Why scrummy starters ruin your meal
A delicious starter may seem like the perfect way to begin a memorable restaurant meal.
But be careful not to order one that is too good - it is likely to spoil your enjoyment of the main course, new research suggests.
A more mediocre appetiser may actually enhance the overall dining experience, scientists found.
Researchers investigating "hedonistic" aspects of eating analysed the way volunteers responded to a main pasta dish after first tucking into a bruschetta that was either bellissimo or boring.
They found that the main dish of pasta aglio e olio (pasta with garlic and oil) was rated more highly when preceded by the forgettable starter.
Food scientist Dr Jacob Lahne, from Drexel University in Philadelphia, US, said: "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 appetiser and then the main seems lacklustre, that could be because of this type of contrast effect."
Participants in the study were customers at the student-run Academic Bistro culinary training restaurant at Drexel University.
The "good" bruschetta used in the research was made with high-quality virgin olive oil and fresh basil as well as additional ingredients such as balsamic vinegar and lemon zest.
In contrast, the mediocre bruschetta contained only blended olive oil and dried basil.
Dr Lahne, whose findings appear in the journal Food Quality and Preference, said there has been little previous research on the way enjoyment of a dish might influence following courses in the same meal.
He added: "I've always been interested in trying to understand the food choices people make."