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A way too long post about deciding what to eat at restaurants

April 14, 2010

When I go into restaurants (mmmm restaurants), I employ my Menu Strategy. If you’ve ever been out to dinner with me, I’ve probably already bored you with this strategy. What is it, you ask eagerly? It goes something like this:

1) Know roughly what you went when you walk in to the restaurant–small? big? cool and refreshing like a salad? warm and filling like pasta? meaty? vegetable-y? This is a key step if you’re going to succeed at step two, which occurs when you’re actually handed the menu.

2)When you actually get the delightful little book, exert self-control. Do not start at the top left and read it like it’s Pride and Prejudice. No. Instead, force your eyes to go immediately to the most relevant section. So if I’m in the mood for pasta, I look under the pasta section or entrees. If I want a salad, I look at Appetizers and Salads. You get the idea. As soon as I see the first thing on that list that I think I’d like, I close the menu.  Done. Yep, that’s it. Decision made. Well. . .

3) OK, so sometimes I might scan the menu very quickly looking for a key word like “butternut squash” or “sage butter” or “hollandaise”, really anything I wouldn’t want to miss out on.

And I know you think I’m lying, but I swear it’s true, and I’m very very seldom unhappy with what I get at restaurants. (One major exception and admitted risk to this method is when Ethan spends the first 15 minutes at the table pouring over the menu and ultimately gets something ten times as delicious as I did.). But here is why this strategy works, for me anyway:

First, if I’m at a restaurant only about 30% of that experience, tops, is going to be about the food. It’s more likely that 90% of the experience is about who you’re with, 8% is about the food, and 2% is about atmosphere. So, shouldn’t I spend more of my time actually being with the person I’m with and less time staring into a plastic covered menu?

Second, most menus are TOO long. I honestly get bored. And I love food. But I mean, have you SEEN the menu at the Cheesecake Factory? I’m bored just thinking about it. Menus have gotten out of control.

Third, the fewer options I see on the menu, the happier I am with the choice I make and the less time I spend thinking about what I didn’t order. I don’t even know what I didn’t order! And this time, I have science on my side. What research has found is that when we have a lot to choose from, we tend to like our choices less. And it takes us longer to be satisfied with the choice we make. (Researchers did a very cool study involving getting snacks from vending machines to figure this out. I’d like to have been in that study.)

And the thing is, we make choices all the time. Big ones. Take this recent article from Salon. No real news here–dating in cities is hard, our generation is plagued by too many options, blah blah blah. What it’s really saying is when you know you have a lot of choices (“alternatives” in the dating literature), it’s harder to make a choice.  But what it really boils down to is knowing something good when you see it. That, and not missing out on the Hollandaise.

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