Many restaurants have a policy of placing the first customers to arrive in the seats by the windows, in order to give the illusion of the restaurant being busy. The apparent busyness aims to entice further customers, as it suggests that the restaurant is frequented and enjoyed by others.
This uses the persuasive tactic of social consensus, or ‘bandwagon’. This idea implies that a person should do something, because that is what everyone else is doing. In this situation, ‘everyone’ is already eating at the restaurant, thereby prompting those who witness this to think it is something they should be doing (providing a social norm), or would enjoy doing too (Pratkanis, 2007). It follows the idea that if other people like something, it must be likeable (Reignan, 1982).
The bandwagon effect has been shown to be effective in causing people to adopt certain behaviours (such as eating at a particular restaurant) even if they had originally perceived more desirable alternative options (Hong, & Konrad, 1998).
A study by (Mehrabian, 1998) showed that in participants making a decision of moderate importance or value (that they did not have particularly strong opinions on), could be affected by social consensus. Participants in this study were shown a fake pre-election poll in order to convince them of the direction that others were voting. Results showed that perceived consensus by others caused participants to ‘jump on the bandwagon’, and vote similarly to others, hence they were influenced by the decisions of others. In terms of the persuasive technique of drawing further customers into restaurants by seating preliminary customers in visible positions, passers-by who have no strong preferences on where to eat are likely to be enticed by this apparent social consensus.
Hong, S.C., & Konrad, K.A. (1998). Bandwagon effects and two-party majority voting. Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, 16, 165-172.
Mehrabian, A. (1998). Effects of poll reports on voter preferences. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 28, 2119-2130.
Pratkanis, A.R. (2007). Social influence analysis: An index of tactics. The Science of Social Influence: Advances and Future Progress, 17-82.
Reignan, P.H. (1982). Test of a list procedure for inducing compliance with a request to donate money. Journal of Applied Psychology, 2, 25-38.