“So shall we split the bill?” the economist asked with a sly grin
Have you ever tried to win at yum cha? No? Good for you. I promise there are those of us who do. You know who you are rational consumer you.
What does it take to win at yum cha? Simple. Eat more.
At yum cha, the bill is usually split equally between the people at the table. So there is a risk that you end up subsidizing someone else’s meal if you don’t eat enough. Better to invite your younger friends.
The idea of trying to win at yum cha might seem silly. AND. Don’t take this article too literally. Yum cha is just a great metaphor for considering the theory and rationality of the economic consumer.
Yum cha is not a game
How could a rational decision maker approach yum cha, assuming the bill will be split and eating more is better?
In its simplest form, the more you eat, the better the value for money. Eat little and the group pays less. But you pay relatively more for what you eat. With this in mind, there are a number of strategies you could consider to win at yum cha:
Eat a little earlier in anticipation of eating much later
Are you the contact person for the waiter who distributes the food in order to select what the group eats?
Avoid drinking to get the most out of real food
Eat as much as you can inside 20 minutes, the estimated time it takes to feel full
I’ve heard some people go to yum cha to socialize rather than just have lunch – these people are great to take along.
Of course, thinking in these terms is not that useful in everyday life and can lead to negative results. Aside from stomach ache from overeating, chances are you won’t be invited to come back next time.
The possibility of events repeating themselves is important: the actions of one individual influence the future actions of others. We cannot ignore the future. When events repeat themselves, it makes more sense to cooperate with those around us to create a socially optimal situation, such as being invited to yum cha.
Order pork sandwiches now, pay for them later
After studying Microeconomics 101 you may be forgiven for thinking that people are selfish, but miraculously, through our selfishness, we create a better world. This idea is central to the economy, as initially described by Adam Smith:
“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their consideration for their interest.”
Rational consumer theory suggests that people make choices to their advantage. So eat lots of yum cha to get the best value for money. The problem with rational consumer theory is that people often don’t do what’s best because of short-term thinking, lack of knowledge, or because they’re just human.
Aside from the fact that overeating can be terrible, many of the yum cha dishes aren’t that good for you. Sure, a pork bun won’t make a difference, but eating that type of food frequently can compromise your health, such as obesity and heart disease.
This is that problem with the short term again: we ignore the future. Continuously making the decision to “feel good” in the short term can lead to negative results for you in the future.
The notion of the rational consumer is flawed in this sense because people don’t necessarily prepare for what we don’t know or understand. People are bad with numbers and underestimate the risk of bad things happening. In this case, the consequences of an unhealthy diet. Can we still call it rational if people don’t fully understand the risk?
Crow’s feet diplomacy
Preferences influence consumer choices and are one of the key elements of consumer theory. We maximize ours utility, or satisfaction, by buying what we prefer.
A yum cha, this means choosing the dishes we like. But if we’re splitting the bill, how do we handle it when people choose dishes we don’t like?
Chicken feet are one of the more controversial yum cha choices. Some people love them, others don’t. Ordering a portion is reasonable. Order five servings because you won’t be eating anything else and people may start asking questions like who will pay for it?
People pay for the preferences of others. This problem is difficult to manage due to extreme or marginal preferences that go against the majority. If a person loves chicken feet enough to order five servings, does that justify complying with their request?
Governments are always confronted with competing preferences. How do you address the concerns of those who want the blocks to crush COVID-19 versus those who want to keep their businesses open? Preferences can be incompatible, with very different costs for different groups. The loudest voice isn’t always right.
Just because we can win doesn’t mean we should try
The idea of winning at yum cha obviously shouldn’t be taken seriously. It is just an interesting example to illustrate that in economic reality, winning is not always what you believe.
The risk of risk that can arise between the parties vying to “win” economically can be disastrous.
For example, it was possible to “win” during the COVID-19 pandemic, at least in the short term, by avoiding blockades to preserve economic interests. Countries that have chosen not to close early he suffered financially and had a higher number of cases. As we now know, it wasn’t really a choice.
A country can also “win” climate change by leveraging other countries’ efforts to reduce emissions. Just because it might be possible to “win” doesn’t mean we should try. Sometimes there is too much at stake.
Enjoy your next yum cha.
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