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Reader Brooks Lambert-Sluder passes along an observation about utensil choice architecture at the 13 dining halls on the College campus at Harvard.

At twelve of those (dining halls), the tray and silverware are presented to diners before they approach the food.  I almost invariably take a knife, a fork, and a spoon.  At the end of many meals I find myself with a clean spoon, and sometimes even an unused knife. Of course, I still put those away in the dish room to be washed.

At the thirteenth (Kirkland House) the silverware appears after diners have filled their plates and bowls.  There, I only take a spoon when I have already gotten a bowl of soup.  This is a small nudge, no doubt, but a noticeable one.

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The NYT reports on a default tip policy for foreigners at a Thai restaurant in Hawaii. Even worse, it’s surreptitiously delivered.

But lately a small notice on a menu in Waikiki prompted an outcry — and in some quarters, nods of recognition — about the island’s dealing with foreign visitors. The notice, at a Thai restaurant called Keoni by Keo’s, informed “non-English speaking guests” — in English — that a 15 percent gratuity would be added to their check, an apparent reaction to a custom of some guests, particularly those from Asia, to not tip their waiters.

The restaurant’s owners, who removed the notice from their menu after a local television station reported it, did not comment. But some other tourism-reliant businesses said they understood the restaurant’s motivation, even if they were surprised it posted the notice.

Hank Taufaasau, the owner of Hank’s Cafe Honolulu, said Asian guests often did not add a gratuity. “It’s not part of their culture,” he said. “They spend a lot of money, but they don’t tip.”

Mr. Taufaasau emphasized that he did not approve of Keoni by Keo’s actions, but his assessment of the cultural divide was echoed by waiters and managers as well as on primers included with checks at several establishments.

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Tampopo is a great classic Japanese comedy about food, but this scene is all about social norms.

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From the consultants at McKinsey:

Our research suggests, for instance, that ice cream shoppers in grocery stores look at the brand first, flavor second, and price last. Organizing supermarket aisles according to way consumers prefer to buy specific products makes customers both happier and less likely to base their purchase decisions on price—allowing retailers to sell higher-priced, higher-margin products. (This explains why aisles are rarely organized by price.) For thermostats, by contrast, people generally start with price, then function, and finally brand. The merchandise layout should therefore be quite different.

In some ways it’s strange (though not surprising) that ice cream manufacturers have been able to brand their products better than thermostat manufacturers. They’re both basically selling commodity goods. Or will Ben and Jerry’s fans vehemently disagree? Is high-end ice cream really that innovative a product?

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Ian Ayres has coined the term “anti-incentives” to describe incentives that “can help you learn how much you really care about something.” The classic example of an anti-incentive is the offer e-retailer Zappos makes to its employees: A week into an intensive training program, the company offers $1,000 to employees to quit. With such a generous offer, employees usually think about their own commitment to their potential Zappos job – certainly worth much more then $1,000 – and turn down the money.

Food bad boy Anthony Bourdain faced an upside down version of the Zappos anti-incentive early in his career. He showed up in the culinary office of an old acquaintance named “Bigfoot” looking for work in the kitchen. In Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain writes:

I was rail-thin, shaky, and the first thing I did was ask my old pal Bigfoot if he could lend me twenty-five bucks until payday. Without hesitation, he reached into his pocket and let me two hundred…Looking at me, and hearing the edited-for-television version of what I’d be up to in recent years, he must have had every reason to believe I’d disappear with the two bills, spend it on crack and never show up for my first shift. And if he’d given me the twenty-five instead of two hundred, that might well have happened…

I was so shaken by his baseless trust in me-that such a cynical bastard as Bigfoot would make such a gesture-that I determined I’d sooner gnaw my own fingers off, gouge my eyes out with a shellfish fork and run naked down Seventh Avenue than ever betray that trust.

Addendum: Zappos pays $3,000 these days.

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If you are a loyal viewer of the Next Iron Chef on the Food Network you may have noticed an interesting real-life example of ambiguity aversion on Sunday night’s episode. The term ambiguity aversion refers to a preference for known risks instead of unknown risks. The original experiment illustrating ambiguity aversion is the Ellsberg paradox. A version of this paradox is a situation featuring an urn with 50 red balls and 50 black balls and another urn that also has 100 balls but where the exact number of each color is unknown. Most people prefer the urn with the known probabilities of pulling a red or a black ball.

Four chefs remained at the start of last Sunday’s episode. In preparation for their final challenge, each chef was given the chance to select a locked safe with a “special luxury protein” inside it. The first three chefs to pick choose safes, which were opened to reveal lobster, wagyu beef, and moi fish. (A photo of host Alton Brown holding up the moi fish is here.)  The final chef to pick, Marco Canora, had won an earlier challenge in the episode for which he was awarded the following “advantage”: He could take one of the three proteins already revealed away from the chef who had picked it, or opt for the final mystery luxury protein in the remaining locked safe.

Keep in mind, this episode marked the semi-finals of a show designed to pick an actual Iron Chef and all of the proteins were advertised as “luxurious.” Canora had to know that the likelihood of opening the safe and finding ground round was clearly very, very low. Still, faced with the ambiguous protein in the locked safe versus the known three options, Chef Canora went with the wagyu beef. The chef he took it from, Ming Tsai, ended up with the mystery protein, mangalitsa pork, which derives its extra flavor from better marbling and fat quality than standard pork. Both chefs said they were happy with the outcome.

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That’s the policy at Burgerville, a Pacific Northwest burger chain. The CEO explains the new receipts to Fast Company.

“It started first with guests interested in customizing our food. For those who have allergies or are health-conscious, how do they know if they’re on track or not?” Burgerville CEO Jeff Harvey tells FastCompany.com. So Harvey did some research on Nutricate, a system from SmartReceipt that offers personalized nutritional information on receipts. The system is already used in many hospitals and employee cafeterias, but Burgerville is the first fast food chain to adopt it.

Burgerville’s receipt system doesn’t just shock customers into making different food choices–it also suggests what some of those choices might be. “One of our signatures is a real ice cream milkshake with seasonal fruit–it has the best quality ingredients, coming straight from the farms, but the calorie count could be as high as 800 calories. So guests will get a recommendation saying, for example, if you like the blueberry shake, you might consider getting a blueberry smoothie next time,” Harvey says.

Hat tip: Jossie Bristow.

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It’s relatively cheap to change the package on a bag of of fresh carrots. It’s more expensive to design a machine that sells unbruised bananas.

But dispensing fresh produce comes with a particular set of challenges. Fruits and vegetables spoil a lot more quickly than a bag of pretzels. They cost more to stock and carry a higher price tag. Getting the temperature right is tricky, too: Bananas need to be stored at a higher temperature than cantaloupe to stay fresh. And then there’s the bruising issue: A banana can easily get squished from the 4-foot fall from a machine’s top shelf…The new machine—which is already in some schools—sells for more than $5,000 compared to about $3,000 for a typical machine.

More in the WSJ.

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Assorted links

1) 10 percent of AOL employees at the Dulles campus work at their desks standing up.

2) A smart behaviorally informed tax cut may not be such smart politics. Fewer than one in ten people know they got a tax cut last year.

3) Unhealthy food purchases are more likely to made with credit or debit cards.

4) Cornell gets $1 million to fund the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

5) A leading Indian telecom uses opt-out ebilling. Hat tip: Amol Agrawal.

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A Kellogg economist proposes the Dieter’s Paradox. Put a healthy vegetable next to something fatty or fried and people think there are fewer calories in the two items combined versus when looking at the fatty/fried item alone.

Those who viewed the chili alone rated it as averaging 699 calories. By contrast, those who were shown the chili combined with the green salad estimated the meal to have only 656 calories. Thus, adding a green salad to the bowl of chili lowered the perceived caloric content of the entire meal by 43 calories — as if the green salad had negative calories. This negative-calorie illusion was observed with all four meals tested, indicating the prevalence of the belief that one can consume fewer calories simply by adding a healthy item to a meal.

“Because people believe that adding a healthy option can lower a meal’s caloric content, the negative-calorie illusion can lead to overconsumption, thus contributing to the obesity trend,” said Chernev.

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