"The art of choosing"

Can too many selections scare off customers?

Over a bottle of pinot noir this weekend a couple of my friends and I started discussing our tastes in books. I said history. Another friend said history and fantasy. My roommate said books dealing with health and psychology. She then started telling us about a book she recently read about choices and how people make them.

The book was “The Art of Choosing” by Sheena Iyengar, a Columbia University professor and an expert on choice. I haven’t read the book, so I can’t comment on it. What I did find interesting, however, was the jam study and how the results could affect foodservice.

In the study, conducted in a grocery store in 1995, a table was set up from which the store’s customers could sample different types of jam. At various times, the table either displayed a large assortment of jams—24 to 28 varieties—or a small number—six. More people were drawn to the large sampling: 60% tested a jam when more varieties were offered compared to 40% when only six were offered. However, only 3% of customers who sampled the large assortment made a jam purchase, compared with 30% of those who sampled the small assortment. To Iyengar and her team, the customers who had the larger assortment of jams to sample were so confused and overwhelmed that when it came to actually making a selection for purchase they instead opted to not purchase a jam at all.

“These studies…have found fairly consistently that when people are given a moderate number of options (4 to 6) rather than a large number (20 to 30), they are more likely to make a choice, are more confident in their decision, and are happier with what they choose,” Iyengar wrote in her book.

That got me thinking about non-commercial serveries. When I talk with operators it’s often a point of pride when they mention how many options they have on a daily basis. According to the jam study, that could be a problem. So my question to you is: Are operators offering so many selections that it scares off customers? Are there so many choices that customers get flustered, can’t make a decision and end up going for a selection they eat all the time and are comfortable with? How do you deal with offering enough choice that customers feel they can select different options, without being overwhelmed by too many choices?

I’d love to hear from you: Does the jam study ring true in your operations? Is too much choice a bad thing for customers? Send me an email at bschilling@cspnet.com and let me know what you think.

Keywords: 
menu development

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

Amherst-Pelham Regional School District in Amherst, Mass., is updating its lunch debt policy to no longer single out students, MassLive reports.

Under the new policy, students with lunch debt will be given the same meals as their peers, regardless of how much they owe. School officials will also be communicating directly with parents of students who have accumulated debt instead of through the students themselves.

The updated policy comes just before U.S. school districts will be required to publicly list their lunch debt policies, per new USDA requirements starting July 1...

Menu Development
eureka

Since California’s state motto is “Eureka!” it seems fitting that a recent conversation with the director of hospitality at San Diego’s Palomar Health led to the biggest aha moment I’ve had in a long time.

I called Jim Metzger in late April with the purpose of discussing Palomar’s recent commitment to the goal of making 60% of its total menu plant-based by this summer. It seemed a lofty number, and I was curious how the public health system planned to get there.

But my personal eureka didn’t come while we were talking about how Palomar had cleaned up the impulse-buy zones...

Industry News & Opinion

Labeling foods with indulgent buzzwords such as “sweet sizzlin’” and “crispy” can lead consumers to make healthier food choices , according to a recent study out of Stanford University .

In the fall 2016 study, researchers labeled vegetables in one of the school’s dining halls using terms from four categories: basic, healthy restrictive, healthy positive or indulgent.

The green beans, for example, were listed as “green beans” for basic, “light ‘n’ low-carb green beans and shallots” for healthy restrictive, “healthy energy boosting green beans and shallots” for healthy...

Ideas and Innovation
sparkling water

Our carbonated soft drink sales at Earls.67 reflect a national trend; we’re continually down on carbonated soft drink sales by 8% to 9% on an annual basis,” says Cameron Bogue, beverage director at the contemporary-casual chain Earls Kitchen + Bar.

The issue with spa water

Many operators are intrigued with the offering, but they are learning that infused water can’t be offered at a cost to guests unless there is added value beyond cut-up fruit. Bogue says, “I was adamant that I didn’t want to charge for spa water.”

Agua fresca alternatives

At the original location of

...

FSD Resources