Heisenberg, and Hawthorne
Posted: June 13, 2002 at 10:48:02
Is it wrong to tell a restaurant that you’re one of those who "lives to eat"?
Yum Thai. Last night, I decided in favor of full disclosure (the Greek root of which is disklotos, I think, which means "to come out of the closet") and I unabashedly and publicly proclaimed myself a Chowhound at Yum Thai (7748 Madison, Forest Park). I wore my Chowhound t-shirt, flashed my Chowhound Passport, and dropped a printout of a Chowhound.Com post on our waitron, Eddy. She, and her kitchen staff, were highly amused, though I wasn’t always sure what made them laugh, as they passed the post among kitchen staff. More to the point (and I do have one), I was curious to know how identifying myself as a food enthusiast might affect the dining experience.
Heisenberg. If the restaurant knows you’re watching, really paying attention to what they’re doing and to what you’re eating, will they perform to a different standard… maybe even a higher standard? Now, when "real" professional-type restaurant critics go out to eat, they go in cognito, in secret. That’s because they want to evaluate the place for the average person, so they report on the "average experience" at that place. Me, I just want groovy food – no, I want the grooviest food there is. So, although by overtly observing I may alter the results of the average eating experience, maybe that’s okay, even desirable. At Yum Thai last night, the food was outstanding. The green curry was subtle, rich in vegetable spiciness and complex tang; the mee krob was orange sweet and sticky, like Asian Rice Krispy Treats, and it was nicely complemented by the heat of the basil-laced pork and papaya salad. But was the food better BECAUSE the restaurant staff knew I was a Chowhound, armed (presumably) with pen and palate? I’m uncertain, but that’s what I’m thinking.
Hawthorne. During the 24-Hour Chowathon, we were driving by the old Hawthorne Works on Cicero (going from Jimmy’s to Freddy’s), and Rob mentioned that they used to make phones there. Also at that plant, some early twentieth-century behaviorists did this kind of cool experiment. What they did was, they turned up the lights in the factory, and the employees worked harder; they turned up the lights again, and they worked harder still; then they turned the lights down, and the workers worked even harder. The message: when people understand that you’re paying attention to them, they try harder.
SO my feeling is, if you identify yourself as a Chowhound – come out and flash your "credentials" – you may actually get better service and food, according to either Heisenberg or Hawthorne principles, or both.