The Wiki Man

This is what every menu should look like

Decision-making could be so much easier if information was presented differently

18 July 2015

9:00 AM

18 July 2015

9:00 AM

The appallingly bad photograph below was taken on my mobile phone about 15 years ago. It shows the menu layout from the Lisbon restaurant Chapito. I have never seen any other restaurant adopt such an ingenious format. You are given five set menus to choose from (white, yellow, orange, red and green) with a suggested wine for each. But you are perfectly free to substitute any dish from any other menu, or omit a course if you want. It is a brilliant example of what is sometimes called ‘choice architecture’.


This format makes it easier to choose what to eat. But it also helps you make a better choice. You have the same freedom as if you were to select from a conventional menu of five starters, main courses and puddings, but the format also contains an additional layer of information: it communicates what dishes (and wines) the chef believes complement each other best.

This is all to the good. Obviously we don’t want to be forced to eat something we hate; yet, in many cases, when otherwise indifferent, we would be happy to defer to the chef’s judgment. In a better world, all restaurant menus would be designed like this.

Seeing this, I have long wondered if there were other instances where we could dramatically improve decision-making by changing the presentation of information. For instance, would the property market be more effective if all estate agents were compelled to include some negative aspects to every property listing? A busy road, aircraft noise, a nuclear power station, being at the end of a long rutted track, not having a lift…?

This would save hours of time spent on wasted viewings. But it would also be more efficient, since people’s dislikes in housing vary much more widely than their likes. The best way to find a reasonably priced home is not to search for the perfect house — everyone will want that — but to find one which has qualities which most people dislike but which you don’t mind, or even perversely enjoy. When I first moved to London, my flat overlooked the main railway tracks out of Paddington and had a close-up view of the Westway. After 18 years growing up around the Wye Valley, this was bliss. Since I never go to bed before 2 a.m., I wasn’t bothered by the pub next door. And so on.

In all the debate over the expansion of Heathrow, it is often forgotten that there must be a million Londoners who enjoy watching aircraft overhead — and whose preferences are just as worthy of consideration as those of the neurotics and insomniacs whose voices dominate the debate. And Heathrow expansion is, when you think about it, a great way of providing low-cost housing for the deaf.

The planners of HS1 cleverly followed the route of the M2 and M20 motorways through Kent. Thus the trains pass by the homes of people who were used to noise to begin with. The same idea was put forward for HS2 — to follow the M40. For some reason this was ignored.

There is one group of people who do deserve real sympathy, but get none whatsoever, nor any compensation at all. Whatever you do, apparently, you should never buy a house next to a set of traffic lights. Most noises we can become inured to. Sudden noise — beeps, tyre squeals, air-brakes and crashes — stress you even when you are asleep.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Rory Sutherland is vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group UK.

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  • Chas Grant

    In all the debate over the expansion of Heathrow, it is often forgotten that there must be a million Londoners who enjoy watching aircraft overhead

    I daresay there are, but the overlap with those who live near Heathrow must be very, very small 🙂

  • Matthewbush

    Some Different Ways of on-p-e–t-a-t-o-

  • sir_graphus

    “estate agents were compelled to include some negative aspects”

    Reminds me of marriage; tolerance of negative aspects are far more important that things couples enjoy together; mutual interest in art galleries is all well and good, but it’s far more important, for example, that nose-picking doesn’t drive her absolutely up the wall.

  • Suzy61

    As an empty-nester, nervously living alone, I chose to live on a busy road in a town centre. The noise of the hustle and bustle is comforting. I work at Manchester airport and enjoy watching the planes from my window. The planes fly so low over Heald Green you feel you could almost touch them.

    However, what you say is true regarding the traffic lights but the absolute worst of it are the police cars and ambulances who slam on the sirens as they approach the busy junction 20 yards from my bedroom window.

  • tb_kol

    That’s nice to preserve the catalogue image for 15 years. Coming from an ad man its even inspiring. I too have a collection of them but seldom refer to it.

    I live on the 4th floor at the busiest main street and next to a large crossing too. At peak hours the noise is irritating. We just close the windows and draw the curtains. Yet, its a pleasure to stand by the window and see all the hectic pushing and screeching of cars, bikes and rickshaws and small trucks and people crossing the road. In the rains its even more enjoyable with street children having a good time in the rains. The street has large trees as a boulevard.

    And always our guests stand by the window to enjoy the scenes and think it worth climbing (no elevator) the 4 floors.

    I once had to live for a while in an area with no road traffic in a colony. Although the place was nice and well built, there was nothing to see out from the verandah except other people’s homes.

    A home by a busy street is not always a nuisance. It adds some sight-seeing value as well.

  • Ah, but Rory: I knew my house would not pull ’em in. As a buyer, I waited a long time (ignoring the agent’s urgings) before finally seeing it, myself. I bought it because it was the least worst of the choices in my price range, given that I refused to have a property in which the neighbour could see me nude in my bedroom as I dressed through his own window. Such is England. I wanted old and romantic: I got 1960s, large, with bad cabinets, worse wiring, and a ‘water feature’ that I removed as unnatural and faintly unhygienic.

    The point is that I knew that whoever bought my house would a) have quite a bit of dosh or at least some access to a good mortgage; and b) be somewhat desperate/willing to compromise.

    The first woman that looked around — rather an Essex girl, of advanced years and over-made up in my 35-year-old opinion — clearly didn’t want it. But I wasn’t put off. I wasn’t put off because we’d had a month-long heat-wave in August and no one had come to view and we were concerned; and I wasn’t put off because even if Essex This-Won’t-Impress-My-Friends Dollybird wasn’t enchanted with it, it might have been her best buy, anyway. I didn’t know her circs, after all. Recent divorce and money tightish? Following Buddhism and making a creaky transition from city life? Who knew?

    In the end we sold the property to a family: mum, dad, two young adolescent boys. When Mum came to look it over, I thought we were doomed: her face was a sour lemon. She asked: ‘are the laundry machines included?’ (They were American — Whirlpool because I don’t mess about — top of the line and relatively new.) I said: Yes. You know when you have a selling point, however pathetic. She didn’t want ecological European b-ll and by golly I had the American genuine article.

  • And Heathrow expansion is, when you think about it, a great way of providing low-cost housing for the deaf.
    That’s what the residents will BE, if they have loud noises overhead.

    As someone with tinnitus and with a father of under 70 wearing hearing-aids, I am against all industrial noise where people live!