Seven Rules On the Value of an Experience

Since my last post on forgotten restaurant meals, I've been thinking quite a lot about the value of experiences, and I've come up with a list of rules of thumb you can apply to help you assess whether an experience will be worth the cost.

This is of course a food blog, and therefore much of this thinking is geared towards food experiences, but I think today's post could be broadly applicable across all sorts of experiences.

You'll notice the appearance of my trusty 80/20 Rule in this list, along with several other counterintuitive (and even one or two contradictory) thoughts.

One final note: My goal isn't to be prescriptive--I'm not here to tell you what to do. My goal with this post is to help you think about what gives you real value in life and thus help you think about what things are worth the extra money.

1) Money spent on experiences you don't remember is wasted money.

2) The "rememberability" of an expensive meal may have more to do with its infrequency than its absolute cost. If you have expensive dinners out several times a week, they are likely to blend together, be forgotten, and thus become a waste of money.

3) However, if you truly value expensive restaurant meals, it may be optimal to have just a few fancy and pricey restaurant meals per year. Frequency and rememberability are generally inversely proportional.

4) Rethink what paying for an experience means to you. Will you remember this experience? Will it be salient to you in a year or two? Or three? This might be a better measure of value to you than the cost.

5) At the same time, the value of an experience may be directly related to its cost, all else equal. Extremely expensive dinners tend to be more memorable, assuming they are relatively infrequent. Regular restaurant meals that you have for no reason at all will probably end up being utterly forgotten.

6) You can waste enormous sums of money on regular "forgettable" experiences.

7) By cutting out one or two weekly "forgettable" dinners out, you can save an enormous percentage of your entire food budget without sacrificing any long-term happiness whatsoever.

Readers, what would you add? And which of these do you agree with or disagree with?

Related Posts:
Spending to Save: Frugality and Expensive Food
Ten Tips on How to Cut Your Food Budget Using the 80/20 Rule
Doing Your Favorite Thing: How to Spend Exactly the Right Amount of Money For an Important Celebration
Results of the Casual Kitchen Reader Food Spending Poll

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The Messy Baker said...

Can't say I disagree with your list at all. I rarely eat at restaurants and when I do the company is just as important than the meal.

Some of my strongest restaurant memories come from comically bad experiences or unassuming restaurants that provided outstanding food and/or service. Perhaps the element of surprise helps embed the memory?

Kelly said...

I totally agree with your list. My husband and I rarely go out to eat with just the two of us, and when we do, we carefully select a restaurant, almost always locally owned, and it is almost always a memorable experience. We do end up paying for lots of forgettable meals when we go out with friends. It can be frustrating...I definitely prefer the dinner party. But when noone else really cooks, I don't want to host all the time. And if we said no to every invitation to meet someone at TGI Friday's etc, we wouldn't have any friends left!

Unknown said...

Great set of posts, Daniel.

One other thing I would add to the list is "Uniqueness Counts."

If it's the first time you've ever had Ethiopian food, or ate Osso Bucco, or dined at a bistro in Paris, then it's probably going to be memorable, regardless of the other factors.

You kind of touch on this in #2, but it feels like a different topic to me, since I can remember meals for three basic reasons: Uniqueness, quality (this is the best XXX I've ever had!), or the people I had it with.*
*And the last one is why I wholeheartedly agree with your "dinner party" suggestion in the previous post.

MikeV @ DadCooksDinner

nicole said...

I'm stuck in the middle on this one. I'm constantly trying out new restaurants. Some are memorable for the right reasons, memorable for the wrong reasons, and some are forgettable. But I won't know until I try those places out, which doesn't help to solve the money spending issue! Especially since I've been disappointed at some expensive, rare, experiences, and am constantly surprised by some frequent neighborhood restaurants.

Eleonora said...

Hi Daniel (and a big hug to you both from Italy!), I've been reflecting a while over your last posts, and thinking how differently the whole restaurant thing works here. Eating at home in Italy is a sort of institution. In my experience, people normally cook for lunch and for dinner, and you go out for few reason: to celebrate something/for a change in your routine (that happens rarely), or because you haven't got the time to go back home, prepare your meal, eat it and go back to work. In the latter case, a lot of people prepare a "lunch box" and eat the food they've brought from home instead of going out. (offices are almost always equipped with a microwave oven!). I am still wondering if it's more because of traditions or because restaurant meals are expensive, even in the cheapest places. The consequence is, I remember most of my restaurant meals. Nonetheless, there are thousands of restaurants, so I suspect my family/friends and i are not a representative sample!Or maybe they thrive on tourists?

Bethany said...

Interesting, we had this same conversation today about eye care providers... your blog post will be fodder for tomorrow's staff meeting. Are you SURE you don't want to come out of retirement???

Daniel said...

Christie, thanks for stopping by--and I think you are onto something with the element of surprise. If we could just know in advance if the surprise is going to be good or, as you say, "comically bad." :)

Kelly, I like your ideas about restaurant choice, especially after reading The End of Overeating and learning what goes into some of the food at chain restaurants.

Mike, good thinking. I would say that's good reason to try as many new cuisines as you can over the course of your life.

Hi Nicole, thanks for your comment. I think one clear conclusion you can make is an 80/20 conclusion: most of your restaurant experiences will be utterly forgettable. Thus you can probably bias your meals towards cooking at home without missing any meaningful salient experiences.

Eleonora, thank you for your thoughts! I like your way of thinking--save it for something really special. Plus, if I could cook as well as even the average Italian, I would never see a reason to go out to eat. I'd only be disappointed. :)

Bethany, thanks for stopping by, and I am happy to give you and your staff something to talk about. Let me know the conclusions! And yep, I'm available for hire... :)


Anonymous said...

Hey Dan,

Just wanted to say thanks to your comment. It just hit me that we've been doing this for over a year! Anniversary post will be up soon. Thanks for reminding us!