Monday, October 20, 2008

When Too Much Choice is a Bad Thing

On Saturday morning, as T was curled up in bed grumbling with a headache brought on by one too many glasses of fizzy pop the previous night, I decided to take myself off for breakfast. As is my wont I ended up at The Breakfast Club, a cafe with trendy pretensions in Soho. It may be faux scruffy chic but it does do the best fry-up in those parts and reliably so. I was delighted to see, upon my arrival, that only one couple stood between me and the counter. It did however take me ten minutes to get served. The reason for this was that said couple, well half of the couple at any rate, were ordering by the following method, "We'd like a Full Monty breakfast but can I have a bagel not bread and can I have poached eggs and can I swap the sausage for another piece of bacon and don't make the eggs too runny and can I have this yogurt smoothie but can I have banana rather than yogurt?" and on and on. The poor guy entering the order on the gizmo that tells the kitchen what to cook seemed almost at the end of his tether by the time they finished up. "She's so particular" said the, until this moment, silent party in the couple. Particular? Ye gods and little fishes that's not particular that's insane.

We are all aware, I imagine, of the idea that the customer should get what he or she wants, that the customer is right and that the role of the server and establishment is merely to serve. The idea above all that more choice is always better. But is it I ask myself? I had much opportunity to ponder this question and asked it of myself many times as I stood in line behind this prattling half-wit. No, I decided, sometimes more choice is not better.

It is not always better for several reasons. Firstly it is rude. If it takes you ten minutes to order breakfast how long must it take you to do anything important and how many hungry people must you make wait whilst you do? This is the same rudeness as those who like to order eight coffees in tiny coffee shops at rush hour, just as the queue is already stretching out of the door. It shows an astonishing level of arrogance and a total inability to behave sociably to those around you. "Do unto others" and so on.

The second reason why choice isn't always better is because you probably don't know best. When I see someone in, say an award-winning coffee shop, telling the barista that they'd like "An extra hot cappuccino with extra foam" I think ill of them. Are they seriously doing this because they know how to create a better tasting cup of coffee than someone who makes coffee for a living and who has carved out, through hard work, a serious reputation for them self? No. They do it because they are a pseud and they think it shows they are sophisticated. This is not the case. The sophisticate is the person who takes the trouble to find the best people at any given task and goes to them and allows them to work their magic. To return to Saturday's example, I appreciate that a basic fry-up is not an extravagant work of gastronomic sophistication but it is easy to screw up, it is a dish that requires balance to work well, and some pimply trustafarian with a whole host of imagined allergies and intolerances which are actually just fey fickleness does not know better than a battle hardened short order cook how best this might be achieved. In short it is insulting to crafts-people. In even shorter short, why do these people keep finding the few remaining places where there are people who care about how things should be done and then mock these good people with their imbecility?

If you want to choose from 87000 possible coffee combinations to make your soya moccha frappuccino individual then Starbucks would seem to be ideal and their billboards now advertise this feature of their operation. If, on the other hand, you would rather have a good cup of coffee then ask a barista in a proper coffee shop to make you a cappuccino or latte or flat white and let them do their magic.

And don't, for Christ's sake, take ten minutes over it.

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Blogger booda baby said...

Really, that needs to be published in a pamphlet and handed out on street corners or on walks through the park. Any random recipient will do because 7 out of 10 of them suffer some kind of paralysis in the face of the modern menu of choices.

Except 'paralysis' makes it seem like they've been victimized. I want my food as the chef intended it. Generally, the same with the great bartender. Except when it comes to a Bloody Mary. I've never met worse Bloody Marys than what they mix up in England. I'm sorry about that, but it's true. Can you do something about it?

3:03 am  
Blogger Churlita said...

I've been both a cook and a barista and you are dead on. I think that if a person is that particular, maybe they should just stay at home and make their food exactly as they like it. Jeez.

7:21 pm  
Blogger tom said...

I agree with everything you say. I'm always inclined to pick somewhere that I trust, and let them give me whatever they think is best. I do this with other types of craftspeople, too - like hairdressers. (This explains a few of the haircuts that I've ended up with.)

However, I did recently come across the flipside of this in New York, where I found that I tended to be served *exactly* what I asked for, with no prompting for the right answers from the server. So my sandwiches went untoasted and my salads undressed, until I realised that I really did have to tell them to give me some dressing, and put it on the side, and yes please I'd like some butter on that toast, but no not too much. I felt awfully British.

10:49 am  

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