Food and Drink

Drive-thru metal is really a thing, or at least this L.A.-based band is trying to make it a thing. Mac Sabbath (yes, that’s really their band name) is a foursome of rockers who dress up as McDonald’s characters and perform covers of Black Sabbath songs. And they even change up the lyrics so they’re burger-themed.

On stage, they dress as Ronald McDonald, Grimace, the Hamburglar, and Mayor McCheese (with tusks and sans the top hat).

According to Mac Sabbath’s Facebook page, they’re not a joke band to sell t-shirts. They describe their shows as “Ronald Osbourne and the whole gang in full regalia playing all their hits like ‘Sweet Beef’ and ‘Chicken for the Slaves’ in a multi-media show with video, theatrics, audience participation and sing alongs.”

There is more here, including videos, via Robert Lawson.

The Flat White Comes to America!

by on January 2, 2015 at 7:35 am in Food and Drink | Permalink

In my 2013 report on Australian policy innovations I wrote:

The world owes Sydney baristas (New Zealand also) an enormous debt for the flat white, perhaps the best form of coffee yet perfected. The flat white has made its way to London but is only now becoming available in a few high end coffee shops in New York.  I eagerly await for this trend to extend to Fairfax as I am already jonesing for another.

Eater reports that I have only a few more days to wait:

In what appears to be an effort to regain some of its coffee credibility after years of slinging sugared up lattes and Frappuccinos, Starbucks is adding a Flat White to its menu. The espresso-based drink — which was created in Australia in the 1980s — has started to gain a serious American following over the last year.

Do I expect the Starbucks version to be as good as what I had in Australia? No. But I do hope that this move will increase coffee innovation throughout the market, pulling us closer to the Australian model. The Great Stagnation ends in 2015!

Los Angeles food bleg

by on December 31, 2014 at 5:27 pm in Food and Drink, Travels | Permalink

Where to eat?   Probably you can forget the rest, unless you ought to rationally think I do not already know of it.

A simple theory of IPOs suggests that they arrive when a product or company is experiencing “peak buzz,” or at least when the insiders in the privately held company think they are at or near peak buzz.  This will maximize the expected returns on the IPO when it comes to market.

When it comes to food, peak buzz usually arrives a wee bit after peak quality, given reputational lags.  So if you are seeing peak buzz, it is probably time to bail on the restaurant, at least on a restaurant which is going to be sold.  Bailing on the restaurant may in fact be slightly overdue.

After an IPO, the equity share of the original creators — in this case Danny Meyer — is diluted.  Meyer’s incentive to maintain quality standards and his personal brand name is weakened.  The subsequent public shareholders are more likely to insist on a less risky and more mass market approach, which is not in tune with what you, highly intelligent reader of this blog, are likely to prefer.

In other words, both the signaling and the moral hazard arguments suggest that soon you should stop eating at Shake Shack.  Alternatively, perhaps you should now go lots of times, in quick succession, given that quality will decline even more and you must stock up on your fix as a kind of intertemporal substitution.

In the book market:

…a new complaint is about Kindle Unlimited, a new Amazon subscription service that offers access to 700,000 books — both self-published and traditionally published — for $9.99 a month.

It may bring in readers, but the writers say they earn less.

Here is some analysis:

“Your rabid romance reader who was buying $100 worth of books a week and funneling $5,200 into Amazon per year is now generating less than $120 a year,” she said. “The revenue is just lost. That doesn’t work well for Amazon or the writers.”

Amazon, though, may be willing to forgo some income in the short term to create a service that draws readers in and encourages them to buy other items. The books, in that sense, are loss leaders, although the writers take the loss, not Amazon.

And when it comes to food?:

New research shows that paying that much for a buffet might actually make the food taste better. Three researchers did an all you can eat (AYCE) buffet field experiment to test whether the cost of an AYCE buffet affected how much diners enjoyed it. They conducted their research at an Italian AYCE buffet in New York, and over the course of two weeks 139 participants were either offered a flier for $8 buffet or a $4 buffet (both had the same food). Those who paid $8 rated the pizza 11 percent tastier than those who paid $4. Moreover, the latter group suffered from greater diminishing returns—each additional slice of pizza tasted worse than that of the $8 group.

“People set their expectation of taste partially based on the price—and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If I didn’t pay much it can’t be that good. Moreover, each slice is worse than the last. People really ended up regretting choosing the buffet when it was cheap,” said David Just, professor at Cornell’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, and one of the study’s authors.

In the old days one heard speculation about bundling a great number of newspapers and blogs into a single-price access model, but in retrospect this probably never had much financial potential, for reasons which by now should be clear.  What would an “all-you-can-eat buffet for economists” mean?  And who if anyone would benefit from it?

Ayn Rand on Christmas

by on December 24, 2014 at 7:25 am in Books, Food and Drink, The Arts | Permalink

The charming aspect of Christmas is the fact that it expresses good will in a cheerful, happy, benevolent, non-sacrificial way. One says: “Merry Christmas”—not “Weep and Repent.” And the good will is expressed in a material, earthly form—by giving presents to one’s friends, or by sending them cards in token of remembrance . . . .

The best aspect of Christmas is the aspect usually decried by the mystics: the fact that Christmas has been commercialized. The gift-buying . . . stimulates an enormous outpouring of ingenuity in the creation of products devoted to a single purpose: to give men pleasure. And the street decorations put up by department stores and other institutions—the Christmas trees, the winking lights, the glittering colors—provide the city with a spectacular display, which only “commercial greed” could afford to give us. One would have to be terribly depressed to resist the wonderful gaiety of that spectacle.

From the Ayn Rand Lexicon.

Lucy Kellaway of the FT reports that “food, activities and even spa treatments are chocolate-themed,” here is one description from another source:

A dessert island fantasy, Boucan by Hotel Chocolat in St Lucia seems made for chocolate lovers. The jungle-surrounded hilltop lodges – with views of the Caribbean Sea and Petit Piton peak – perch beside a cacao plantation that hosts classes and tours, with plenty of samples. The ultra-local restaurant serves some of the island’s best food, including chocolate in both sweet and savoury preparations. Though the hotel natural setting is relaxing enough to help you forget it all, cocoa is rarely far from mind: the superlative spa even uses homegrown pods in its massage treatments.

That link is here, a full set of links is here.  For breakfast they serve chocolate tea and chocolate muesli, and for dinner the tuna steak is cooked over bitter chocolate.

Restaurants, movies, you name it, it seems you so often see people in The Big Apple waiting in line.  In the spacious northern Virginia, in contrast, things are built larger and sellouts are uncommon.  You stroll right in and let them take your money.

It is not a priori that the net effect should work this way.  Manhattan has higher rents, but also a higher value of human capital, and thus possibly the losses from waiting time are higher.  But Manhattan also has higher inequality, which means those waiting are often the young rather than the wealthy.  The rich can queue-jump in separate spheres of activity, whether it be holding MOMA membership, being a regular at Le Bernardin, or getting a special invitation to the movie premiere on opening night and walking down a red carpet.

(If you are wondering “why don’t they just raise the price?”, raising the price changes the composition and quality mix of buyers, not always in desired ways for long-run profit maximization.  In the implicit model here, allowing queuing and building more capacity are two alternative substitutes for raising the price.)

Lately I have noticed a small but perhaps not insignificant increase in “waiting culture” in Washington, D.C.  What are ostensibly the town’s two best restaurants —  Little Serow and Rose’s Luxury — now both involve significant waits, as the places do not take reservations.

Income inequality is rising, and in select parts of this country, land rents are rising more rapidly than are returns to human capital for the marginal buyer/waiter.

Does that mean we can expect a culture of waiting to spread further throughout the bicoastal United States?

Those are the topics of the job market paper (pdf) from Frank Schilbach of Harvard:

High levels of alcohol consumption are more common among the poor. This could have economic consequences beyond mere income effects because alcohol impairs mental processes and decision-making. Since alcohol is thought to induce myopia, this paper tests for impacts on self-control and on savings behavior. In a three-week field experiment with low-income workers in India, I provided 229 individuals with a high-return savings opportunity and randomized incentives for sobriety among them. The incentives significantly reduced daytime drinking as measured by decreased breathalyzer scores. This in turn increased savings by approximately 60 percent. No more than half of this effect is explained by changes in income net of alcohol expenditures. In addition, consistent with enhanced self-control due to lower inebriation levels, incentivizing sobriety reduced the impact of a savings commitment device. Finally, alcohol consumption itself is prone to self-control problems: over half of the study participants were willing to sacrifce money to receive incentives to be sober, exhibiting demand for commitment to increase their sobriety. These findings suggest that heavy alcohol consumption is not just a result of self-control problems, but also creates self-control problems in other areas, potentially even exacerbating poverty by reducing savings.

I saw the pointer from Sendhil Mullainathan on Twitter.

A Colorado man, from Fruitvale (I am not making this up), was arrested for pointing a banana at the police. What makes this actually scary is the language of the police report:

The officers wrote in the police report they feared for their safety despite observing the supposed weapon was yellow.

“I immediately ducked in my patrol car and accelerated continuing northbound, fearing that it was a weapon,” Officer Joshua Bunch wrote in the report, according to the newspaper. “Based on training and experience, I have seen handguns in many shapes and colors and perceived this to be a handgun.”

The man was fortunate that he was only arrested. Had he been wielding a pointed stick he would surely have been shot.

We are running a contest for MRU, and the goal is to figure out how economists ought to be put on cereal boxes.  Imagine that a famous economist would in fact be represented by a cereal and a cereal box.  For example there would be:

Thomas Piketty, Special K

Another possibility would be tweaking the cereal name slightly, so you would get:

Hyman Minsky, Captain Liquidity Crunch

Or:

John Bates Clark, Marginal Product 19

You could try:

Eugene Fama, Lucky Charms, though perhaps that is too subtle for some.

The winner of the contest gets…his or her suggestion actually realized.  Please enter your suggestions, and vote on the suggestions of others, here.  Or if you don’t want to enter the contest per se, there is always the MR comments section…

Sewage Infrastructure

by on November 23, 2014 at 9:08 am in Food and Drink, Uncategorized | Permalink

This Vice documentary on sewage in New York is actually quite interesting. I would enjoy the Richard Scarry book.

Hat tip: Connor.

Solo dining markets in everything

by on November 15, 2014 at 1:44 am in Food and Drink | Permalink

A new pop-up restaurant in Amsterdam, which bills itself as the world’s first for solo eaters, aims to remove the social stigma of forking dinner without a companion. In fact, there isn’t a two-top in the joint.

…“The taste of persons eating alone seems different, and even more intense, according to our guests,” says Marina van Goor, owner of the temporary eatery, which is called Eenmaal. As such, the chef takes care to serve four-course meals (at a moderate €35, or roughly $48, including drink) prepared from quality local and organic ingredients. Even the interior is left intentionally raw and no-frills, to emphasize the simple pleasure of unapologetically eating alone.

Nor do they offer Wi-Fi, there is more here., via Sendhil Mullainathan.

Paralelní Polis, which in Czech means “Parallel World,” is known mostly for being perhaps the world’s first bitcoin-only cafe. (Here’s my photo essay of what it’s like to buy coffee in the shop.) All transactions — from wages to point of sale — are processed virtually, using one of the most well-recognized cryptocurrencies. More broadly though, the recently-renovated space, which includes a co-working room and hacker space, was conceived as way to demonstrate on a micro level how an entirely decentralized society might function.

There is more here, and supposedly there is no hierarchy among the employees either.  The original pointer was from Ángel Cabrera.

In the modern sense that is, of course potatoes have been genetically modified for a long time:

The Agriculture Department on Friday approved the first genetically modified potato for commercial planting in the United States, a move likely to draw the ire of groups opposed to artificial manipulation of foods.

The Innate potato, developed by the J.R. Simplot Co., is engineered to contain less of a suspected human carcinogen that occurs when a conventional potato is fried, and is also less prone to bruising during transport.

Boise, Idaho-based Simplot is a major supplier of frozen french fries to fast-food giant McDonald’s.

The story is here, and you will note that on Tuesday the mandatory GMO-labeling initiatives failed in Oregon and Colorado, the second failure in Oregon and that means failures in four states overall.  Less positively, voters in Maui County, Hawaii chose to restrict GMO cultivation altogether.  And now McDonald’s is under pressure not to use these new potatoes for its french fries.  But of course you can understand the marketing dilemma of McDonald’s here — they can’t just come out and say “these french fries won’t give you cancer.”