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Not many research studies start with a copy of Maxim magazine, but this one did. We leafed through an article about the cost of dating and then stopped to ask each other, “Do you know what a foodie call is?”

In case you don’t know, a foodie call occurs when a person, despite their lack of romantic attraction to someone, agrees to go on a date just to get a free meal. So, after we awkwardly read the definition of a foodie call from Urban Dictionary and the testimonies of women in Maxim, we were left asking two questions. “How often do foodie calls happen, and who would do that?”

And that’s the thing about Maxim: their articles are a bit light on population estimates, research methodology, and theoretical frameworks. So, as research psychologists, we narrowed the scope of our questions and tested them ourselves. Anybody can agree to date someone for free food, but we decided to survey heterosexual women because traditional dating scripts suggest that men typically pick up the tab on a first date.

Then in two online studies, we asked women a series of questions. Had they ever agreed to go on a date with someone they weren’t attracted to for a free meal? If they answered “yes,” then we asked them how often they had done so and how acceptable they thought foodie calls are.

We found that 33% of women had engaged in a foodie call at least once. About a quarter of these women indicated that they did so occasionally, and about half said they did so only rarely or very rarely.  These women admitted to engaging in an average of about 5 foodie calls each, although one woman said that she had done it 55 times! Most of the women thought foodie calls were moderately unacceptable, but those who engaged in foodie calls more often thought they were more acceptable.

So, to all those single people out there looking for love … yikes. About a third of women have, at least once, used the norm that men cover the cost of a first date to their advantage. They dated for food rather than the possibility of love.

If this sounds dark, we agree. But who are these women? We suspected that foodie calls might be more common among women who score high on a constellation of three self-centered, manipulative, and antisocial personality traits known as the dark triad—Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and subclinical psychopathy. Narcissists tend to believe they’re superior to other people and that they’re better romantic catches than the rest of us. Machiavellians are cunning and manipulative people who often deceive and exploit others for their own benefit. Subclinical psychopathy refers to people who don’t have much empathy and who tend not to feel much guilt or remorse when they hurt others.  

As we expected, foodie calls were significantly more common among women who scored high in the dark triad. Women who scored high in narcissism likely thought that the wonderfulness of their company on a date justified the cost of the man paying for the meal.  Women who scored high in Machiavellianism exploited traditional gender roles to their advantage. And women who scored high in psychopathy probably didn’t register how bad it may have felt for their date to be used or “led on.” Or maybe they knew it and just didn’t care.

Unsurprisingly, foodie calls were more common among women who believed strongly in traditional gender roles—for example, that men should open doors and pay the tab at dinner.

Before anyone gets too critical of the women who admitted to foodie calls, keep in mind that men generally score higher on the dark triad than women. And men also have a longer track record of manipulative and abusive dating behavior than women.

At times, dating someone you aren’t immediately attracted to may not be a bad thing. After all, you may find love when you least expect it—maybe even during a foodie call.

For Further Reading

Collisson, B., Harig, T., & Howell, J. L. (2020). Foodie calls: When women date men for a free meal (rather than a relationship). Social Psychological and Personality Science, 11(3), 425-432. DOI: 10.1177/1948550619856308

Jonason, P. K., Webster, G. D., Schmitt, D. P., Li, N. P., & Crysel, L. (2012). The antihero in popular culture: Life history theory and the dark triad personality traits. Review of General Psychology, 16, 192–199.


Trista Harig received her Bachelor’s degree in psychology from Azusa Pacific University in 2019 and is currently pursuing her Master’s in Psychology at Rutgers University, Camden. Her research interests lie in intergroup dynamics, multiculturalism, and prejudice.

Brian Collisson, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Azusa Pacific University. His research interests are at the interface of social perception, prejudice, and romantic relationships.