Decisions, decisions, decisions. We all love having a lot of options to choose from, and in this land of excess, we have options galore. In all areas of our lives. Yet I can’t help but wonder sometimes if we’ve gone a bit overboard. Especially in restaurants.
I don’t go out to eat often. I generally cook dinners at home, and pack my breakfast and lunch from home. So when I do go out, with family or friends, it is a special occasion. It means no cooking, no cleaning, no having to make decisions about what to make for dinner. But wait. There are decisions to be made. Far more now than ever. So many that my husband and son now know that I need to go last when ordering because it will take me the longest to make up my mind.
It’s not that I don’t know what I like or dislike. It’s because there are far too many possibilities presented. Even at fast food establishments, the selections up on the header board or at the drive-thru have become multi-paneled dissertations on how many different ways they can make a burger or chicken sandwich. Even the finer establishments, with their trendy menus printed on a large double-sided board that initially looks so elegantly simple, have so much to offer that they need to use small print and provide a separate document for beverages. By the way – that mature woman in the corner who is breaking out her reading glasses or worse, pulling out the flashlight accessory on her iPhone to read the fine print on the menu in the darkened ambiance – yeah, that’s me.
Last week I caught up with a couple of RW girlfriends and we stopped for a casual meal at Uno’s. Uno’s used to be a pretty straight-forward pizza chain with fairly basic offerings. Seemingly in an effort to compete in the ever-over-indulgent lifestyle to which we have all grown accustomed, that has changed. After we settled in to our booth, the waitress kindly handed out multi-page, hard cover novelettes, otherwise known as their menu. Not only was it lengthy, but it included an addendum of additional specials, plus there was a separate booklet for drinks. It honestly was overwhelming. And I’m not picking on just Uno’s. Pretty much every dining establishment has fallen prey to feeling the need to offer an encyclopedia of edibles. And now that we all feel the need to know the caloric value of all of the fattening fare, and want even more options like gluten-free, nut-free, meat-free and organic, the descriptions of the plethora of potentials have gotten lengthy as well.
As we laid out the literature, or sat back and held them up so we could no longer see each other, It felt a bit like we were all preparing to read story books to each other. “Once upon a time, the mozzarella sticks, onion rings and spinach dip decided to form a band called The Appetizers. They started to recruit more members until they were 20-snacks strong. They had a glorious time together until the Entrée Gang showed up. Bigger, stronger, and more confusing, The Entrée Gang took over….” Flip, flip, flip, five pages in, we reached the chapter on sides.
We three, as usually happens when women get together for a meal, started discussing what we were considering ordering. I kid you not that the conversation went something like this: “I’m thinking of having the Chicago thin crust pizza with two toppings.” “Wait, what’s the difference between that kind of pizza and the three other kinds of pizza?” “ooh, maybe I’ll get something from the sandwich section”. “Hold on, where are you finding that – what page are you on?” “Where did you read about that special salad, was that in the Addendum?” The waitress came first to get our drink orders. She said “if you’d like to review our other drink options, there’s a small book over there on the end of the table you can browse.” Dear God, no, just bring me a diet coke.
It took us far longer to decide on our order than if she had just given us a list of 5 options. And we would have been just as happy. None of us ordered anything really unusual. It has gotten to the point that most often, when I am out, I will do my best to whittle down my preferred options to a top 3, then ask the wait staff for their recommendation. I figure, heck, they are the pro’s, and they had to apparently get a Masters Degree in Menu Management in order to learn everything that is included in the 20 chapters you are holding, so why not let them help make the decision?
Once we selected our choices, we closed up our books and handed them back to the waitress who now has to do strength training classes just to carry them around. The food was fine, we had a fun evening, then when we were finished and she offered to box up left overs, you know what came next: “Would you like to see a dessert menu?” Oy.
I wonder how we got this far. I remember eating out was simpler when I was younger. Menus were predictable, and it mostly meant picking between just a handful of options. They were generally constructed as tri-folds, and included everything you needed to see in one place: Specials, Apps, Dinners, Desserts, and Beverages. Select one from each minimal section, and you were done. Somewhere along the way, apparently we became no longer easily satisfied – or at least the restaurant industry decided we need to be overwhelmed and confused in order to be happy with our experience. They are all competing for the most unique and memorable food and options. But I think in many ways, we are going the opposite direction, where everything is just getting diluted into a pool of overload.
Yes, I do enjoy going out to eat from time to time. But other days I’d rather just grab something easy in my own kitchen where the options are limited, and leave my story-time reading for a real book. Besides, I need to save my energy for the really important choices – like which shoes I’m going to wear tomorrow.
Decisions, decisions, decisions.