How I Order Food – Gambling With An Edge

I recommend you start out with reading Matthew Dicks’ Facebook post from July 2, 2021. Matt is one of my storytelling gurus and has posted daily posts “forever.” This time he writes about how he and his wife’s different eating habits mesh well with those of a few friends. Matt (and the female friend) like to order their own food without regard to whatever anybody else is having. They prefer to eat it without sharing with others. Matt’s wife Elysha (and the male friend) like to order somewhat communally. “If you get the veal, I’ll get the chicken and we’ll share!” When Matt and Elysha go out with these friends, everyone gets to eat the way each prefers, and all have a fine time. (Dicks lays out a third way to eat too. You’ll have to read his post to find out what it is!)

The post caused me to look at the way Bonnie and I order. It has nothing to do with any of the ways Matt laid out. It is probably a way that he has never considered. But I’m willing to bet the farm that a number of the people who read my blog order in a similar way at least some of the time.

You see, a high percentage of the meals we eat are paid for by casinos as a comp, which is short for complimentary. We get it by being players at the casino. Some of the comps are open-ended, meaning you can have whatever you want, but often they come with a specific dollar amount — say $30, $60, $100, $150, or any other amount. Each casino has its own rules for how comps are redeemed, but they are typically for one sitting and are “you pay if you go over. If your bill comes to less than the comp, you forfeit whatever is unspent.” At some places sales taxes are waived. At others, sales taxes are not waived.

So, let’s say I have a $75 comp at a place where entrees range from $20 to $100, plus they have the usual assortment of appetizers, soups, salads, desserts — along with a wine list. 

Almost always, after looking at the menu for a few minutes, Bonnie asks me what I am going to order. My answer is frequently, “I don’t know yet. You tell me what you’re going to order, and I’ll find something to use up the comp!”

I’m not a gourmet. I have my preferences, but on any given night I could have chicken, fish, beef, or even vegetarian. Or sometimes just a salad. It’s more about the company and the nourishment than the actual food.

If Bonnie decides she’s going to have a $20 salad, I’ll find something in the $50 range. If she wants a $40 salmon dinner, I’ll find something in the $30 range. Whenever she asks if there is room on the comp for her to have xxxx, the answer is always yes. And then I adjust what I’m having. Sometimes I’ll have a fairly strong preference towards a particular entrée and will suggest to Bonnie that if she has either yyyy or zzzz, we’ll use up the comp completely. I don’t do this very often, but when I do, she usually goes along with the suggestion.

My basic assumption, very possibly not supported by empirical evidence, seems to be that for the same size tip, a $50 entrée is “better” than a $30 entrée. That assumption helps me make up my mind when otherwise I might have no idea of what to have for dinner! 

It’s not at all rare to have a waiter come up at the end of such a meal and exclaim, “My gosh, your comp is for $75 and you spent $74.75! I can’t believe it.” My usual response at such a moment is to ask the waiter, “Do you have anything for 25¢ or less?” When the answer comes back in the negative, I tell the waiter that we’re finished with the meal.

Sometimes it happens that Bonnie decides she’s in the mood for coffee and/or dessert after we’ve finished the meal. Since this is a rarity, usually it means that I’ve already arranged to spend at least $73 of the comp before she tells me this. So, we exceed the comp. It’s not a disaster if we go over the $75, of course. We have funds. We can afford to pay retail for meals. Still, one way to make sure we have enough funds to always eat what we want is to let casinos buy us stuff and spend as little of our money on food as possible.

Plus, it’s part of the “Advantage Player” mindset. I’ll arrange my life to go to a casino at 3 a.m. or 4 p.m. or whenever else it’s in my interest to be there to get the best deal. Getting the most out of food comps goes hand in hand with this.

People who don’t play enough in casinos to get “free” meals do not order this way. And to be sure, probably most people who get comps don’t order this way either. But I’m sure some do. I’ve overheard plenty of conversations in casino restaurants to just this effect.

Bonnie and I have been married seven years and before she started going out with me, she had never eaten this way before. But, being naturally frugal, it made sense to her, and she adapted pretty quickly.

Finally, a big part of Matt’s original Facebook post was about sharing food during dinner. Bonnie and I don’t usually share at the table — other than sometimes ordering one bowl of soup with two spoons as part of the meal. But as septuagenarians with diminished appetites, we often do not finish what we ordered. Doggie bags leaving a restaurant are the norm for us. And three times out of four, once the leftovers are in our refrigerator at home, I’m the one who finishes off both meals over the next few days!

Author’s note:  If you’re at all interested in the art of telling stories, or even being a good conversationalist, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Matthew Dicks’ Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life Through the Power of Storytelling.

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