Readers, I'll be taking (another!) break from writing for the next few weeks to work on other projects. In the meantime, enjoy this post from deep down in CK's archives.
Have you ever spent a lot of time agonizing over a restaurant menu, hoping to choose something truly exceptional--but when the food comes, you look over at your friend's entree with envy?

Or have you been in the grocery store looking indecisively at twenty-five different brands of sugary boxed cereal, wondering which one will lacerate the roof of your mouth the least?

Have you perused your favorite cookbooks, hoping to try a new dish, and had trouble deciding because too many things sound good to you?

One of the strangely counterintuitive truths of modern life is this: Having a lot of choices actually makes you less happy. Having a few choices is fine--but having forty choices is hell.

And this is especially true with food. If you're looking at a menu with three or four choices on it, no problema. But take that menu up to 15 or 20 choices and let the agony set in.

With this issue in mind, I'd like to share with you a word first coined by Herbert Simon (the American political scientist and economist), and then popularized by Barry Schwartz in his book The Paradox of Choice.


This word is a somewhat ungrammatical combination of the words "satisfy" and "suffice." And the concept, when I've applied it to decision-making and choosing from a menu of options, has made me a far less miserable person.

If you're haven't heard of satisficing before, let's spend a brief moment defining it. Satisficing can be applied in almost any area of life, but today I want to talk about it mainly in the context of food.

Consider two people, The Maximizer and The Satisficer, going out with a group of friends for dinner. They sit down and begin to peruse the menu.

The Maximizer wants to order the very best thing on the menu.

The Satisficer will order the first sufficient satisfying thing he sees on the menu.

Let's think through what happens next:

The Satisficer quickly picks something, and ends his internal mental discussion about what to order almost instantly. He can now join the conversation and have a relaxing, enjoyable evening. Because the Satisficer didn't try to order the best thing on the menu, he is unlikely to be disappointed no matter what happens. He has no attachment to the outcome of what he chose; in fact he might be in for a pleasant surprise at how good his entree is.

Not so for the Maximizer. Because he wants to get the best thing on the menu, he has to consider practically every dish. His decision-making takes significantly more time and effort. Worse, after he's made his agonizing decision, he's likely to waste energy worrying that he actually didn't order the best thing on the menu. He might even look over at the Satisficer's entree and think to himself, "dammit, his looks better than mine!"

After all of this extra effort, he unfortunately suffers the worst irony of all: he will likely end up less happy with his choice.

When I finished reading Barry Schwartz's The Paradox of Choice, I remember thinking how much time I wasted over the past 30-plus years just trying to make up my mind. And it's only brought me more misery.

So consider applying a little satisficing the next time you're out in a restaurant. Think of it as the Eleventh Rule for the Modern Restaurant-Goer.

And then consider other ways to apply it in cooking. It should make menu preparation and recipe selection at home far easier and far less time-consuming. And certainly when you're choosing between brands or categories of food ("Hmmm... which of these 35 kinds of cheese/ice cream/chocolate/etc., should we have with dinner tonight?"), using the satisficing approach should save you a lot of stress and decision-making time.

You can help support the work I do here at Casual Kitchen by visiting Amazon via any link on this site. Amazon pays a small commission to me based on whatever purchase you make on that visit, and it's at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

And, if you are interested at all in cryptocurrencies, yet another way you can help support my work here is to use this link to open up your own cryptocurrency account at Coinbase. I will receive a small affiliate commission with each opened account. Once again, thank you for your support!


Karin said...

This is one of the reasons I love shopping at Aldi! Only one of each type of thing = no choosing required.

Daniel said...

That's a great point Karin. Aldi focuses on just a few product types and categories, it helps keep their costs low, and they can pass that savings along to customers.


Marcia said...

About a year ago, after 6 months of tummy troubles, I gave up wheat. It apparently does not agree with me anymore. That, my friend, is a total bummer.

I also do not eat bagged salad mixes (same reason, some of them don't agree with me). So eating salad out is like playing Russian Roulette with my stomach.

I rarely eat out (ah, we have young kids), but when I do, I am definitely a satisficer. Most restaurants have very few things on the menu without wheat that isn't a salad! On vacation this summer visiting family, we were invited out for pizza for my niece's birthday. Only thing on the menu: french fries. Guess what I had for dinner!

Hotel breakfasts are even easier - oatmeal, eggs, fruit. coffee.

M2B said...

Ah, menu overload. If I've never been to the place I want to see what it has to offer and that may take a while. For me, the problem food is peppers and they're *very* popular these days.

Often a simpler food choice is much better - as, soup or an appetizer. I can make up any missing parts at home.

It sure is hard to leave a comment here... sometimes there is no end to the captchas. But I keep trying.

Daniel said...

I apologize for the Captchas... but whenever I lift it the site gets buried in spam comments. I applaud your fortitude in posting, thank you. Oddly enough Blogger makes me verify I'm not a robot too--even when I comment on my own blog!