Just Say No

“These Are The Mind Tricks Restaurants Use To Make You Spend More Money.” So reads the title of a recent article warning people about the various psychological tricks restaurants use to cause you to spend more.

There’s a lot of good material in the article but it starts out by way overstating. Here are the opening two paragraphs:

When you make decisions at a restaurant, you’re exercising your own free will: True or false?

Sorry to take away your agency, but the answer is mostly false. The second you walk into a dining establishment, you’re being slowly influenced to order the things the restaurant makes the most money selling. There are two ways it happens. One is at the corporate level, where chains design the whole experience to milk you of your money and keep you coming back. This is the realm of enticing photographs on menus, color theory (some say red makes you feel hungrier) or of things like McDonald’s odd mix of inviting design (bright lights that entice you in) and annoying design (the same over-bright lights also make you eat up and get out, and those seats are uncomfortable for a reason).

Somehow, the author, Charlie Sorrel, thinks that when people try subtly to influence you, they are taking away your free will. I do not think that term means what he thinks it means. You still have free will; you simply need to resist certain influences.

I’ll give an example from Mother’s Day, 2015. My daughter was in town for Mother’s Day and we–my wife, my daughter, another woman who’s like a second daughter to us, and her 15-year-old daughter–went to lunch at one of our favorite restaurants.

One of my rules for saving money at restaurants is to never–well, hardly ever, as Gilbert and Sullivan said--buy booze with a meal. But because I knew the lunch was going to last a while with all the conversation, I broke with my pattern and decided to order a Margarita. When the waiter took the order, I told him that one thing I’ve noticed over the last few years is how bitter the Margaritas are. I asked him if he could make sure they add something to sweeten it. He said he would.

He must have thought that my request meant that I was a connoisseur of Margaritas because, as he walked away from the table, he turned back and said, “Is there any particular Tequila you would like in that drink?” To answer so he heard it at that distance would mean that people at the surrounding tables would hear. I didn’t care. I answered in my booming voice “Yes, the cheapest you have.”

The 15-year-old’s eyes widened. I think she hadn’t heard someone so proudly declare that he’s cheap. So I turned to her and said, “Gabby, this is what lunch is like with an economist.” She laughed.

The drink turned out to have just the right amount of sweetness.