Filling up the corners

9th September, 2006

Dear Economist,

From time to time I find myself eating a meal with an unlimited supply of food: sometimes an all-you-can-eat buffet, sometimes a more sophisticated meal laid on by a friend or someone trying to impress: weddings, banquets, that kind of thing. I like food but there are limits to how much I can eat. So how should I pace myself for optimal enjoyment of the meal?

Mr M. Newman, Shrewsbury

Dear Mr Newman,

This turns out to be a surprisingly deep problem, and naturally the optimum strategy will also depend on your tastes. (If you are concerned about your weight, fill up on Perrier, celery and lettuce; better yet, stay away from all-you-can-eat buffets.) Nevertheless, I think there are some general principles here.

If the buffet offers you every choice simultaneously, your best strategy is to try a little of every plausible dish so that you can decide what you would really like to eat. Then go back and get properly stuck in: to your favourite dish if you have no taste for variety, otherwise to your favourite two or three.

If the dishes are presented sequentially, then you will have to take more risks. There is always the chance that you will take a too-small portion of what later turns out to have been much the best course.

Your best guide, then, is to consider the incentives of the food supplier…

Continued at Subscription free.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This