How Candles Affect Conversation

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A feature on "The New Economics of Pop-Up Restaurants" in The Wall Street Journal came to the unsurprising conclusion that pop-ups, with their lower overhead, are a good way for restaurants to try out concepts; but one of those trials has yielded a fascinating fact.

In February 2011, chef John Fraser, of Dovetail in Manhattan, opened a pop-up called What Happens When. He tested three different dining room styles that revealed this unexpected fact about human behavior, as relayed by Katy McLaughlin: 

He learned, for example, than when tables for two are set with small votive candles, "it makes you want to lean in and talk softly," he said. With long candles, "you tend to lean back and you project your voice more," he added. Such insight might have taken Mr. Fraser, 36, decades to garner, he said; instead, the pop-up condensed the lessons into a kind of "boot camp."

Now, it is certainly true that a normal restaurateur could swap out her candles for ones of different length and get the same results, but how would she know to? It seems to us that the reason something like this gets discovered quicker in a pop-up rather than a traditional dining room floor is that these different concepts happen either next to or within brief succession of one another. It'll certainly inform our decorating next time there's a dinner party in the works.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.