you-can-eat buffet; obesity; overeating; paying after; paying before; treatment experience

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00036846.2013.808309

Affiliations: 1: School of Economics, COMAS, Israel 2: Netanya Academic College, Netanya, Israel

Publication date: December 1, 2013

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