Experimenting with milkshakes?

I have been on a mission to convince firms to do simple experiments that will give them feedback regarding the decisions that they make. Just as with people (as Anders Ericsson studies), firms cannot learn without feedback. It turns out, however, that it is not easy for people in companies to see the wisdom in experiments.

Which is why I was so heartened the other day when I was with my wife in a restaurant, and I noticed that our two menus seemed to be identical except for one item. On my menu it was called something like “Coffee mocha milkshake” and on my wife’s menu it was “Chocolate Kona milkshake swirl.” The names were better than that, but one stressed the coffee part of the milkshake and the other stressed the chocolate part.

I hadn’t thought of menu descriptions as something restaurants should experiment with, but when I saw this, I suddenly realized it was a good idea. Do the names you give the food matter for what gets purchased? Do the descriptions affect the total amount of money spent, the satisfaction with the meal, or the likelihood that a diner returns? Can experimenting with the descriptions help the chef to know what types of food people do and do not like?

Fascinating, I thought, that this little restaurant would be experimenting with its menu (although if I were doing the experiment I wouldn’t be giving different menus to two people in the same party, but rather, to different parties). Perfect fodder for our next book! When the waitress came over, I asked her about the two different menus. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “I must have given you one of our old menus by accident. Let me take that one and throw it away and get you a real one.”

Oh, well, I guess that little restaurant won’t be an example in our next book after all. But the choco/mocha/kona milkshake was quite good my wife tells me.

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  1. proales says:

    You might be interested in this little diner here at Purdue in West Lafayette, IN.

    They have two menus, one orange one yellow and while the menus have exactly the same items on them, they have very different prices.

    The yellow menu is for normal times, the regular diners, and the Orange menu is for the “bar hours” the times when the bars are letting out in this college town, and the diner is full of drunk college students.

    Can you guess which one has the higher prices?
    Can you guess which

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  2. proales says:

    You might be interested in this little diner here at Purdue in West Lafayette, IN.

    They have two menus, one orange one yellow and while the menus have exactly the same items on them, they have very different prices.

    The yellow menu is for normal times, the regular diners, and the Orange menu is for the “bar hours” the times when the bars are letting out in this college town, and the diner is full of drunk college students.

    Can you guess which one has the higher prices?
    Can you guess which

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  3. bjornsm says:

    I know that some restaurants have had success with adding some high-price dishes to their menues – not because they will be sold but because they look the rest of the menu look cheaper.

    It seems quite obvious that there is a whole lot of experimentation to be done with these menus – although I hope you’re not planning to write a whole book about it… :-)

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  4. bjornsm says:

    I know that some restaurants have had success with adding some high-price dishes to their menues – not because they will be sold but because they look the rest of the menu look cheaper.

    It seems quite obvious that there is a whole lot of experimentation to be done with these menus – although I hope you’re not planning to write a whole book about it… :-)

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  5. jgraves says:

    One interesting behavioral economics experiment I’ve always thought would be interesting would be to observe or survey people waiting in lines to board Southwest airlines flights. It’s always been peculiar to me to see people hunkered down in line an hour early for a flight, particularly if the flight itself is under an hour. Why stand or sit on the ground for an hour before the flight just to have the possibility of a “good” seat for such a short flight?? This behavior is even more bizzare when there’s a flight delay. For example, last summer I was on a 50 minute Southwest flight from Ohio to DC, and they announced a two hour delay. Yet, instead of sitting down in a comfortable chair in the lobby, most people stayed in line, and had to stand or sit on the ground for two hours! All for a good seat in the airplane for 50 minutes? Weird.

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  6. jgraves says:

    One interesting behavioral economics experiment I’ve always thought would be interesting would be to observe or survey people waiting in lines to board Southwest airlines flights. It’s always been peculiar to me to see people hunkered down in line an hour early for a flight, particularly if the flight itself is under an hour. Why stand or sit on the ground for an hour before the flight just to have the possibility of a “good” seat for such a short flight?? This behavior is even more bizzare when there’s a flight delay. For example, last summer I was on a 50 minute Southwest flight from Ohio to DC, and they announced a two hour delay. Yet, instead of sitting down in a comfortable chair in the lobby, most people stayed in line, and had to stand or sit on the ground for two hours! All for a good seat in the airplane for 50 minutes? Weird.

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  7. matjnewton says:

    Steven

    Maybe you came into the restaurant 3 months after the experiment actually took place. Don’t write them off just yet!

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  8. matjnewton says:

    Steven

    Maybe you came into the restaurant 3 months after the experiment actually took place. Don’t write them off just yet!

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