Skipping the Free Buffet

(Photo: Dan Taylor)

Rational? I’m at a hotel and was given a coupon allowing me to eat the excellent breakfast buffet at no cost. Sounds good; but instead, I go next door to Caribou Coffee and buy a coffee and blackberry scone for $5. Is this utility-maximizing? 

I think so. I know that if I get the “free” buffet, I’ll eat a lot—probably orange juice and a large Belgian waffle with lots of syrup. Having pigged out over Thanksgiving, my weight is already up. Spending the $5 is a self-control mechanism: I know that once I’m done at Caribou, I’ll be sufficiently less hungry that I won’t want to spend time at the buffet (and won’t have eaten more than I should). There’s more to utility than increasing income and/or reducing spending!


The scone won't do you any favors. Better to head to the buffet but limit yourself to mostly fruits and protein.

Devin Lavelle

The scone is only 200 calories. Not bad at all.


Love this! Funny similar story. I was in the mood for something sweet. At the store there was a box of treats for $1.50. I bought the box, took out one and then placed the rest in office break room. Basically, I am willing be more for less.

In both cases we're paying "more" money but the reason is we're paying for health.


Considering that human beings are rational, a self-control mechanism is not necesarry. So each person its responsible for maximizing the nutritive intake constraint to the amount of calories recommened to his condition. By the way, there's not such a thing as a free lunch! The "free" breakfast it's included in the room rate! So the Caribou coffee breakfast costs more than 5USD. I am not sure if a buffet implies more time than a coffee shop! Indeed, its a matter of preferences!


Agents are not rational :(


Better man than me, I'd go to the buffet.

You're fooling yourself with the scone, as noted. Just as prudently selecting a plain donut out of a mixture in a box doesn't mean you've chosen wisely.


It was a should have at least sold it.


This is narrative fallacy. There could definitely be other reasons for why you did what you did.

Narrative Fallacy: “Our need to fit a story or pattern to a series of connected or disconnected facts”

Andy B

I don't like to pay for my self-control.


I like this, however this does not really address your self-control issue: the scone will hardly fill you up and you still have access to the buffet until it closes - a fact that your rational self will have no difficulty ignoring. So, what's to stop you from popping back next door to satiate your now marginally-decreased appetite?

I have no doubt that you did not do this, so your experiment was in fact a successful exercise in portion control, but it seems as though it would be equally as simple to justify the time-honored principle of "just one more scone" at no additional cost. You paid for it with your hotel room, right? And if any of you have ever been to a Walmart, "just one thing x" often leads to an unexpected yet remorseless cartful of Toaster Strudels and Snuggies that would have never even broken your top 100 list of things that you need. Further, once you see that buffet again it seems that your rational self will now seek to justify that $5.00 that you may now recognize as superfluous - and you may end up stuffing yourself in the end, after all.

Just a for thought.


Pat McGee

Reminds me of Fuzzy Pink Niven's Law: Never Waste Calories. If you're going to eat a hot fudge sundae, make sure it's a good one.

Devin Lavelle

Good call on the scone.

If you had gone for, say, their triple berry muffin, you would not have felt as full, but your waistline would likely end up even more bloated. (600 calories)

Given the price tag you quoted, you probably went for a black coffee. Again, very good call. If you had, say, opted for a medium Salted Caramel Budino (no clue what it is, just the first drink listed), you'd be out a whopping 850 calories.

So good job being so well disciplined at the coffee shop. I wonder if the fundamental difference in your discipline at the coffee shop and your discipline at the buffet is more a function of the cost element or more a function in the difference of venue/interactive experience.


The best thing would be to successfully negotiate getting $5 knocked off your hotel bill, then spending that where you wanted. There is a precedent for this where travellers get their bill reduced because they do not want the "free" copy of USA Today.


Seems to me you need to work on your self-control. Money is an incentive for most of us, but since you knew you would eat a lot, you should try to make an effort to not eat a lot. Would have saved you five bucks at least.

Miss Clawdy

Haha, brilliant.


But maybe by being "good" at breakfast, you allowed yourself to splurge at dinner. Maybe by being "bad" at breakfast, the guilt would have induced more self-control later. You're only looking at the partial equilibrium outcome, not the general.

Eric M. Jones.

TANSTAAFL they say, but I say nothing is free. Free things always come with psychic costs that consume time better spent thinking about something else. When given a "free" raffle ticket, or a "free" anything, I pass it on to someone who might appreciate it.

This rule has served me well.

ps: You might ask for a discount or a swap for the "free" breakfast.