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How To Spend Less Time in the Lunch Line

Earlier this year, my friend Jonathan Feldman and I attended the World Domination Summit in Portland, Oregon. Portland has a thriving food truck culture. So during our lunch break on Saturday, we decided to explore it.

The summit was at the Newmark Theatre, a short walk away from one of Portland’s food truck pods, with over 3 dozen food trucks lining a block-sized parking lot.

Imagine 1,000 hungry people swarming three dozen food trucks. Enticing smells filled the air.

The Decision: Where To Eat

Jonathan and I took two separate strategies in choosing which food truck to order from.

Jonathan walked around, checked out the menu at each food truck, mused about what he was in the mood for, then picked a truck and ordered.

I also walked around. But I focused on the lines, noting which ones were short or moved fast. I looked at the menus too, but only to eliminate ones that were a clear no—like the one selling greasy hamburgers.

The Outcome: Eating in the Park

I wound up choosing Island Grill and ordering the Kalua pork with a side of spam musubi, a dish I hadn’t eaten in years. After a short wait, I got my food and headed over to the park. I met up with our group and joined in the discussion.

Jonathan arrived 5 minutes before lunch was over. He had gotten Thai food. But the line was long and the wait longer. He scarfed down his food, catching the tail end of the discussion before we all headed to our next session.

What Happened?

I optimized my decision for speed of delivery. I wanted tasty food, but most of the food trucks provided that. I chose the one with the short line.

But I didn’t choose solely on the length of the line. I filtered out some food trucks based on their menu and my personal dietary preferences.

Jonathan focused solely on what to eat. Speed of service was not a consideration.

Nor did Jonathan optimize his decision. He wasn’t looking for the most enjoyable dish possible. He wanted cheap, tasty food, which most of the food trucks could provide.

Without anything to optimize for, he optimized for nothing.

3 Lessons

Three lessons from this experience:

  1. Know What To Optimize For
    Choose an outcome you want to optimize for. Make it something you can reasonably figure out from your options.
  2. Expand Your Evaluation Criteria 
    Don’t focus solely on the obvious aspects of your options. Consider what happens between the decision (ordering) and the result (receiving food).
  3. Vary Criteria Based on the Environment 
    Scan the environment to see if your default way of choosing should change. If none of the food trucks had lines, Jonathan’s strategy would have worked fine.

How do you decide where to order from?

Credits: The photo used in this article was taken by The Travelista.

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