Whether it's your best friend's birthday or that direct deposit just hit your account...or you're just treating yourself, any break from dining hall food for a restaurant meal is something to get excited about in college. Going out for dinner starts to feel like a luxury, and picking out whatever you want to eat from the menu (and a glass of wine to go with it) provides the healthy dose of adulting that you need every once in a while.

But how much of those mature adult decisions between chicken parm and three-cheese ravioli are actually our own? Research has shown that the various physical elements of a restaurant work to influence our dining decisions in crazy (yet subtle) ways. Here are five examples of shifts in restaurant atmosphere that encourage restaurant-goers like us to make certain choices over others.

1. Adjusting the lighting

It's a well known fact that fancy restaurants like to keep their lighting dim. Cue: your dad shining the overly bright flashlight from his iPhone all over the menu. But why are the lights so dim in the first place? I'd always assumed it was because dimmer lighting was considered more flattering, but as it turns out, restaurant owners aren't just doing you a solid on date night. Dimmer lighting has been found to encourage diners to eat more of their dishes, as they can generally see less of what they're eating.

A Cornell University study shows that diners also feel less alert in spaces with softer lighting, contributing to less healthful ordering decisions—which may mean more money from drinks and desserts back to the restaurant. 

2. Seating you in the middle of the room

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Isabella Neuberg

You know that sinking feeling you get when you see an open booth and the hostess guides you right past it to a boring four-top table in the middle of the room? Chances are, the wait staff is trying to get you in and out of there as fast as they can. Placing people in the center of the restaurant makes them slightly less comfortable, which means they are less likely to linger after their meal is over. This means more customers coming in and going out in a shorter timeframe, which is more money overall for the restaurant.

3. Using specific color schemes

The secret's out that McDonald's and Burger King use the colors red and yellow to stimulate your appetite. So how are other restaurants using colors to their benefit, too? Color can affect more than just your appetite: bright colors have been proven to cause quicker turnaround with tables, and they can influence the level of intimacy diners feel around the people they're eating with. Cooler tones make people feel more relaxed, which means they're more inclined to hang out and chat after their meal.

4. Carefully arranging the menu layout

coffee, beer, tea
Isabella Neuberg

Restaurant owners get particularly tricky with their menu designs—and there is actually an entire art to it called menu engineering. To maximize profitability, restaurants often focus on "the golden triangle." It is most common for diners to look at the center of the menu first, then the top right, and finally, the top left. Restaurant owners place their most profitable items in these three regions. This means that if you're not looking closely, you might miss out on delicious (but cheaper) dishes placed elsewhere on the menu. 

5. Playing particular music genres

Unless you work in food service and hear the same songs on repeat for your entire shift, music might not be something you're particularly aware of while dining. Many restaurants are careful to select music that will augment diners' experiences—whether or not they actually notice the music playing. According to Psychology Today, soft music with higher tones has been associated with perceptions of sweetness, while loud music is associated with higher profits and quicker table turn-around. 

Now, next time you go out to eat, you can be aware of these subtle restaurant tactics and make decisions that are 100% your own. So go get that steak (from the lower right corner of the menu), and feel accomplished as hell when you leave (after lingering however long you want) in a completely satisfying food coma.