Wednesday, August 5, 2009

On non variety-seeking behavior in restaurants

Marketing literature talks about "variety-seeking" consumer behavior, which is generally characterized by low cost, low stakes purchases. Because of this consumers are willing to take a chance and say try a new product or unfamiliar brand. This is occasionally applied to food purchases or restaurant orders, which in the great scheme of things don't cost all that much, even if one is temporarily unemployed, so customers are willing to take chances that they might not otherwise.

In my case, this does not apply to food at all. What genius would classify a meal as low stakes? What could be more important than what you eat for dinner or lunch?

I have something of a reputation as a variety-seeker in matters gastronomic. In my former life, I used to range as freely over the animal kingdom, and animal body, as anyone who is not Cantonese. However, in recent years, I have become something of a reformed omnivore and have approached the observance of kashruth. But within constraints, I am game for almost anything.

However, there are some combinations of food, place and companion that seem to preclude variation. Whenever I go out to lunch with Kyle, a friend and former co-worker, we always go to Wu Liang Ye at 39th and Lexington. I never seem to go there with anyone but him, and when we go, we always order the same dishes: cold noodles with sesame vinaigrette (one of the best versions of sesame noodles in the city, completely ungloppy); green beans with Yibin city spice, which are dried sauteed string beans with shredded pickled vegetables for flavor (we ask them to leave out the pork), and chicken with spicy capsicum, only made with fried tofu (see picture). The main question is who orders, and whether we ask for the tofu to be extra spicy or not.

We met for lunch today, and the formula did not vary. However, he did the ordering, and we opted for somewhat less spicy tofu, since I had two informational interviews scheduled after lunch, and did not want to asphyxiate my interlocutors when I exhaled.

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