Social forces at the dinner table

Analogies are fun, but examples are even better. We discussed the three social forces (conformity, distinction and assimilation) in a previous post. People generally try to fit in (conformity) try to stand out (distinction) and in some cases try to make others behave the same way (assimilation). There is a fun example that I encountered while out with some friends at a bar.

We went around the table to order our meals, and discuss what we were choosing. Two of us wanted to get the buffalo and blue cheese fried tofu burger (to give you an idea of what crowd this is). My friend was frustrated that I would consider getting the same thing as him. In general it is pretty common for people to try to order different meals at a restaurant (Dan Ariely says this makes people later on the list less happy). However, when it came to ordering drinks one person started and the next response was “oh that sounds good, i’ll have one too”.

Why then, is it not ok to order the same plate of food, but natural and accepted for people to order the same drinks? You may first wish to challenge the examples, but I can tell you fairly reliably that this is a common practice in restaurant bars. I have enough anecdotal examples to convince me of this. There are some basic reasons why this is the case. Food is usually more varied than drinks, and when there are wide varieties of non-standard drinks is is more common for people to enforce differentiated orders.

The preliminary hypothesis then is that differentiated ordering springs forth when some combination of the following factors exist:

– A close groups of friends and family where sharing food is accepted

– There is a wider variety of menu items

– The location is somewhat special, novel or expensive

– Lower prior knowledge of the existing menu

These are context factors upon which the forces of conformity and distinction may act. For an example of assimilation we would have to imagine that one person wants blueberry beer and insists upon everybody else drinking the same thing so that they can order a pitcher.

Next time you sit down at a restaurant with friends – try chewing this one over…


About livingthememe

engineer and armchair philosopher
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