“Why isn’t your way of eating and dining more popular?”

by on January 24, 2017 at 12:11 am in Education, Food and Drink, Uncategorized | Permalink

That is a request from an MR reader.  Getting past the “because I am weird” answer, I will offer a few observations:

1. I think my view, or broadly speaking some version of it, is in fact pretty popular,though far from dominant.

2. The eating and dining of many people is geared toward socializing and also drinking.  So when I write “go where the diners look grim, not smiling and happy,” or “avoid the beautiful women and the riverfront views,” many people don’t listen.  They like beautiful women, too much perhaps, and they like being surrounded by smiling others.  I have more of a single-minded obsession on the food, at least when I am seeking food.  So you can think of my methods as a form of extreme compartmentalization and unbundling of quests.

Of course there may be other methods related to beautiful women, and yes you should hold a diverse portfolio of methods, so think of me as someone who is suspicious of “method-blending,” as instead I prefer an intertemporal substitution of methods for different goals.  The time for food is a time for food, not for pursuing some weighted average of goals summed into a mediocre total, “…and a time to every purpose under heaven.”  Call it the Ecclesiastes approach.  Ultimately this may involve preferring a certain kind of focus over indiscriminate attention-switching.

NB: This hypothesis also may imply that those who are good at intertemporal substitution may miss out on some of life’s integrative experiences, such as riding a bicycle along a bridge with the wind blowing in your hair; “intertemporal substitution” and “integration” may in some ways stand in tension, and perhaps developing a propensity for one limits our ability to engage in the other.

3. My dining methods are in fact wonderful for socializing, but only if you are with either a) the oblivious, b) those who lexically prefer food quality, or c) those who enjoy talking analytically about food.  Most of my friends fall into one of these categories, but that is not the case for most people.

1 Saturos January 24, 2017 at 1:44 am

Nah, I think it’s ’cause you’re weird.

2 So Much For Subtlety January 24, 2017 at 1:52 am

So when I write “go where the diners look grim, not smiling and happy,” or “avoid the beautiful women and the riverfront views,” many people don’t listen.

There is a problem with this. If you are paying for beautiful women and riverfront views, at least you know what you are getting. You may even be mildly reassured that some of the expense of that will go to pay a decent chef and good ingredients.

However if you go to a place that looks grim, they may concentrate on the food and provide excellent value-for-money. Or they may not. They may well be grim. That is, they may just be cheap – no decor, no views, no good chef, no fresh ingredients. Or they may be somewhere in between. Some dishes may be good. Some not so much. You have a higher level of uncertainty.

But then I guess the virtue-signalling effects of being able to say I can tell the good from the bad and can afford the time to search out a good quality-to-price ratio makes up for all the effort.

The question is where would you take a first date? I would opt for the cheap but good place, if one can be found, even though the river view might well impress more. If only because you can bail on the relationship before you have spent too much.

3 dan1111 January 24, 2017 at 4:11 am

How does a grim, ugly place with no views and bad food stay in business? It doesn’t.

The point is that if you pick a restaurant where every variable other than food is a negative, then the food is most likely good; otherwise it would not exist.

4 Peter Akuleyev January 24, 2017 at 5:33 am

Definitely depends on the country and the cuisine. Many “grim” Asian restaurants in the US can exist for quite a long time making no economic profit because the owners are immigrants who are willing to work effectively well below minimum wage to keep the place alive and can borrow money from friends and relatives. Doesn’t mean the food is good, and it often isn’t.

In Vienna, Austria there are plenty of “grim” restaurants that are really more like social clubs for “Stammkunden” (regulars) to smoke, drink and eat mediocre, over-salted food. Very low, grandfathered rents keep those places in business, and the owners are often in their 60s and have nothing else to do but keep the restaurant alive.

5 dan1111 January 24, 2017 at 7:49 am

Yeah, it’s not a universal rule. But overall I think there is an association between “lack of non-food appeal” and “good food”. And it’s strong enough to make it useful as a rule of thumb.

6 Peter Akuleyev January 24, 2017 at 11:17 am

Tyler is right about avoiding obvious glamour spots, if you want to eat well and economically. I just think “grim” is overstating it. Plenty of happy diners eat at good neighborhood restaurants.

7 Tom January 24, 2017 at 10:07 am

“How does a grim, ugly place with no views and bad food stay in business?”

25,000 Subways and counting here in America.

8 dearieme January 24, 2017 at 5:31 am

“The question is where would you take a first date?” The opera, of course. Fussing inordinately about food is for the middle-aged.

9 Cliff January 24, 2017 at 9:27 am

Maybe if you want to bore her to death or are 80 years old

10 Mike January 24, 2017 at 1:55 am

What about in other countries? Should the Thai/Vietnamese & Pakistani/Indian be universalized as “eat at cuisines more recently arrived in the country/not yet Mainstream?”

In Sydney, Australia, I have found that the cuisine that seems the freshest, newest, most interesting and least watered down is that common to the most recent foreign student influx. As a result of Chinese students (from China), we now have a few really good regional Chinese restaurants – Yunnan Cuisine like http://twosticks.com.au/ is a good example.

11 prior_test2 January 24, 2017 at 2:05 am

“Why isn’t your way of eating and dining more popular?”

Clearly not a careful reader, since as you have pointed out (with a distinctive hint of indignation), you are fully conversant with the world of Michelin starred dining too. You just don’t write about as a way to distinguish yourself in public perception.

12 dan1111 January 24, 2017 at 4:12 am

Clearly every Tyler post, no matter how soft the topic, needs a rebuttal!

13 dan1111 January 24, 2017 at 9:17 am

BTW, you forgot to mention that it is important to avoid any restaurant in which you see Bartley J. Madden eating. Especially if he is sitting in a chair.

14 Turkey Vulture January 24, 2017 at 11:40 am

I saw J. Madden drinking a pina colada at Trader Vic’s; his hair was perfect.

Do not go to Trader Vic’s.

15 Tyler January 24, 2017 at 2:20 am

Picking the right restaurant when eating out with others is an art, whether it’s a business lunch or a family dinner. There’s so much wrapped up in your decision beyond the quality of food, such as:

Location – you may be willing to go on an excursion for great food, but your dining companions may not. Plus, you may need to consider proximity to other areas of interest if the occasion might extend beyond the meal itself – dessert, a waterfront walk, etc.
Cost – depends on how the bill is being paid, but “very cheap” is rarely the right decision and “very expensive” is generally only okay when you, the venue picker, are treating everyone.
Comfort & Setting – if you’re there to talk the night away, make sure the venue is right for that. You can drag a meal on with drinks, or multiple courses, or just know that the restaurant isn’t worried about rapid turnover.
Size & Layout – at least here in HK, if there’s more than 6 people, a round table is a must. That immediately narrows your cuisine options.
Individual or Shared – dimsum for two is not the best way to go.
Getting a Table – can you book in advance? If not, anything above four people starts to get risky.
Novelty – is the place interesting? Or just a better & more expensive version of foods they already eat regularly? Are they okay with new things or do they prefer to stay within certain boundaries?
Cleanliness – hole in the walls aren’t for everybody, no matter how good the food is. This is obviously related to general comfort.
Reliability – when was the last time you went? An easy way to fail in picking a restaurant is to pick a place that was good when you last went two years ago, but has since changed management and gone downhill. Keep your options up to date.
Clientele – who else goes there? Are they talking loudly over drinks? Are there lots of small children?
Specifics – if one or more of your companions smokes, then take that into account. They’re usually happy to step outside but if you’re on the 25th floor of a building that becomes more difficult.

I know people who are terrible at this (and terrible at ordering food when it comes down to that as well), and I know people who have a sixth sense for what works and what doesn’t. It’s a valuable social skill.

16 chuck martel January 24, 2017 at 6:07 am

“Cleanliness – hole in the walls aren’t for everybody, no matter how good the food is.”

Classy restaurants often have filthy kitchens.

17 Tyler January 24, 2017 at 2:22 am

*Reposting, as it didn’t format as expected…

Picking the right restaurant when eating out with others is an art, whether it’s a business lunch or a family dinner. There’s so much wrapped up in your decision beyond the quality of food, such as:

Location – you may be willing to go on an excursion for great food, but your dining companions may not. Plus, you may need to consider proximity to other areas of interest if the occasion might extend beyond the meal itself – dessert, a waterfront walk, etc.

Cost – depends on how the bill is being paid, but “very cheap” is rarely the right decision and “very expensive” is generally only okay when you, the venue picker, are treating everyone.

Comfort & Setting – if you’re there to talk the night away, make sure the venue is right for that. You can drag a meal on with drinks, or multiple courses, or just know that the restaurant isn’t worried about rapid turnover.

Size & Layout – at least here in HK, if there’s more than 6 people, a round table is a must. That immediately narrows your cuisine options.

Individual or Shared – dimsum for two is not the best way to go.

Getting a Table – can you book in advance? If not, anything above four people starts to get risky.

Novelty – is the place interesting? Or just a better & more expensive version of foods they already eat regularly? Are they okay with new things or do they prefer to stay within certain boundaries?

Cleanliness – hole in the walls aren’t for everybody, no matter how good the food is. This is obviously related to general comfort.

Reliability – when was the last time you went? An easy way to fail in picking a restaurant is to pick a place that was good when you last went two years ago, but has since changed management and gone downhill. Keep your options up to date.

Clientele – who else goes there? Are they talking loudly over drinks? Are there lots of small children?

Specifics – if one or more of your companions smokes, then take that into account. They’re usually happy to step outside but if you’re on the 25th floor of a building that becomes more difficult.

I know people who are terrible at this (and terrible at ordering food when it comes down to that as well), and I know people who have a sixth sense for what works and what doesn’t. It’s a valuable social skill.

18 So Much For Subtlety January 24, 2017 at 2:28 am

Does anyone else wonder what Tyrone thinks?

19 Govco January 24, 2017 at 2:37 am

Do you think about what the chef thinks while viewing your plate?

20 So Much For Subtlety January 24, 2017 at 3:16 am

Sure. I read Jessie Jackson boast of spitting in the White guys’ food at an impressionable age. I often wonder what the chef thinks.

21 Dzhaughn January 24, 2017 at 3:21 am

The chef is looking at the beautiful women at the crowded restaurant across the street.

22 Dzhaughn January 24, 2017 at 3:24 am

Reminds me of (I think) Itzhak Perlman who wrote something about how many meals had been ruined for him by music playing in the background. Because the music was so *good.*

23 carlospln January 24, 2017 at 3:47 am

A new World Record of turgid, abstruse prose.

About eating.

I didn’t understand a single paragraph.

[You & Tabarrok ought to consider collaborating: you think, he writes]

24 EdcuationisImportant January 24, 2017 at 9:36 am

Mate, if you had trouble understanding that, you should probably work on your literacy…

25 Alan January 24, 2017 at 11:45 am

$20 says TC wrote this after a few too many drinks.

26 John January 24, 2017 at 5:21 pm

I’ll take that bet. He’s a teetotaler.

27 Axa January 24, 2017 at 6:55 am

Eating out with other people is a social activity where the food has a variable degree of importance. Vegans value ingredients, foodies value flavor or whatever, people with adolescents value all-you-can-eat places.

The Ecclesiastes approach would say the optimal solution is cooking at home……one thing at a time, no driving, no talking, just you and your food.

28 John January 24, 2017 at 5:23 pm

You probably can’t cook as well as any chef, much less all of them. And you don’t have access to the equipment and ingredients they do. If you care about flavor cooking at home is not the way to go.

29 Rich Berger January 24, 2017 at 7:26 am

I’m guessing that Tyler mostly eats by himself, and that he consumes his food with thought waves. The beautiful women are pulled to his table by the power of his thought waves.

30 John Mansfield January 24, 2017 at 9:06 am

So when a person wants to spend time around random beautiful women or smiling people, where can they go to concentrate on that without bundling in food or dance or sports or music or whatever?

31 John January 24, 2017 at 9:25 am

Well, one might say to shopping malls or fashion shows — though in both cases there’s going to be some bundling. You might also try one of the high end strip clubs (only been in one in my life and would guess it wasn’t high end as I thought the dancers were fat and plain looking) or perhaps step over the legal line and visit some escort — again, might have some bundling and perhaps might argue it’s not “random” but I suspect you could get an agreement to just look.

Then again, and this might just be me, I seldom find a single faceted experience very satisfying — seems to leave too much my own experience lacking or parts of my brain too bored. So I could easily enjoy the food and the happy atmosphere with beauty (women, architecture, art, music…) all together. There is certainly enough time to enjoy them all.

32 John Mansfield January 24, 2017 at 10:37 am

Now that I think of it, Tyler Cowen works at a university, so throngs of pretty, smiling young people are part of his daily scenery. One would imbibe more of that sort of thing during one stroll between classes then during a whole week of restaurant lunches.

Are the best university classes the ones filled with the grumpier, uglier students? That would be a sign of the quality of the teaching, as no one would register for those sections simply to be with the other people in those rooms, so it must be the quality of the teaching that has drawn in the students.

33 Turkey Vulture January 24, 2017 at 9:13 am

“Call it the Ecclesiastes approach.”

Indeed. It too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

34 John January 24, 2017 at 9:18 am

I’m surprised there isn’t a “go where the natives eat” type of rule if you’re really focused on the authentic cuisine.

35 Hadur January 24, 2017 at 10:15 am

There’s of course an entire conversation to be had about whether authenticity is a worthwhile metric.

36 dan1111 January 24, 2017 at 10:29 am

I would rather force terrible tasting food down my gullet than have a single bite of something that is not exactly like the food in the country of origin for the style of cuisine!

37 Hadur January 24, 2017 at 10:15 am

What about limited mobility? I work in downtown Washington DC, I simply don’t have the time to go to Annandale for lunch, yet alone to the gas station by Tyler’s house that serves the best tacos in Virginia.

38 GoneWithTheWind January 24, 2017 at 10:23 am

The best meal I ever had was at La Famiglia Giorgio’s in Boston’s North End. Good food and surprisingly cheap. They have a lunch special typically a choice of one of five entrees. Or you can have all five entrees for the same price. Too much food but somehow I did it.

39 Ivy January 24, 2017 at 10:37 am

Too much intertemporal lobe activity by Tyler in articles like this one

40 CMR January 24, 2017 at 10:51 am

I think your way of dining is brilliant. I’d never heard it articulated so well before but I’ve followed some form of it for a long time.

41 Donald Pretari January 24, 2017 at 11:00 am

I forgot to recommend this cuisine to you from the story posted the other day about about preparing for Doomsday…“How to Eat a Pine Tree to Survive” Bon appetit.

42 RPLong January 24, 2017 at 11:51 am

If you take a beautiful woman to dinner with you then you never have to worry about which restaurants do or don’t have beautiful women in them. Since I’ve been married, I’ve taken to bringing a beautiful woman with me most everywhere I go.

43 Turkey Vulture January 24, 2017 at 12:30 pm

(Guy who recently forgot a birthday or anniversary)

44 Con January 24, 2017 at 2:19 pm

I wonder if people going for lunch during a work day might follow Tyler’s rules without realising it.

You are likely to go to a few places frequently near your place of work and that frequency means that the restaurants must be cheap and have good food.

I work in a suburb of Toronto and when I go out for lunch with colleagues, we usually go to cheap ethnic restaurants in strip malls where the service might not be all that great but the food is cheap and good. These eating preferences arose out of consensus. Its the popular method of eating out with my team.

45 Bryan Willman January 24, 2017 at 3:01 pm

Physiology plays a role. Tyler often talks about celebrating not with booze, but with say coffee and dark chocolate. His choice.

But the mere smell of coffee can make me vomit, and the taste will, period. Dark chocolate is a close second.

I am totally certain Tyler’s experience of coffee and dark chocolate and many other things is totally different from mine, or he would avoid being in the same room with them much less ingesting them.
(Anything more than ZERO spicey means hours of pain for me, for example. That can’t be true of Tyler.)

When eating out, the number one thing I want is to not be made ill – and so my adventure quotient in dining is zero – I’ve enough of that pain for one life.

Water views, pretty women, and so forth never make me ill….

46 Kevin- January 25, 2017 at 2:23 am

As Peter Akuleyev mentioned above, this strategy fails in many locales. Where I am currently living, there are literally no grim places with great food. There aren’t even grim places with good food. This is a city of over 100,000 in a fairly well-educated bible belt area, with a decent quantity of people who consider themselves foodies (at least my circle), and the few places that have good food are also places that have good socializing. There are plenty of grim places with regular customers, and sad food that’s been made the same way for generations, as well as fancy places with terrible food that attract the date crowd with some glitz (and usually a good bartender), but nothing where one can practice Tyler’s method of food appreciation. We can drive a couple of hours to a nearby, smaller city where a celebrity chef set up, and get amazing food, but that’s a special event, and that chef’s two restaurants are far from grim.

Right now I’m on a teaching trip in a small city in Denmark. I know in Copenhagen you can find some unassuming places with very good food, and some places with lots of beautiful women and fabulous food. But here in nowheresville Jutland, I can’t find any grim places with great food, either. You have to get some of the locals to cook for you, and then you might get something special.

47 rluser January 25, 2017 at 5:51 am

As a metalhead it darkens my mood to know that nowheresviille Jutland offers no grim places with great food. I will try Norway.

48 Darren January 26, 2017 at 1:00 pm

“I have more of a single-minded obsession on the food, at least when I am seeking food. So you can think of my methods as a form of extreme compartmentalization and unbundling of quests.”

Interesting. One of the best meals I’ve ever had was a medianoche from Porto’s in Glendale CA about 15 years ago. It shouldn’t be surprising that I enjoyed a sandwich from Porto’s – they’re really good – but what made it one of my favorite meals of all time is that I ate it on a hilltop in Malibu overlooking all of the LA basin with my future (now) wife on our third date.

The view, the company, and the sandwich were all good experiences, but integrating them in that way made them a *memory* that I shall cherish forever. Don’t make the mistake of thinking the sandwich was incidental though – the food was sought out with a single-mindedness that rarely overtakes me with anything other than food, and my anticipation of eating a medianoche from Porto’s for the first time was almost as high as my anticipation of that 3rd date (don’t tell Kim I said that).

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