Service of Excessive Choice

April 18th, 2011

Categories: Choice, Responsiveness, Restaurant


You can’t be too rich or too thin said Wallis Simpson and I agree with her except when someone is too thin because they are sick or overstressed.

I don’t always welcome excess especially when it comes to  choice. Even when I feel flush I don’t like humongous menus with a million choices. How can all this stuff be fresh? I am never distracted by the endless list of options when I have a yen for a toasted poppy seed bagel and coffee.

bad-gradesReviewers gave Research in Motion, the BlackBerry folks, bad marks last week for their new tablet. A big complaint: RIM’s tablet has only 3,000 apps when others, such as Apple’s iPad, provide 300,000. I can imagine the disappointment and inconvenience when just the programs you want to download aren’t available on the tablet you just bought, but does everyone really need hundreds of thousands of choices? The coverage I read in the Wall Street Journal and New York Post didn’t note that RIM selected to partner with the 3,000 best apps in the world, which would have been a smart thing to do, to counteract the opinion that  “more is always best.” Is much, much more always better?

I knew a wife who sounded like the waiter at a sandwich counter when asking her incommunicative husband what he wanted for lunch. She’d list a zillion combinations of cheese and cold cuts including a range of condiments. That extreme may have kept their marriage intact, who knows?

When I shop for a skirt, shirt, dress, shoes or a gift-and I love to shop-I stop when I find what I want. Do I need to see 10? 50? 1,000? I guess 20 options of style and color would be perfect. Must I check all the rest or continue shopping once I’ve found IT? No: Who has time?

When is a ton of choice ideal and when excessive?


10 Responses to “Service of Excessive Choice”

  1. Nancy Farrell Said:

    Hi, Jeanne: I do not like shopping not even a little but my least favorite of all is grocery shopping. I would rather gather my own food in the wild than spend the better part of a day in one of those large grocery stores where the customers are expected to park far away from the store (day and night there never seems to be a parking space near the store when I’m there). Once inside, the aisles are jammed with displays. The customers are expected to push defective shopping carts around, to endure long lines at check out and in many cases check themselves out which, along with the crowded aisles, helps contribute to the rude and grumpy behavior displayed by anyone who musters the energy and nerve to try to shop there in the first place. They might have 10 different brands of popcorn but I don’t need 10 brands. I just need the kind of popcorn I use (microwavable, reasonably low in fat.) The gourmet shops are pleasant enough but not suitable for a week’s worth of shopping.

    A large chain recently bought and closed my little grocery store so I’ve been shopping at a Trader Joe’s instead. There is little choice when it comes to brands but that’s perfect for me. The staff is friendly and asks me if I need help finding anything! Wow! That hasn’t happened to me since, well, I can’t remember but I’m sure it must have happened at some point in my life. I’m able to navigate the aisles without trouble, the carts work, the store is large enough to have everything I need but small enough to save me time. The customers seem as happy and calm as I am and the prices are great, too. This is my third week shopping there and I don’t mind shopping there a bit. I might even like it a little!

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I, too am a Trader Joe fan! I ADORE the store. On 14th Street in NYC–the nearest one to me and a subway ride away–the branch has a long, long, line that moves quickly day and night. [I have walked out when the line winds through the store almost to the entrance.] The aisles are skinny and get crowded. Even so, the prices are as amazing as the staff’s spirit. The quality of what they sell is tops.

    As for the self-checkout systems–I HATE them. Instructions are complicated, each one different, I never have at hand the numbers they want me to have which I usually find out after having scanned a million items or one inevitably won’t scan, usually the last one. I’d rather go hungry or without my drugstore items than try something that is so frustrating.

  3. ASK Said:

    I love self-checkout! I’d rather pack my own stuff, putting the heavy items, those least prone to damage at the bottom of the bag and putting the more fragile items like fruits and some veggies on top. Most clerks really don’t know how to pack a grocery bag any more. I also get to control the number of bags I use, always less than clerks who tend to put two rolls of paper towels in one bag and that’s it. I do like smaller stores, they are easier to navigate and I don’t feel exhausted the minute I walk in. But, to date, the lure of Trader Joe’s has escaped me. They never seem to have the same product twice, nor are their prepared foods so good…

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I try to pack my own bags which is easy to do most of the time as I grab things as they pass the checkout person’s barcode scanner/scale. I’m not a great packer, but keep the seltzer bottles away from the grapes and cherry tomatoes.

    Because it’s not near enough to where I live to buy a lot of stuff, I go to Trader Joe for items such as honey, maple syrup, and French verbena soap as well as greeting cards and bags of popcorn–a favorite lunch.

  5. Joannie S Said:

    This is one of those double-edged questions.

    When it comes to the things that make up the very best of our civilization — fine art and literature, cheese and wine– the more choices the better. Oh what I’d give to view a Leonardo drawing I’d never seen before, or to taste a new Bordeaux that rivaled Haut Brion and Mouton!

    When it comes to gadgets like alarm clocks and computers, the fewer choices the better.
    The clock is there to wake me up, nothing more. As far as blackberries and apples, they are fruit to me, and rims/ipa/dsapps sounds like one more government bureaucrat device to waste money and make our lives miserable.

    I guess it’s a question of whether you like something or not. If you do, diversity is good, if you don’t, it’s bad.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    SO TRUE: If you like something, like a singer or actor, hearing or seeing them in a zillion venues is good. I love desserts, especially lemon or chocolate and all sorts of cookies, so bring them on! Ice cream smorgasbord with a zillion sauces is heaven. I write this having scanned the New York Times Sunday Magazine article about how sugar is killing me. Grump.

  7. Lucrezia Said:

    My vote is for choice, and that there is never “too much” of it. It’s good for business. In a world with over 7 billion (more?) people, it would be both stupid and criminal not to have unlimited options. Both dedicated shoppers and non shoppers are accommodated and everyone wins.

    PS I don’t believe that La Simpson was referring to sick people in her famous remark!

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I can think of instances where too much choice irks me as it did someone who commented on an earlier post: Niche marketing on steroids. Take laundry detergent. Soap is all I want. I don’t want it with softener in it or whitener or any number of a thousand things that if I did want, I’d add. I want to be able to use one detergent. I don’t want to buy one detergent for darks, one for whites and another for washing soft things. I can’t believe the public falls for this.

    Another example is OTC cough medicine. I want something to calm a cough. But I must read a zillion labels to get the one that matches the specific cough I have. I’m not a doctor….how do I know?

    I wonder how profitable it is for a company to compete with itself when it offers all these choices.

  9. Lucrezia Said:

    Someone is always going to be irked by something, and my take on it is that it’s more beneficial to society to have a plethora of choices than just a few. Ask any mid ’40s to ’50s Russian who was lucky to be able to find any soap on the shelves. It’s not that hard to find a brand that suits and stick to it. To complain about a plethora of choices is a prime example of sweating the small stuff!

    When one stops to consider the millions who don’t have a penny to feed their children, let alone buy what’s best for them, one might do better by rejoicing in ones good fortune, and perhaps send spare change to help feed the hungry. My advice is to hark to the “Jupiter and the Crane” fable. If Jupiter still lurks above, think well of the possible consequences to your complaint!

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    When I see grocery prices increasing week to week all I do is think of families with young children or elderly people on fixed incomes, both with limited resources, and wonder, as something as basic as potatoes cost 30 cents lb more than a month ago, what next? They must explore grocery aisles hoping for bargains if they can even afford transportation to get to a grocery store with fair prices.

    As you pointed out re. Ms. Simpson who wasn’t thinking of sick people when she uttered her words about being too thin, neither was I thinking of poor people when expressing annoyance over supercilious choices for soap and cough medicine.

    And have you seen the numbers of pens on a wall at an office supply store? Problem is, there are no samples to test, they all begin looking alike and I dislike buying a package of pens that work like the traditional ballpoints. I prefer the smooth-writing ink kind.

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