Dear Economist: What can I do if my husband orders better than me?

Dear Economist,

In restaurants my husband always picks something better than me. It’s boring to choose the same as him. What can I do?

Dear Sarah,

The behavioural economists Dan Ariely and Jonathan Levav speculated that we all tend, like you, to alter our choices to fit in with those around us – and they decided to put the theory to the test.

They came to an agreement with a local bar, dressed up as bar staff, and offered unsuspecting groups free samples from a choice of four tempting local beers. (One of the customers recognised Professor Ariely and assumed that his academic career had run aground.)

Sometimes the experimenters took the orders in conventional fashion; at other times, they made each person’s order confidential by asking them to write their desired beer on a piece of paper. After bringing the samples, Ariely and Levav noted how much the recipients had enjoyed their beers.

You will recognise your predicament in their results. First, when orders were called out publicly, people tended to avoid duplicating the choices of others. Second, that mattered: the people who chose first were significantly happier with their choices than those who felt obliged to choose whatever beer was left over. (This survey was done in the US. When transferred to Hong Kong, people instead tended to emulate the first choice. But, again, those who chose first were happier.)

The implication is obvious. You should make a mental note of what you wish to eat and not change your mind when your husband announces his selection. If that is too “boring’’, the solution is even simpler: order first.

Questions to

The Undercover Economist: a guide

Publishing schedule: Excerpts from "The Undercover Economist" and "Dear Economist", Tim's weekly columns for the FT Magazine, are published on this blog on Saturday mornings.
More about Tim: Tim also writes editorials for the FT, presents Radio 4's More or Less and is the author of "The Undercover Economist" and "The Logic of Life".
Comment: To comment, please register with, which you can do for free here. Please also read our comments policy here.
Contact: Tim's contact address is:
Time: UK time is shown on posts.
Follow: A link to the blog's RSS feeds is at the top of the page.
Follow on Twitter
FT blogs: See the full range of the FT's blogs here.