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Game Theory, Self Interest, and Not Talking About A Great New Restaurant

August 17th, 2008 · 2 Comments · Dining

My good buddy Steve (one of the few regular readers of this sporadically populated blog) is probably thinking that this is my long-awaited post about why voters are suckers when they don’t vote for their own self interest. Sorry Steve, I definitely need to do more research before I pontificate on social choice issues.

On a related note however, I have been ruminating lately on the great new restaurant I’ve discovered, and how I feel guilty that I’m not telling anyone about it.

In 2000, Purple Cafe in Woodinville opened and I was one of the very first regulars. The wine (and food) was inexpensive, the food was terrific, and the service was stellar (the owners knew me by name and often waited on me themselves.) I told everyone I knew about my latest find, as the restaurant struggled a bit in those very early days and I wanted to do what I could to insure that they survived.

Survive they did. They prospered greatly. They more than tripled the size of the restaurant and the owners moved on to launch two other extremely popular restaurants. Meanwhile, out in Woodinville, the food is still great, prices have gone up though, and the service has remained stellar (albeit far less personal.)

<WHINE>The problem is that the lines are huge now and with Larry and Tabitha long gone, The personal touches and special treatment (“oh, it’s Steve — we can squeeze him in… etc.) I was used to have vanished. Despite my early evangelical efforts, I am regrettably now just another one of the faceless hordes who have ended their day in Woodinville Wine Country and need to wait for dinner.</WHINE>

Contrast this to Pomegrante Bistro in Redmond. The initial scenario was identical to the Purple story, and has also ended with lines out the door (no additional branches opened though.) Many years later, I am still treated like family. Admittedly, they don’t sneak me ahead in line (neither did Purple) but I suspect than when I call to make a reservation they always find a place for me. Pomegranate has definitely recognized that I’ve initiated several dozen people to the place who have now become regular visitors.

Now we get to this new place. Great food, affordable menu, good wine list etc. etc. The best part? NO LINES. I can walk in and get a table anytime. Am I telling anyone about this place? Hell no. Even with my great experience at Pomegranate, the lines are still huge, and I don’t get the sense that this new restaurant will have a “memory” for any evangelical effort I make.

It strikes me that this is a dysfunctional market distortion that should be corrected. Restaurants should have a system where evangelical efforts by customers translate into future rewards of some kind, instead of it becoming a self-defeating effort. Maybe a formal “frequent diner” system where you get points that bump you up in line on busy nights. Points could be added to your account should you bring first-timers into the restaurant etc.


2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Tom Aydelotte // Feb 3, 2009 at 12:09 am

    Steve. As a former server and restaurant dude you should be aware that a business grows there are as many gains as losses. You have probably frequented places that loose your favorite bartender or server and it seems somehow different. Great customers are just that. Great customers understand when a business is busy and adjuss their expectations accordingly. They do not expect something special but frequently get special treatment. I’m guessing that you’d be pretty pissed if you’d waited for a table and a regular bumped you down the list. Yes? Cheers! Tom

  • 2 Steve Broback // Feb 3, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    Totally agree with what you say here. It’s a very tough call. Diners will act in their self interest though. They don’t tell enough people and the restaurant goes away. They tell too many, and they can’t get in any more.

    I think I came up with a potential solution. Many restaurants don’t take reservations except for large groups. Maybe they endow some of their key “evangelists” with “reservation rights” for small groups.

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