The Economics of Menu Choice and Food Quality

Let’s say you’re setting up a restaurant. How large should the menu be to encourage potential clientele to believe in your food?

Put another way: is there any correlation (real or perceived) between the size of a restaurant menu (measured in number of dishes) and the quality of the food that restaurant sells? For some time I was under the impression that there was an inverse relationship: for the best food, avoid those with large menus. This was based on the premise of combining: the kitchen can cheaply combine a number of pre-prepared meal components (meat, sauce, vegetables, carbohydrate) at the last minute to give the potential for a large number of dishes: but the components are not made freshly: and so the quality suffers.

Recently, though, I’ve started to question this assumption. I’ve eaten at a number of excellent restaurants with huge menus and poor ones with small, promising menus. In both cases, some were cheap, some not so. I don’t know if something has changed in the restaurant industry or if there never was much of a correlation anyway. A Google search doesn’t turn up much research in this area. Is there any hard evidence or empirical data on this?

Is Text Messaging Synchronous?

Working with WebSphere ESB recently has got me thinking about synchronous and asynchronous communication mechanisms. I began to wonder about a mechanism that’s more familiar to most people - text messaging - and how it plays a dual role in usage. Let’s recap first on two other communication mechanisms that more obviously fit into one category or the other (perhaps ironically, a modern mobile phone can do all of these, including text messaging):

  • Phone call - synchronous. You are engaging in an ongoing conversation with the other party. The flow of conversation goes back and forth at a high rate, and you have to be present when the phone call is occurring to participate (ignoring voicemail, recordings etc.).

  • Email - asynchronous. You can send someone a message and it doesn’t matter when they read it - it could be in 2 minutes, 5 hours, or 3 days. The message can get to them via a number of ‘store-and-forward’ hops, rather than directly. When and if they reply, the same rules apply.

Text messaging, in many ways, is technically similar to email. It has different protocols, is typically used with different types of software, and has different formats. But it’s still store-and-forward and is still technically asynchronous.

However, I would assert that in many (although not all) situations, text messaging is, from a usage point-of-view, synchronous. The stories about teenagers who rack up £1000s in phone bills or develop RSI from text conversations across the classroom attest to that. Although they are using a mechanism which is by nature asynchronous, they are actually able to use it in a semi-synchronous way because it is reliable and fast. Whilst most adults’ use of text messaging isn’t quite so dramatic, text ‘conversations’ of 3 or 4 messages in fast succession each way aren’t uncommon (I have done this, although rarely, because I have large thumbs and find phone keypads awkward - don’t laugh!). Also, though, text messages are still used asynchronously in many situations (I don’t have any statistics on this but would hazard a 50:50 ratio as a not unreasonable estimate).

In many ways, this isn’t anything new - it has always been possible to emulate synchronous messaging with fast asynchronous messaging (arguably, this is what voice-over-IP systems such as Skype do, for example). But what I do find striking about text messaging is its dual usage role - sometimes synchronous, sometimes not. Often the difference is only in the perception of the sender - some people expect prompt replies, others perhaps not for days, and it all depends what one’s sending anyway.

Temporary Speed Limits - Why?

I don’t own a car, and so don’t drive often. This means I usually avoid the passionate debates about speed limits, speed cameras, etc. But I think I’ve come up with a speed limit question that’s less contentious (famous last words). I almost missed a plane the other day when the coach I was on to the airport was held up in a traffic jam on the M25. What made it more frustrating, though, was the temporary speed limit signs (the ones that light up with a speed above the motorway). Either:

  • It’s impossible to go that fast anyway, which is the case 90% of the time, or:

  • The traffic jam is ending and everyone is so glad to be out of it they don’t honour the speed limit (and arguably the speed limit shouldn’t be there any more anyway).

So what exactly is the intended point of these? To pack more traffic on the same amount of roadway? Possibly, but if it’s impossible to go that speed, what’s the point? Have I missed something obvious? Is there some subtlety of queueing theory that explains this?

I assume these signs must be manually controlled - a person in a control room switches them on or off after observing the amount of traffic on a camera. Would they be more responsive if they were automatic?

Anyway, enough grumbling. I’d love to know how they are supposed to work though.

Mayor of Sunset Strip

This film is about the life of Rodney Bingenheimer. Bingenheimer is the Californian John Peel: not quite so famous, perhaps, at least outside the US, but the film is jam packed with footage that proves his celebrity-worthiness. In fact, it’s clear that celebrity is much more important to him than it was for Peel (which is not to say that music isn’t, because he obviously loves that too).

He is also, however, incredibly gentle and shy - he seems to typically avoid lengthy eye contact. The film makes clear that in many ways, he’s the music equivalent of Andy Warhol. He even looks like him. It’s hard to understand how Bingenheimer survives in the cut-throat world of Hollywood and American entertainment. Perhaps just through being so innocent - there are many poignant scenes in this documentary that underline this characteristic.

This is a film to watch when you want your spirits uplifted.

Glengarry Glen Ross

Fabulous drama from an all-star cast. This is the kind of film in which it’s hard to find imperfect acting, and David Mamet’s script makes it even harder. No character is quite as simple as he at first appears, and they’re all fascinating. The film just draws you in, despite the simplicity of the setting (it’s easy to see that it came from the stage). The ending is untidy, but appropriate, and anyway, this film isn’t just about the plot: it’s also about the character and machinations of salesmen and their morally blurred world. Al Pacino’s character is so transparent that you’d swear you’d never fall for his patter: but you know you would (he’s so funny when playing this kind of character; for another example, see The Devil’s Advocate).

Factoid from Wikipedia: The word ‘fuck’ is used 138 times in this film (although take with a pinch of salt; it doesn’t take its place where it should in the top 90).

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