Nudging towards vegetarian meal choice in restaurants: An examination of the effectiveness of menu nudges and the role of meal expectations
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People are increasingly eating out in restaurants, where they prefer to eat meat, which negatively impacts environment and health. Despite people intending to reduce their meat intake, their behaviour fails to change. One way to change behaviour is by nudging. In this online experimental study, 509 Dutch participants were randomly assigned over four conditions (i.e., control, appealing description, recommendation, visibility enhancement) to compare three menu nudges in their effectiveness in increasing vegetarian meal choice. Two out of three menu nudges, which restaurant owners consider acceptable, positively impacted vegetarian meal choice in an online restaurant setting. As expected, framing a meal in an appealing, taste-focused, way (i.e., appealing description) and stating a meal as chef’s favourite (i.e., recommendation) resulted in more vegetarian meal choices than increasing the salience of a meal (i.e., visibility enhancement). It was argued that these two nudges, which both provide decision information, would be more effective because they change people’s expectations about vegetarian meals (i.e., tastiness, indulgence, popularity, safe choice in taste). However, the effectiveness of the nudges could not fully be explained by changing meal expectations; only tastiness mediated the relationship between the appealing description and vegetarian meal choice. Future research is necessary to explain what factors contribute to the effectiveness of nudges. Finally, it is recommended for restaurants owners and policy makers to use either the appealing description or recommendation nudge to promote healthy and sustainable eating.