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Does music make your food taste better? Learn the tricks restaurants use

A new book by an Oxford professor lays out the ways our brains can affect how we rate a meal at a restaurant, from heavier cutlery to Justin Bieber songs.
/ Source: TODAY

From the weight of your fork to the music playing in the background, how tasty and expensive you think your meal is at a restaurant has surprisingly little to do with the actual food.

In his new book, "Gastrophysics: The New Science of Eating," Professor Charles Spence, the head of Oxford University’s Crossmodal Research Laboratory, lays out how much our brain and other senses affect the way we taste food.

Couple eating dessert in fancy restaurant
Why does that dessert look so good? A key reason is because it's round, according to research by an Oxford professor. Getty Images

"I think in a way we’re all skeptical," Spence told The New York Post. "No matter how many graphs and experiments I show someone, they’ll think, 'I know I can taste what’s in the glass and on the plate, and it doesn’t make sense that the [restaurant’s] music and the paint color are changing the taste.'''

Spence's book illuminates the subtle mind games restaurants can play in order to make meals seem better, whether it's the meat tasting juicier or the dessert seeming sweeter.

A restaurant's ability to set the mood and expectations also can affect how much we enjoy the meal.

Spence has run experiments with people tasting food in different settings and packaging, consulted with chefs and spoken with companies about how they alter the appearance of a dish or change the colors on a bag of chips to influence the diner's perception.

Some of Spence's findings confirm many old tricks of the restaurant industry, such as adjectives on a menu making a crucial difference like "free-range" meat being rated more highly by diners than "factory-farmed" meat.

He also gets to the bottom of why so many desserts are round — it's because round food is perceived to be sweeter.

Spence also found that heavier cutlery made diners think it was a fancier meal that they were willing to pay a higher price for, and that background music plays a role.

It turns out that listening to Justin Bieber's "Baby" can make the food go down like lead, whereas listening to Italian opera while eating pizza or pasta on a red-and-white-checked tablecloth heightens the experience.

Many of these are tricks celebrity chefs have been using for years. Several of them shared their secrets with TODAY in 2014. Using a white backdrop on the plate, adding height and employing contrasting colors are just some of the ways to raise expectations for a delicious meal.

Follow writer Scott Stump on Twitter.