Is it a good sign to see cops eating at a restaurant?

Kevin Burke, a loyal MR reader, asks me:

Are dining policemen a good sign that the restaurant/takeout place you've chosen is a good place to get quick, cheap food?

Arguments in favor:
1) cops patrol a specific beat, which means they'll eat most of their meals in one area

2) police work naturally entails lots of downtime, some of which, I imagine, cops spend discussing where to eat or what they just ate;

3) as frequent diners, cops will remember and avoid places that gave them or a patrol mate food poisoning (although I developed this theory in a "B" grade restaurant in LA)

Against:
1) Cops' dining preferences may simply mirror the public's, in which case it wouldn't be a very reliable signal.

My take: I have to vote against the cops, if only because I don't see them at the places I frequent.  Maybe the problem is the least common denominator effect, namely that the cops won't go to places that disgust or turn off some members of the group.  I once (asking for directions) entered a Maryland Dunkin' Donuts and lo and behold, the cliche seemed to be true as the place was full of cops.  Maybe cops require sugary foods to regulate their moods.

A related problem is that, as far as I can tell, not so many Asian immigrants become cops.  When it comes to the United States, apart from the wealthy, they are the people most likely to be eating good food.

What do you all think about this question?

Comments

Alternately, being obliged (or at least inclined) by the nature of their work to eat out a great deal, police may simply choose to eat at the cheapest places. Their presence probably suggests value for money, but not necessarily an overall fine dining experience.

It's been my experience that police are good indicators of quality food,
but only based on the type of food you're looking at. For breakfast, cops
are fantastic indicators. A small diner that's full of cops at 8 in the
morning typically means good, simple, inexpensive breakfast. BBQ places
are the same.

In my experience, police officers are not a good indicator. In the DC area, at least at kabob places, look for limo drivers and cab drivers.

And college professors in general aren't a good guide either. However, there is an econ professor at GMU who is a good guide - look at Tyler Cowen's Ethnic Dining Guide.

I don't know about food, but I'm sure that cops are good indicators for the quality of low-priced coffee in most suburban towns. It's not the doughnuts they're after. It's the coffee.

As hinted to above, it probably depends on the neighborhood. If the neighborhood has crime challenges, I suspect you are paying for the security they are offering (i.e. the owner/manager is not charging the cops as their presence provides a sense of safety). If the neighborhood is "safe," the officers would likely have to pay for their food and therefore is more likely to be indicative of quality.

In addition to the free/discounted food mentioned in previous comments, many public safety organizations regulate where their officers can dine while on duty. In the case of state patrols, typical regulations would include being within X distance of a state or federal highway, and parking the patrol car in a visible location at the front of the establishment.

Some state troopers in Minnesota took this to court a while back, arguing that the regulations on their meals made them tax deductible. I think they lost on appeal.

Coming from a family w/ some police officers in it, I'd say that, 1) the amount of free food given to police officers is probably over estimated, but it also depends heavily on the culture of the city- in some places it's very common, in others its rare. I suspect that free coffee, soda, hot dogs, and the like from convenience stores are a lot more common than food from restaurants. 2) Police officers, given their likely background, usually do not have above average sophistication in their food tastes. Looking for police at a restaurant won't get you anything special, though it might, in some cases, avoid the bad. 3) Police will tend to favor places they can get decent service and get in and out quickly as it's a big drag to sit down to eat and then have to leave on a call. So, speed will often trump quality. This leads to eating a lot of junk. 4) Police worry a lot about people spitting in their food or worse. So, they go to places that they expect this won't happen and have a good reputation for treating them well. Any connection w/ food quality is likely to be accidental. So, over all, I'd say that the presence of police isn't likely to be a huge sign of quality.

My first thought would be that it's a sign they are going to shortchange your service to cover the cops' meals.

Disagree on the Asian immigrants comment. My experience has been the opposite.

There seems to be a presumption about homogeneous utility functions in much of this discussion. A few comments have suggested that utility associated with different cuisines may not be homogeneous. To the extent that cops are a signal of quality it is only a potential signal of what the collective decision of an group of cops thinks constitutes "good" in terms of utility per dollar in food.

Some cops are meat & potatoes types, others greasey spoon types and others gourmands with a preference for French or fusion, etc. All we can infer from the observation of cops in a restaurant is that they prefer the cuisine there to their available choices. Whether or not that fits with anyone else's preference ordering is unknown.

There are a ton of Asian (and Indian) cops here in Seattle, many of which are immigrants. Though we certainly have far higher than the average proportion of asian residents compared to other cities.

Speaking as a cop (yes, some of us read, have progressive views, and don't live to beat up people), I have to agree with Matt's list. I work in an intown suburb in a large metro area and there are quite a few restaurants, although most are chains, diners and fast food. Very little ethnic food. For me the factors are: 1) Cost. I don't get paid much and we don't get "off the clock" lunch breaks, if something jumps off while we are eating we either have to take it with and eat it later, cold, or walk away from it. That hurts less if you didn't pay much for it. 2) Consensus. If we want to eat in a group, we all have to agree on a place. It's easier to get agreement to a place that is cop-friendly (not necessarily slobbers over us but understands we are usually in a hurry, have radios going, and might have to leave suddenly) and cost-effective. 3) The fear of people spitting in or otherwise messing with our food is very real and limits the places we'll go depending on who we know works there. 4) Discounts and free meals do come into it. I appreciate the discounts because as I said, the pay is low and we have to eat out and on the run a lot. I personally am uneasy with totally free meals and generally only go to those places when group consensus is involved. For fast food I prefer to drive through because the discount/free food question doesn't come into it (the discount/free food is usually offered just for eating in customers, because the store gains visible police presence while they are eating there)--I'd rather just pay my way and be gone, and also less people in the kitchen realize they are preparing a cop's food and have a chance to "adulterate".
So, is police presence a sign of good food? Not necessarily but it is probably a sign of inexpensive food, good service and usually friendly folks.
And personally, if you approach me during a meal, you are far more likely have me graciously try to help you (as my food cools and I keep one ear on the radio for my next call) with questions about gun carry laws, directions to where you are trying to go, your legal rights against your abusive landlord, or where to go to pay the traffic ticket you got last week in some other jurisdiction, than get tasered or beaten. And if someone does walk in and try to rob that restaurant, I will shove you to the floor, yes, but only to put my body between you and someone who may be really trying to do you harm. Some of us take "protect and serve" seriously.

Cops would have to be able to walk away from their food rather quickly when an emergency happens. This lends itself to pay first kinds of places and food that lends itself to the ability to part ways in an instant.

And to answer the question: cops are a necessary but unpleasant aspect of life. Fittingly, they seem to gravitate toward the trough. Follow their lead for cheap and filling, not good.

I know that police in Oregon can't get free food or any discounts, they could get in big trouble for it.

The real indicator if you want to be filled up for cheap, look for contractors. The more big pick ups with ladders on them, the bigger the portions will probably be. This is a fool proof technique I've used on road trips to save money and fill up.

asian immigrants not being cops???

i live in the bay area and there's an abundance of this. but taking into account the demographics here, it is probably proportional to the population.

i am a little confused by the observation though. i'd imagine there wouldn't be a strong population of any immigrants serving as cops because it probably requires a certain level of working english.

Yes, it is a good sign to see cops eating at a restaurant?

And, it has nothing to do with food quality.

I have never been robbed in a restaurant when the cops are eating there.

Here in Denver, we had a nutjob come into a Vietnamese restaurant with a shotgun and two detectives were eating lunch and took him down. That is a "good thing" as Martha would say.

Tyler writes " I once (asking for directions) entered a Maryland Dunkin' Donuts"

Just wanted to point that out.

I think that replacing "cops" with "mail carriers" is a better choice.

It's also important to know the cops' salary...

Maybe cops dining at that particular restaurant is a sign that the area is high in crime. i.e. get the hell out.

"2) police work naturally entails lots of downtime, some of which, I imagine, cops spend discussing where to eat or what they just ate;"

hahahahha oh you are killing me.

If this post isn't a signal of someone who hasn't worked a day in their life I don't know what is.

Really ... policing has a lot of downtime ... right.

I wonder whether bathroom quality is a factor as well. If I was in a career that involved having no office and drinking lots of coffee, I think that I would like my restaurants to have reliably clean bathrooms.

Has the concept of Asian Immigrants consuming better food been documented on this blog? I would love to read the source.

Chinese American living in Eastern USA.

Middle-class Asians definitely spend more money on food/education (and less on clothes/consumer goods) eating out more may lead to more experience and more emphasis on good value.

at the very least, their presence is a good indicator of authentic Chinese food.

Store managers do the math, and know that free donuts, coffee, and hot dogs were much cheaper than paying for security.

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