The reductio

For instance, what if you are yourself a beautiful woman? What if you are a beautiful woman who wants to dine out with a number of your beautiful friends? According to Mr. Cowen, you shouldn’t go to whatever restaurant you happen to go to.

Here is more, from the Toledo Blade.


No, according to Mr. Cowen, you shouldn't expect to enjoy the food at the kinds of places you and your friends usually meet at. If you and your beautiful friends want to experience and enjoy real food, change your restaurant-selection model and eat somewhere new.

But then the beautiful people would be eating at that *new* place, which they shouldn't go to and so on to infinity.

She should only avoid the new place once there is a critical mass of noticeably beautiful people at the new place. If she and her party are the only beautiful ones in the restaurant, then it's fine.

In other words, beautiful people should spread themselves out.

What about anyone else who stumbles upon some small place and sees that beautiful girl and all her beautiful friends eating there and they make up the majority of the clientele. Wouldn't Tyler's advice be that anyone who sees this should move on to a new location?

That is to say, maybe Tyler's model is more of a partial equilibrium model, but from a general equilibrium view point, there may be issues.

These are rules of thumb that will on average find you places with better food. Not inviolate tenants.

"... beautiful people should spread themselves out"

That moves the conversation onto another path entirely.

maybe this finally proves that there are no beautiful people

Of course, the implication isn't that she "shouldn't go" to the restaurant, just that on average, her presence (along with her other beautiful friends) may make the restaurant more popular and therefore less responsive to foodies' expectations. How can she argue with that?

oh, did you write a book ?

Well-placed barbs are the best barbs.

slow clap

To quote Robin Hanson, "Restaurants are not about eating."

and "book reviews are not about book quality"

Isn't the point of the book to get the best food for your money (not sure, I haven't read it yet)? I like fancy restaurants too, but my expectations for them are WAY higher. When I have a lackluster meal at an expensive place I'm far more disappointed than after a lackluster meal somewhere else. It's a difference between "eh, we won't go back there" and "man, what a waste of one of our x-times-a-year fancy dinner splurges."

Beautiful women: first they reject us when we ask them out to dinner, then they ruin our restaurants by eating there without us. It's high time someone called them on their negative externalities.

A consolation: Their externalities are only skin deep.

A number of beautiful women going together for dinner? Hmm... Quite unlikely I think.

You have to love someone taking an argument to its illogical conclusion.

Surely, Tyler was referring to restaurants that regularly have the 'beautiful people.' A restaurant doesn't become one of those places merely because a beautiful person occasionally eats there.

If there's a lesson, it's this: Beautiful women, get some variety in your lives.

Its easy to make fun of his point. I think as an economist he could say the price on the menu reflects various utilities that the consumer receives from attending the said restaurant assuming the restaurant is intelligent at pricing:

p = ambience charge + food quality charge + convenience + scene quality + location +++ etc benefits restaurant provides

If you personally place a higher utility on the quality of the food rather than other qualities of the dining out experience then you can personally save money by not going to restaurants that provide the other services.

As a foody, but also a socializer I realize at times I pay for all those qualities. Sometimes I pay for them all at once. Sometimes I'm mostly paying for certain parts.

But the p minus (all the other attributes other than food) does not equal beautiful women. You could have beautiful women foodies . The question is whether food quality is an independent variable, or one that is also correlated with the other variables (have you ever eaten somewhere where the food tastes better because of the ambience (problem is: you would never know unless we put you in an fmnri, or have you ever eaten somewhere where the food itself was good but the atmosphere made you not want to eat it), and whether any of these variables are associated with beautiful women.

There must be some beautiful woman out there who likes food.

Isn't the question, "What signals a good restaurant?"

Sorry, "What signals a restaurant with good food?"


Q: What signals a restaurant with good food?

A: Good food.

Next question.

I would not want to take as a signal the presence of ugly women. Nor poorly dressed men. Or, even well dressed men for that matter, as I have had some business dinners that are truly high priced but average quality. Most men have no idea on finding beautiful women, other than searching out Hooters. Food is a weak proxy for sex, or non-sex for that matter.


You may think my answer above, "Good Food", is a bit obvious, and it should be.

You see, signalling is all about agents with hidden or unknown attributes disclosing attributes through some design mechanism.

But, when the attribute is apparent to the principal--JUST EAT THE FOOD, DUMMY--we don't need to rely on signalling theory. The attribute is there for all to see, or, in this case, eat.

So what you're saying is that the only way to determine whether the food is good is to eat every meal on every menu at every restaurant, then rank them ordinally. This is certainly the most thorough method. Is it the most efficient?

I mean, reducing your argument to absurdity, why does yelp even exist? Why does Michelin? A good yelp review is, after all, nothing more than "signalling," and certainly not a guarantee of quality. Shouldn't those guide books just be one sentence long: EAT THE FOOD, DUMMY.

Urso, Is Tyler's approach any different: Stand outside a restaurant and observe how many beautiful women enter.

Instead of phrasing it as "don't go to a restaurant where there are many beautiful women, as the food is not likely to be as good because the women are the draw instead of the food" - which I have often heard it phrased in the debate over what I am sure is a minor, minor point in TC's book - it would be better phrased as "don't go to a restaurant where *men seek out beautiful women*, as the food is not likely to be as good because the women are the draw instead of the food."

What about the restaurants full of beautiful men!?!

They should be avoided.

And, they are an occaission for sin.

There should be a "beautiful women's mafia" that threatens to send beautiful women to restaurants and then extorts money from the restaurateur to not send them. You could call it "protection from beautiful women" money.

I'm afraid your mafia is slightly missing the point.

The restauranteur would greatly appreciate more beautiful women, they are good for business. However, they may allow the restaurant to lower it's quality of food as people are coming for reasons other than food.

Some enterprising restauranteur might hire attractive women to sit in his restaurant. Then he might change the name of his restaurant to something like "Dockside Dolls" or "Leave it to Beavers."

I think that Tyler has been disappointed by the quality of the food served at is local gentleman's club one too many times.

As far as quality to price ratio goes, strip clubs actually provide excellent value.

(At least around here, in Oregon, where they need to compete, and state law requires, as of my last inquiry, a significant proportion of income be from food rather than drink.

The food isn't Michelin Star good, but it's not Michelin Star expensive, either.)

I have a friend who was a chef at a strip club and he said about the same thing.

Denied the opportunity to use their talents in the service of their country, they began to operate what they called 'The Operation'... They would select a victim and then threaten to beat him up if he paid the so-called protection money. Four months later they started another operation which the called 'The Other Operation'. In this racket they selected another victim and threatened not to beat him up if he didn't pay them. One month later they hit upon 'The Other Other Operation'. In this the victim was threatened that if he didn't pay them, they would beat him up. This for the Piranha brothers was the turning point.

That has to be one of favorite arguments of the year. File under "wherever we are, we'll be there!" category.

Tyler (professor Cowen?)

I am almost finished reading the book (thank NPR, as that's where I heard about it), and have found it equal parts enlightening and affirming, since I employ many of your tactics, but found that there's a lot more out there. Also, it's a great way to get some econ reading in a way that's a lot more fun than traditional econ topics.

Anyway, I just wanted to add a couple points to what you have in the section on Chinese food (my apologies if you already know this). My wife is Taiwanese and I have a lot of experience with Chinese dining, both here and in Taiwan.

1) There's power in numbers. Ideally, you would visit Chinese restaurants with a large group Chinese foodies (that's almost redundant) that can order great entrees for the group. Even if you can't go with Chinese people though, there's still a lot of benefit to going with a group. This is because dining at the nicer, sit down sort of places in China or Taiwan is a very social activity, typically with a host who wishes to treat the group to a nice meal. In the states this usually means larger family groups -- the type that fill up the big round tables with the lazy susans. This catering to groups manifests it self in a couple ways One is that special dishes are simply too large for one person. For instance, a Shanghai restaurant I like has a specialty dish that is a whole duck stuffed with sticky rice, pork belly, vegetables, and other seasonings. It's wonderful, but simply too much for one or two people to enjoy. The other way the group preference manifests itself is that some dishes are excellent, but not as enjoyable if they're the only thing you're eating. For instance, the Lion's head meatball you mention in the book is an excellent dish when accompanied by perhaps a shui zhu yu, spicy green beans, and perhaps anther dish. As a whole meal, however, I don't think I'd like the Lion's head nearly so much.

2) Soups. When Chinese people treat each other to dinner they must have soup. Therefore, if you see a selection of soup dishes that go beyond the standard hot & sour and egg drop, there's a good chance Chinese people eat there. Additionally, since soup is such an important part of the meal, the soups generally tend to be very good (especially in Cantonese cuisine).

3 Fruit. In Taiwan (and I assume the Mainland as well), once you've finished your meal and your soup, the last thing you have is fruit. Not all authentic Chinese restaurants do this, but for those that do it's a very easy sign that they probably cater to Chinese people -- if you see a lot of people munching on orange slices at the end of the meal, try it!

Congratulations on an outstanding book, and I'll continue reading your blog.


NIghtclubs do exactly this, giving appearance fees to the likes of Paris Hilton or whoever the current trendy celebrity is. And conversely having their doormen refuse entry to the insufficiently glamorous.

At nightclubs of course the clientele is part of the product being sold (similar to selective colleges). At some restaurants the product being sold is just the food, but at others the glamor of the clientele is part of the appeal. For people such as Tyler who are going for the food, obviously the latter will tend to have a less advantageous quality-price ratio.

mkt, Do you go to nightclubs to eat? If you don't, then beautiful women is irrelevant, even under Tyler's theory.

It would be like: I'm going to this hot gym with cool chicks, and the vending machine must be bad.

At this point you're willfully misinterpreting the argument just to be contrary.

Urso, So, you think mkt's argument is a good one: when you studied logic, did you ever discuss the contrapositive?

"It would be like: I’m going to this hot gym with cool chicks, and the vending machine must be bad."
it's actually like
"I'm going to this hot gym with cool chicks, so I'm probably paying more than I would be at a comparably equipped, but less trendy, gym full of seedy dudes and pudgy middle aged bloggers"

No, it is not equivalent--Tyler is shifting between two domains--beauty and food--whereas your example is in the same domain.

I would agree with your example, by the way.

Believe it or not.

I have a way to test Tyler's beautiful woman hypothesis!

Yelp! (which is a crowdsource review of restaurants) has a place where the reviewer posts their own picture of themselves.

Thus, you could classify the women reviewers as beautiful/non-beautiful and correlate the number of beautiful women to the overall review of the restaurant (you could exclude or include their reviews, etc.).

You could also index to non-yelp! reviews, but still using the beautiful/non-beautiful ratio.

Ah, the internet gives you so much data for analysis.

No offence intended (to Tyler or hot chicks), but I don't think very many hot chicks are reading Tyler's books.

So it's the Mark Twain problem, then.

I thought it was Yogi Berra.

Comments for this post are closed