By Mike Pomranz
Updated June 26, 2015
© Robert Wright

Here’s a bizarre piece of dining advice: If you want to enjoy your meal more, try picking a mediocre appetizer. This according to science!

A study at Drexel University looked into a phenomenon most diners have probably experienced: Your meal starts off with a perfectly fantastic appetizer and yet everything just seems to go downhill from there. Turns out, it might not be that the chef is falling asleep in the kitchen; your mind may be playing tricks on you.

Two researchers gave a series of diners the same main course – pasta aglio e olio, aka pasta with garlic and oil – but split their appetizers between two different types of bruschetta. Some got “mediocre” bruschetta, and others got “good” bruschetta made with more flavors and fresher, better quality ingredients. Though the good bruschetta was rated as being better than the mediocre version, when it came to the identical main dishes, people who had started with the mediocre bruschetta liked their entrees better.

“It's always worth remembering that our experiences are contextual – that is, what we like and don't like, or taste and don't taste, is not objective, but related to the environment, our state of mind, and many other variables. If you have a fantastic appetizer and then the main seems lackluster, that could be because of this type of contrast effect,” Jacob Lahne, PhD, who coauthored the study, was quoted as saying by Eureka Alert.

However, he also emphatically stated, “That doesn't mean you shouldn't have fantastic appetizers!” – advice that seems a bit misguided based on his results. Instead, maybe just eat something really crappy at home before going out? Or instead of starting your meal with fresh bread, ask your server for a moldy batch?