Monday, October 23, 2006

Optimal Buffet Eating Strategy

Economist Tim Harford, who was mentioned in the last blog post, also has a column for the Financial Times called Dear Economist, where he gives advice from the perspective of an economist on questions that are not your typical economics questions. A recent question:

Dear Economist,

From time to time I find myself eating a meal with an unlimited supply of food: sometimes an all-you-can-eat buffet, sometimes a more sophisticated meal laid on by a friend or someone trying to impress: weddings, banquets, that kind of thing. I like food but there are limits to how much I can eat. So how should I pace myself for optimal enjoyment of the meal?

Mr M. Newman, Shrewsbury

Harford offers two strategies depending on how the food is presented:
  • try a little of everything to decide what you like before going back for the main eating fest
  • consider the incentives of the food supplier if the dishes are brought out sequentially to save room for the best food

Any thoughts on the best buffet strategy?


Anonymous said...

Haha, it is goofy that someone asked this question, but I guess it is economics related...I suppose that I agree with the concept of trying a little of everything to decide exactly what you want to gorge yourself with. But I feel as if all-you-can-eat buffets and occasions like that always tend to make me end up feeling sick afterwards from eating too much. Therefore, just because something is in a serve yourseld kind of system, you should eat slowly in order to keep you from feeling sick. I guess you could scope out all the choices and options; however, I reccomend that you don't overthink it. After all, it is just food. Also, if you eat in small amounts, it allows for a more healthy style of eating and allow you to save room for "the best food" if dessert is brought out later or something. If you go ahead and eat a ton before you can see all your options, you'll just be full and unhappy.

Anonymous said...

I also think that surveying the buffet options is a wise choice because otherwise you might end up wasting a valuble portion of your stomach that could have been filled with something you like, with something you don't like as much. That is in the case of a buffet bar or something, but in the case of being served as much as you can eat, it seems to be more in-your-face rude to sample things and then have them taken away rather than eating something and not having to let the people who work there know that you don't like it. If you are being served, take your time and choose wisely what you wish you eat and eat small portions of everything so you can maximize the variety of what you are consuming.
-Kate Vanderlip

Anonymous said...

I believe that both of these solutions could be optimal considering the situation you are in. If you are at a buffet where all the food is laid out in front of you, there is not a lot of risk involved in choosing what you want to eat first. The strategy of trying most everything and then narrowing it down to the foods you really like would make sense here because the food isn’t going to leave. You have time to figure out the foods you like, and those that you shouldn’t be wasting stomach space on. Another option would be to go for the foods that you recognize and know that you like. You will fill up on foods you enjoy, not have to risk trying things you don’t like, and won’t even know what you are missing out on. If you are at a dinner party or wedding, where the food comes in courses and will be taken away in order to make room for the next course, weighing the incentives would be the best option. Obviously, there is a bigger risk involved here. If you don’t eat anything in the first course in order to save up for the next course, and then the next courses come and you don’t like anything, you will have to go home unsatisfied and hungry. If you eat a ton in the first course, just to find out that the next course is your favorite dish, you will have to go home stuffed and feeling sick. Try to figure out if the caterers are trying to wow people at the beginning or save the good food for the end in hopes that everyone is already too full. I can’t really see anyone sitting at a table at a dinner party trying to figure out the most efficient way to go about eating their food, but I guess there is economics in just about everything…

Anonymous said...

oh yeah that last one was natalie...

Anonymous said...

I think that it would be smart in general to wait for the last dish because they might save the best for last for a few reasons. One being that the best might be the most expensive to make and if people get full on other stuff first then they will not need to spend as much money on the expensive dish, because people will not eat as much. Another reason might be that the last might be the best becasue the company or whoever is serving the dish wants to leave a lasting impression. Then if it is a serve yourself buffet I think that the best way would be what he suggested of sampleing a few things that look good to you then decideing after you have sampeled which one is the best for your meal.