The obsession with individual choice has wreaked havoc on many parts of our culture, but it has gone too far for some people, particularly those trying to order a sandwich.
According to a recent Wall Street Journal story, restaurants and fast food establishments now provide so many options that some people are beginning to suffer from “option paralysis.” It is the fate of anyone who orders a sandwich or a salad: There are just too many decisions to make.
Says Julie Jargon,
“People who get nervous at the counter say they worry about being judged for stumbling through their order, or feel pressured by having customers waiting behind them in line. They fret that their food will come out wrong, or that if they try something new they won’t like it. Others simply buckle under the pressure of too many choices.”
I too sometimes suffer from “option paralysis.” I have nightmares in which I am being held captive in a North Korean prison camp, and someone dressed in a fast food uniform is asking me what I would like on my sandwich.
Of course, we have all had this experience. How often have you gone to Subway and ordered a Chipotle Steak and Cheese with Avocado, only to be asked what kind of meat you would like on it, what kind of cheese and whether you would like avocado on it?
You know, of course, that the chains who subject you to this must have spent millions of dollars developing their menus. And they must spend a good chunk of those millions researching what kind of sandwiches people like. So why do they put us, sandwich amateurs, through this?
In fact, I sometimes wonder, after all of the mental exhaustion from having to make complex sandwich decisions whether they should be paying me for making the sandwich.
In fact, have you noticed that increasingly now the cashier expects a tip, even though you made all the decisions and they don’t even bring the food to your table? What is that about?
There is also the problem of overly involved menus. I call it the “Cheesecake Factory Syndrome” (CFS for short). In case you didn't know, the Cheesecake Factory has a menu the size of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. There are so many options that you feel depressed afterwards thinking about all the things you could have had but didn’t because you could order only one thing out of so many.
The economists have a term for it: “opportunity cost.” Opportunity cost is the total value of all the things you didn't choose minus the value of the thing you did choose. So the more options there are, the higher the opportunity cost. That’s why you get depressed. It simply costs too much to eat there, no matter how little you actually paid for it.
In fact, even a buffet involves too many decisions for me. I want to sit down at a table, order a Number 7, be asked no questions, and be brought a plate of food.
Now I realize that I am not the only one.
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Martin Cothran is the editor of Classical Teacher magazine, published by Memoria Press, and the director of the Classical Latin School Association.