Gastronomics

This is over a year old. But it’s funny, and I’ve never seen it before, so maybe you haven’t either. From kottke.org:

When you’re out to eat with friends and family, it can be challenging to decide what to order off the menu. There are often too many choices on the menu, everything sounds good, nothing sounds good, you’re unfamiliar with a particular type of cuisine, you’d like have what that woman over there is having but you don’t know what that is, etc. etc.

Luckily, a group of authors has recently released a series of pop science books focused on solving this particular problem. Here are some lessons on ordering food from those books:

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
Glance quickly at the menu and order whatever catches your eye first. Spend no more than 2-3 seconds deciding or the quality of your choice (and your meal) will decline.

Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
The key to ordering a good meal in a restaurant is understanding the economic incentives involved. Ask the server what they recommend and order something else…they are probably trying to get you to order something with a high profit margin or a dish that the restaurant needs to get rid of before the chicken goes bad or something. Never order the second least expensive bottle of wine; it’s typically the one with the highest mark-up on the list (i.e. the worst deal).

The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz
Take the menu and rip it into 4 or 5 pieces. Order from only one of the pieces, ignoring the choices on the rest of the menu. You will be happier with your meal.

The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki
Poll the other patrons at the restaurant about what they’re having and order the most popular choices for yourself.

Everything Bad is Good for You by Steven Johnson
Order anything made with lots of butter, sugar, etc. Avoid salad or anything organic. A meal of all desserts may be appropriate. Or see if you can get the chef to make you a special dish like foie gras and bacon covered with butterscotch and hot fudge. Ideally, you will have brought a Super Sized McDonald’s Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese Meal into the restaurant with you. Smoke and drink liberally.

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3 Responses to Gastronomics

  1. This is well over a year old, but I reckon it’s still worth a look.

    Shouldn’t that be a Mac Quarter Pounder happy meal with the free Simpsons Walkie Figurine, so that you can practice your hand-eye and motor co-ordination while you eat – as you also watch 24 on your TV enabled cell-phone and have a TXT conversation with your dinner companion?

  2. The Clive Hamilton method?

  3. MikeM says:

    From The new York Times in 1986, a distinctly different tack on menu choice:

    quote…
    BEAR MARKET MEANS BARGAIN FOR DINERS
    By Paul Lewis

    PARIS – The two hungry diners sat down, turned expectantly to a flickering computer screen on a nearby stand and began studying the latest quotations. The news seemed ominous. Making money would not be easy in today’s luncheon market.

    The scene was La Connivence, a small new bistro-style restaurant at 6 Rue Feydeau, a stone’s throw from the Paris Bourse, or stock exchange.

    As with stocks on the exchange, the laws of supply and demand determine the price diners at La Connivence pay for a meal. (The name, La Connivence, means complicity, with the slightly shady overtones appropriate for a gambling den of sorts.)

    As patrons place their orders in the austere ground-floor dining room, one of the owners, Jean-Claude Trastour, enters them into a computer which promptly adjusts the menu prices to reflect demand. Popular dishes, like popular stocks, go up in price while less popular ones decline.

    Timorous diners may choose to pay the quoted price for a dish at the moment they order it. That is called eating on the march comptant, or cash market. If the price rises while these diners are tucking in, they have done very well for themselves. If the price falls, they get indigestion. It is the safe way to eat – safe and dull.

    More adventurous folks play the futures market, the march a terme, agreeing to pay the price quoted when they call for the check at the end of their meal. Naturally, they hope the price will have fallen by that fateful moment. But hopes may be dashed by a flurry of buying, and the price may easily shoot up. Worse indigestion.

    The newly seated diners began preparing their gambling strategy by reading the trends. They saw that the prices of several dishes had already fallen by close to 6 francs–the limit for price changes up or down in any one eating-trading session. (A dollar is worth about 7 francs.) That left
    little room for further decline. There would be no point in ordering any of those dishes, no matter how delectable–unless, of course, the diner was more interested in eating than in successful speculation.

    The computer screen flashed chute du filet mignon, indicating that the price of that choice steak had already fallen 5 francs, to 50 francs a serving. A veal casserole with herbs had slipped 4 francs, to 48 francs. A rack of lamb chops for two, down 10 francs, was priced to sell for 110 francs a serving. As for the haddock, the computer reported a
    “sharp fall” of 5 francs a portion, to 57 francs.

    Other dishes were doing better. The screen showed that a “stampede” of orders for lotte had pushed the price of that pleasant Mediterranean fish up 4 francs to 62 francs a portion, making it an interesting speculation. If diners played the forward market, the price might be substantially lower when the time came to pay; of course, it could still rise another 2 francs before reaching the 6 francs ceiling.

    Occasionally, a diner’s greed is outweighed by the thought of what he would have to eat to turn a profit. An example: “Victorious advance of the stuffed pigs’ trotter,” the computer flashed, marking it up 5 francs, to 43 francs. Surely it could only fall. But a lunch of pigs’ feet?

    In the end, the diners chose a conservative strategy, ordering the special of the day, saddle of lamb, on the marche a terme. The lamb was trading at 39 francs a portion; up a modest 2 francs for the day thus far.

    The check arrived for the conservative diners: 228 francs for two, which is pretty good by Paris standards since it included a bottle of Beaujolais, a cheese-filled ravioli from the French Alps for a starter, homemade apple tart, and coffee. But the roast saddle of lamb stood at 38 francs, only a
    meager 1 franc cheaper than when it was ordered. Down the street, the Bourse was having one of its best days ever.
    … end quote

    Unfortunately, anyone interested in implementing this idea here has probably missed the moment.

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