Tonawanda News


August 11, 2013

DUVALL: A subtle nudge toward the right decision

Tonawanda News — One of my first college jobs at age 18 was waiting tables at the now-defunct Country Kitchen restaurant on Niagara Falls Boulevard. 

Truth be told, though I honestly did try hard, I wasn’t very good at it.

Despite failing to remember to tell the kitchen to hold the tomatoes or put the sauce on the side, I was then — and still am — a studious observer of people’s behavior.

In one specific instance I used it to my advantage.

The Country Kitchen menu afforded diners ordering a sandwich the choice of accompanying French fries or a house salad. I silently despised customers who opted for the salad because I had to make said salad — more work for me and another thing for me to forget or screw up.

Over nearly two years of waiting tables I happened upon a discovery when taking orders that allowed me to minimize the number of salads I had to make. Though it may seem a stretch, there’s a public policy implication to my little salad scheme. I’ll get to that in a bit, but here’s what I figured out:

There were three options when taking someone’s tuna melt order: No. 1, ignore the fries or salad question entirely and hope the customer was too dumb to notice they could have made a choice, treating French fries as the default option. No. 2, ask the customer “are French fries OK with that tuna melt?” and hope they say yes without asking what the alternatives are. No. 3, ask the customer, straight up, “would you prefer French fries or a salad on the side?”

The first option was successful (meaning no salad requests) about half the time. The other half, customers would ask what comes with the sandwich (because they were too stupid to read the menu). Then I would be forced to inform them, “French fries or a salad.” When customers felt they had reached the fries-or-salad conclusion on their own, I was subject to their whims and more often than not, they got a salad. Good for their heart, bad for me.

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