I bring my lunch to work 3-4 days a week, typically soups or frozen meals. So I’m no stranger to the disconnect between the highly stylized picture on the package and the less appealing food that gets presented to me from the microwave. To really drive the point home, this website highlights the images from a German study of packaging images with the real-life food contained therein.
Interestingly, one place that really understands how this difference can have an effect on the eater is TGI Friday’s. When I worked there about 5 years ago we were told time and time again that part of the reason we had to slice strawberries and present hamburgers a certain way is that customers expect it to look like the food in the picture. It’s true. If the strawberry margarita came out without the strawberry garnish and the sugar rim, you can bet we would hear about it. “But that’s not how it looks in the picture!” they’d say. And so we’d have to take it back and make it look like the picture.
I recall how laborious it seemed that the parsley had to be sprinkled just so on the bruschetta pasta, but damn if it didn’t come out of the kitchen looking the exact same every time. At the time I found it incredibly annoying, but now I think Friday’s might have gained a bit of competitive advantage by paying attention to details like that.