My dear wife asked me, while sitting at the breakfast table, what restaurants we had visited recently for breakfast. Thus began an interesting conversation about value which I thought I might share with you.
How do you decide where you want to spend your money? And if you are going to spend some — how much are you willing to spend with firm “A” over firm “B”?
As we chatted I realized that we sort of have a routine for dealing with “new” (to us) restaurants. Whatever the reason we walk in the door the first time, we tend to respond to the first meal based on either of two conditions: if the staff are welcoming and the food is good, or the staff couldn’t care less that you were willing to visit and/or the food was passable or worse.
If the food was just so-so, or the staff were troubled to be bothered by customers I won’t walk back in the door. Period. Don’t tell me that everyone has a bad day and they deserve to be given a second chance. If that were true then on their bad days I would expect a reduced rate for their services or lack thereof, or perhaps because the food tasted horribly. There are more than enough restaurants that have people standing in line waiting to be served that poor service doesn’t deserve a reward.
If the food is good or better, or if the staff are particularly commendable we will visit again several times in short order. Of course, in that we aren’t people who eat out a GREAT deal, “in short order” could be over several months. Still, one good meal deserves a couple more tries to discover whether the first one was a fluke or whether the value received is reliable. And that is the key to me: reliable value.
Similar tests apply to a lot of the things I purchase. A TV that gives up the ghost too soon after purchase means I probably won’t purchase that brand again — same with any appliance, washer, dryer, stove. As for clothing, I don’t buy a lot of clothing anymore, but over the years I shopped a lot of stores and in my work days I settled in on one store where I consistently purchased clothing that wore well and was priced in my range. Since then that chain of stores has disappeared from the marketplace — and fortunately I don’t have to worry about work clothes any more! Still, the test was reliable value.
I suppose I’m the same way with people. I look for reliable value there too. Some people are more trouble to be with than others. If the person takes more effort to spend time with them than they are worth, I check them off the list and stop seeing them. Reliable value. I don’t expect a friend to give all the time. But neither do I expect a friend to be taking all the time. There has to be a mutual tradeoff, just as with any other relationship. I’m not talking 50:50. No relationship is every really 50:50. Someone is always giving more, and someone is always taking more. But it’s not always the same person doing either one. Just like in a marriage.
I like novelty; I admit it. Which I suppose is why we tend to do things like restaurants in cycles. I get bored easily. I’ll visit one restaurant three or four times. In those visits I will probably have done one of two things: I will have sampled three vastly different menu items; or I will have ordered the same one three times. You can guess the reason: if the first choice was absolutely fabulous, why not re-order it. But after 2 or 3 times I’m ready for a change and is one restaurant really going to excel at making every single thing on their menu? Usually not. That’s why the good ones actually have “specials” — when the word “special” means something other than bargain price. Or at least my tastebuds aren’t going to respond the same way.
This idea of returning to the same place over and over and over again is a bit foreign to me. When I was young we ate out very seldom. My parents were Great Depression kids and even well into my childhood we didn’t have enough money in the house to afford eating out very often. Mom canned produce in the summer to cut costs; we ate bargain cuts of meat; we ate a lot of starches — hence my protruding tummy to this day. It’s a life long battle with habit.
Nowadays we can afford to splurge more frequently. But whereas in our early married years when I was all for trying out the “best” places in town to eat, nowadays I’m less interested in spending a fortune on a single meal, but I am interested in getting a really good meal at a fair price. That means that I tend not to go for places that pile a small amount of food high on the plate. I came to eat not to build things. I don’t expect gargantuan portions, in fact gargantuan portions usually mean inferior product sold to a portion conscious market. I don’t need that. At one time we had been to every fine dining place in town. Today, I bet we haven’t visited even one of the current list — and all the ones we had been to ceased to exist due to retirement or fire or some such reason. But there are still places that provide reliable value and we have found a list longer than we are able to visit frequently. So we check ’em off our mental list from time to time and visit them all as we have opportunity.
Decisions about value are very personal decisions indeed. What I value may not be what you value. That’s ok. When I was still making photos commercially I spend as much money on one lens as some people spend on a automobile. They thought I was crazy; I thought they were crazy too. Value is in the eye of the beholder — much like beauty. A beautiful woman may be … well… beautiful, but I’m a one woman guy and no matter how beautiful I’m not interested. Some might be turned off by a birthmark, or a crooked nose, or a muffintop — but if you find other redeeming qualities you might not even notice those turnoffs that affect another viewer. It’s all about perceived value, and even reliable value.
For me, it all started in Junior High School. I was… well, I still am… left handed. In high school I had my first experience with auditorium seats with built in desk arms. You remember them, don’t you. semi-cushioned chair with a desk top that folds down so you can take notes.
They are built for right handed writers, and I’m a lefty. I quickly learned to sit on the left side of every auditorium. And usually towards the front, because people tend to sit further back in the auditorium (perhaps out of fear they’ll be called upon by the teacher?) and it’s hard to get two seats together unoccupied. And there I would sit in the right seat of the two with the desk top of the adjacent chair folded up so I could write with my left hand on the right-handed desk of the seat next to me. I started relatively early learning to do things my-own-way out of necessity. It was my kind of reliable value. If I sat near the back I never could find a pair of seats to call my own, so I picked a place where I could reliably get what I wanted.
Maybe part of the reason we tend to shy away from places that cater to crowds is because I don’t like waiting. Life is short, and there are a lot of places to go and things to do — why stand in line waiting for something too man other people want? I value my time more than I value riding on the lates thrill ride at the amusement park. For that matter, I’d rather curl up with a good book than go to the amusement park in the first place. It’s all about reliable value. And having the courage to admit what is important to me, to us, and pursue that!
So, I guess, the last new restaurant we visited we’ve already been to 3 times. We better start looking for another one we haven’t visited before; we’ll give them a try and see what happens.