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Sample research projects conducted at the CIA

Read on for overviews of selected sample research projects that have been conducted at the CIA.

Influence of menu price typography on consumer purchase behavior in restaurants

Thus far, no study has focused on the relationship between menu price typography and consumer purchase behavior, attitude, or perception of quality. To learn more about the impact restaurant menu price presentation can have on consumer attitudes and purchase behavior, we propose to study consumer responses to typographical differences in menu price presentation. Specifically, this study will examine if typographical differences in restaurant menu prices change consumers' food quality, service, and average check expectations. This study will be conducted over a six week period at Caterina de' Medici, a full-service, fine dining facility on The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) campus in Hyde Park, NY. Management at Caterina de' Medici has already agreed to participate in the study.

We expect to find that an uncluttered typographical price presentation (no dollar signs or decimal points) will raise quality expectations as well as expectations of a higher average check. However, we do not expect to find a significant change in realized average check.

To test our hypothesis, we will create three typographical versions of the same menu, and randomly assign a menu type to each dining party as they assigned a server. For the purpose of evaluating consumer purchase behavior, we will use point of sale (POS) data. We will administer written surveys to evaluate consumer quality and average check expectations. We will also conduct a limited number of more in-depth interviews with consumers.

  • Research area: Best business practices, marketing, and consumer behavior in foodservice
  • Principal investigator: Sybil Yang
  • Collaborator: Sheryl Kymes, Hotel School, Cornell University

Impact of menu formats conveying nutritional information on consumer behavior and liking in a restaurant setting

Effectively communicating the nutritional quality of menu items assists restaurant patrons in making informed, healthy food choices, and is an important part of best business practices in the foodservice industry. The impact of menu item descriptors that convey the healthful properties of foods, on consumer behavior in the restaurant setting is unclear. This project evaluated the effects of two menu formats communicating nutritonal quality, on sales, liking, and consumer choice. Data was be collected at the CIA's Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant. Study participants consisted of daily visitors to campus. Two menus were be designed: one that includes all "better for you" menu items ina boxed section, and one that uses an asterisks next to the menu.

The effect of descriptors on sales were determined by calculating the average check per person from the point of sales (POS) system data. Overall liking was determined using acceptance test and 9-point hedonic scales. Impact of menu item descriptors on choice was determined using menu item order frequency. Focus groups were conducted to better understand how consumers used the different menu formats

  • Research area: Best business practices, marketing, and consumer behavior in foodservice
  • Principal investigator: Chris Loss, CIA
  • Collaborator: Howard Schutz, U.C. Davis Extension

Development and evaluation of an educational program in sustainable culinary practices

Utilizing locally produced ingredients and developing sustainable culinary practices are becoming increasingly important to the foodservice industry and culinary educators; however, very little curriculum in this area has been developed and evaluated. The purpose of this project is to develop and evaluate a course on creating culinary gardens that will introduce students to "sustainable culinary practices". Students currently enrolled in The Culinary Institute of America's (CIA) associate degree programs in culinary arts or baking and pastry arts at the Greystone campus are taking part in a gardening project that involves: planning and creating a garden; designing menus and recipes that incorporate locally grown ingredients; conducting "culinary evaluation labs" for comparing local and conventionally grown produce. The course is being developed and coordinated by Chris Loss and Dianne Martinez, at the CIA-Greystone campus, and will include guest lecturers, field trips, and a working "garden class room". Course learning outcomes will be evaluated using a combination of pre- and post project testing and surveys.

A recent CIA survey of 164 foodservice industry leaders indicated that social and ethical issues are playing an increasing role when it comes to new menu development (Ryan, 2007). "All natural ingredients", "organic foods", "local/sustainable" and "origin of ingredients" are fundamental issues to current business strategy of large and small restaurant operations (CIA, unpublished data). In addition, growing practices and origin of ingredients has been identified by consumers as important information to be included on the restaurant menu (Thomas and Mills, 2006). Informal interviews with students at The Culinary Institute of America indicate that they too are interested in issues of "sustainability" and "environmental ethics" as they relate to foodservice systems, and are encountering these issues in the work place. A student survey at CIA-Greystone ranked a "gardening project" with the highest interest score compared to four other extracurricular activities. Demand for organic and sustainable agricultural educational programs are increasing in general, at universities across the country (Schroeder, 2006; Parr, 2006).

A recent review of the organic food industry suggests that there is confusion as to the differences between, and benefits associated with, organic foods (Winters, 2006). The exercises planned for this project will help illustrate differences between conventional and organically grown produce. This project will also help students gain insight into their food systems and the origin of the ingredients they commonly use in the kitchen.

  • Research area: Educational strategies in the culinary arts and sciences
  • Principal investigators: Chris Loss and Dianne Martinez

Characterization of the manufacture and flavor profile of artisan food products of Kefalonia, Greece

Tradition-based global flavors continue to be of rising interest across a broad range of foodservice establishments throughout America. This project intends to deepen the understanding of specialized traditional food ingredients for the use of chefs and educators in the US foodservice and education sector.

In reviewing cookbooks that document recipes from the Ioninan island chain, we find that in most instances recipes are similar throughout the islands however no documentation was found regarding our important point of differentiation: the ingredient source itself.

Through the perspective of a professional chef and educator this proposed work will research and document the artisan food products located on Kefalonia, a Greek Island situated in the Ionian Sea West of mainland Greece. Data collected will identify local producers and their product seeking to understand what makes them unique and how product is utilized in the cuisine of Kefalonia. A trained panel of chefs, will develop a sensory lexicon for samples of feta cheese collected from Kefalonia, and specific flavour attributes will be quantified using a modified version of Quantitative Descriptive Analysis.

Sharing the research findings with foodservice professionals and students will augment existing culinary research and further the process of bringing vibrant world flavors to the American palate.

  • Research area: Exploration and evaluation of world cuisines

Strategies for reducing trans fats and butter for home to large scale artisan bakers

The objective of this work is to determine viable strategies for replacing butter and shortenings with healthy vegetable oils.

Hydrogenated lipids are used to develop fats that have extended shelf life, are crystalline at room temperature, and permit the incorporation of air through the process of "physical leavening". However, the hydrogenation process results in the development of trans-fats, which have been identified as a contributor to coronary heart disease. Incorporating air into fats and doughs is integral to obtaining the characteristic sensory properties of many finished pastries and breads. This proposed research will explore alternative culinary techniques for physical leavening that minimize the use of butter and shortenings containing trans fat.

There is some evidence that sodium aluminum phosphate, used in baked goods, as a leavening agent, may present an increased risk of neurological disorders. Alternatives approaches to using such chemical leavening agents will also be investigated and evaluated as part of this research.

This work will take a science based approach to characterizing removal of potentially harmful ingredients and changes to the preparation methods (as apposed to using new ingredients, the ultimate health effects of which are still unknown, for example inter-esterified fats).

This work will use pound cake as a model system to better understand how these procedural and ingredient changes to the recipe impact texture, taste, appearance, and shelf-life.

  • Research area: Functional properties of ingredients; Health and wellness strategies

Research Projects

Grant Request Form

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