The line at Pink's, from a law and economics POV

pinks-flickr.jpgSouthwestern Law School professor David Fagundes, writing at the legal blog Concurring Opinions, considers the long waits for a hot dog at Pink's and concludes there's a paradox lying therein.

Classic L&E would suggest that this isn’t a paradox at all, and that the line merely reveals the unusually strong preferences of the public for Pink’s chili dogs, meaning that they really are worth the interminable wait. And while this is an empirical question, and while tastes are subjective and highly variable, I can’t buy that account......

First, perhaps the Pink’s line is an example of simple groupthink, or herd behavior. The simple, and less charitable, version of this story is that people tend to mindlessly repeat the common behavior of others, so that people unthinkingly wait too long for Pink’s chili dogs because others unthinkingly wait too long for Pink’s chili dogs, causing the line to creep ever longer, almost independently of the quality of the food.

But there’s a more charitable version of this argument that goes something like this: With so many food choices in a large city, we can’t taste them all, and instead have to depend on signals to indicate what the best options are. Our preferences are typically strongly influenced by what others already visibly prefer, and Pink’s line gives a hugely visible message that one could quite reasonably be influenced by. Seeing a line of consumers snaking up La Brea is a more compelling advertisement than some print ad written by the restaurant’s own publicist, since it reflects actual, aggregated preferences. It’s not crazy, and perhaps even reasonable, to at least want to try Pink’s to see whether a hot dog could be good enough to justify an hour-plus wait (though doing so more than once would be harder to explain).

Second, I’ve been assuming that waiting in line is just another cost to be weighed against the appeal of Pink’s hot dogs in a cost/benefit analysis. But perhaps the story is more complicated. It could be that there are nonobvious benefits to being in line.

The professor's bottom line: more empirical research is needed. Via Ben Sheffner.

Photo: Average Jane on Flickr

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