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The Bigger the Wine Glass, the More You Drink

A team at the University of Cambridge played some very subtle tricks on pub patrons—and found that drinking out of large receptacles leads to a significant increase in alcohol sales.
Photo via Flickr user Mohamed Aymen Bettaieb

Ever been to a restaurant or bar with cutlery, plates, and wine glasses so huge that they make you feel like you're Alice in Wonderland? Well, according to recent research, these seemingly dated and spatially impaired establishments may be onto something—at least from a sales perspective.

A team at the University of Cambridge's Behaviour and Health Research Unit (BHRU) found that drinking out of large receptacles leads to a significant increase in alcohol sales. The very same team has also found in previous research that large portion sizes and bigger tableware increased consumption of food and non-alcoholic drinks, but that results are murkier in the case of booze.


In order to find out what this means for drinkers, BHRU played some very subtle tricks on the patrons of the Pint Shop in Cambridge. Over the course of four months, they had the owners of the establishment change the size of wine glasses at "fortnightly intervals"—that is, every two weeks—with sizes alternating between 250, 300, and 370 milliliters.

READ MORE: Young Women Drink Almost Half the Wine in America

By looking at the Pint Shop's sales numbers, researchers were able to obtain an objective measure of how the size of a wine glass affected the subjective consumer behaviour of customers. Sure enough, the Cambridge team found that wine sales went up by 9.4 percent when it was served in larger glasses, as compared to standard-sized glasses—an increase that was even more pronounced (14.4 percent) in the bar area than in the restaurant area of the Pint Shop.

"We found that increasing the size of wine glasses, even without increasing the amount of wine, leads people to drink more," study co-author Dr Rachel Pechey said in a press release. "It's not obvious why this should be the case, but one reason may be that larger glasses change our perceptions of the amount of wine, leading us to drink faster and order more. But it's interesting that we didn't see the opposite effect when we switched to smaller wine glasses."

In other words, our perception of tableware may be just as skewed as Alice's during her famous tea party with the Mad Hatter. All of which begs a larger practical question, according to the authors of the study.

"This suggests that avoiding the use of larger wine glasses could reduce the amount that people drink," Theresa Marteau, director of the BHRU, said. "We need more research to confirm this effect, but if it is the case, then we will need to think how this might be implemented. For example, could it be an alcohol licensing [requirement] that all wine glasses have to be below a certain size?"

Minimum glass sizes at bars? What a time to be alive.