Sunday, February 07, 2010

Would you like a box with that?

A noticeable feature of dining in American restaurants (well maybe not the posh places that I can't afford) is that they offer you a box to take your left-overs away in. You can often get a second meal out of this (tonight for example) unless, of course, you forget to retrieve it and your car smells of curry for a month. No chance of that happening in Ireland or the UK. I think I saw some unfortunate American ask once in Dublin only to be sniffily refused.
So is it a "good thing"? Well the option of a box means that you get what you pay for or at least the gap between the value of what you pay and the value of what you consume is smaller. The cost of the box is probably small so an efficiency gain, for sure.
Or is it? I have this niggling feeling that there may be a downside. Without the box, you have an incentive not to over-order. If we assumed that people don't know how much they want to eat or how much is good for them (otherwise why is there an obesity epidemic) then its less clear to me that having this option is welfare improving.

4 comments:

Peter Carney said...

I do like the box idea. As you said: you get what you paid for.

I can also see how it changes the incentive structure for ordering..and possibly result in over-ordering. However, let me throw this into the equation: I think one has a relatively higher propensity to take home food that has higher nutritional value. Cold fries rarely make it into the box, chicken does. This will mediate the resulting welfare, assuming one isn't overly strategic when dining.

Mark McG said...

The distribution of appetites probably matters. Surely restaurants on average get it right and guess the right portion size so the average customer is just full. Maybe the variance of appetites is larger in the US, which would explain why take home boxes are less common here.

Kevin Denny said...

Mark,I would think they give you too much on average. Too little and you leave dis-satisfied, too much & you can always take it away?

Martin Ryan said...

I wonder how they decide what "too much" is? A friend recently told me that there is a Chinese restaurant in Dublin that does an all-you-can-eat buffet; however, there is a catch. For every plate ordered that you don't finish, there is a 3 euro charge.