Eating out for big occasions is correlated with a lower quality of food

This paper incorporates applied econometrics, causal machine learning and theories of reference-dependent preferences to test whether consuming in a restaurant on special occasions, such as one’s birthday, anniversary, commencement, etc., would increase people’s expectations and would make consumers rate their consumption experiences lower. Furthermore, our study is closely linked to the emerging literature of attribution bias in economics and psychology and provides a scenario where we can test two leading theories of attribution bias empirically. In our paper, we analyzed reviews from Yelp and combined the text analyses with regressions, matching techniques and causal machine learning. Through a series of models, we found evidence that consumers’ ratings for restaurants are lower when they went to the restaurants on special occasions. This result can be explained by one theory of attribution bias where people have higher expectations about restaurants on special occasions and then misattribute their disappointment to the quality of the restaurants. From the connection between our empirical analysis and theories of attribution bias, this paper provides another piece of evidence of how attribution bias influences people’s perceptions and behaviors.

Here is the full paper by Ying-Kai Huang, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.  I don’t think it is just about the expectations.  If you go out for a special occasion, you have to bring grandma and Uncle Joe share a bunch of bland dishes with them.  You are not choosing the crowd, and in any case the least common denominator effect kicks in (imagine instead choosing a dinner guest who knows all the best food at the place!).  Plus everyone is bickering.  You are also less likely to be eating at 5:00 p.m. when the food is best, and more likely to be eating at 8 p.m. when the food is at its worst, again a kind of least common denominator effect.

Don’t go out for special occasions is one obvious lesson here.  Really.  And choose your dining companions optimally.


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