There’s no law that says two people can’t have the same thing to eat


Some time ago, my group went out for a team lunch. It was to a restaurant we were not familiar with, so there was quite a bit of time studying the menu. As everybody looked over the menu, discussion naturally turned to “So what are you going to have?”

“I think I’ll have the salmon sandwich.”

One of my colleagues replied, “Oh, rats. I was thinking of having that.”

I remarked, “There’s no law that says two people can’t order the same thing.”

My colleague disagreed.

Not if you ask my wife. Whenever we go out to eat, she’ll ask me what I’m having, and then she’ll say “Oh, rats. I was thinking of having that. Now I’ll have to order something else.”

I’ll say, “You can order it too, that’s okay. Or I’ll change my order, no big deal.”

But she’ll say, “No, that’s okay. I’ll just find something else.”

I’ve tried many times without success to convince her that it’s okay for two people to have the same thing to eat. Now I just accept it.

Update: A few months later, I received an update from my colleague.

The other night, my wife and I went out to dinner, and my wife really wanted the same that I had already said that I was going to order. But instead of switching to something else, she ordered it anyway. I think this is the first time this has ever happened. And you know what? The world did not end.

Comments (37)
  1. Chris B says:

    I must admit, I am often guilty of doing this, as is my wife, and many of my friends. I think it's because we tend to be adventurous and economically minded people, and if multiple people order the same thing, then you get less variety per dollar. We tend to share food with each other, so everybody getting something different increases variety at a minimal cost. If we are more familiar with the menu, I think that is less likely to happen.

    [Yup, my wife and I do the same thing. "I'm thinking of getting the X." "Me too! Why don't you order the X, and I'll order the Y, and we'll share." That way we get to sample two dishes. (In fact this, is so standard for us that we don't even explain it. "I'm thinking of getting the X." "Okay, then I'll get the Y." and then when the food comes, we split it up as a matter of course.) -Raymond]
  2. Rob Y says:

    My wife used to do the same thing, especially when we went out to eat with my parents.  Our solution… we always made her order first and we wouldn't tell her what we were going to order.  We have since broke her of this habit.

  3. Programmerman says:

    This came up last week with a friend. He apologized for ordering the same food, I replied it didn't matter since we weren't sharing food anyway. That's the only time where diversified food ordering comes in handy: when you're sharing (or at least sampling) each other's entrees.

  4. SMW says:

    I think the other reason that ordering different items comes into play is when you want to see how good the various dishes are at the restaurant.  If everyone ordered the same thing then nobody knows what any of the other items taste like.

  5. This is just… weird. Just order whatever the hell whoever's paying the bill is willing to pay.

  6. Andrew says:

    At this one particular restaurant, my aunt and uncle would order the same thing as each other, regardless of what everyone else was eating–and it was a Chinese restaurant!  (And nobody ate theirs, and they didn't eat anyone else's.)

  7. Eric TF Bat says:

    The rule when eating Chinese (which, in Australia at least, is usually discrete dishes of the form "[flavour][main ingredient]", such as Sweet and Sour Pork or Satay Vegetables or whatever) is to order N dishes plus rice for N people at the table, then everyone shares.  In that case it would make no sense to order two of the same thing.  Although I've never considered it, I guess this is the reason we do the same even when the food comes on specific plates and sharing is thus more complicated.  The logic is viral, perhaps.

  8. James says:

    We ordinarily share bites, but when my wife gets red meat, I always order the same thing at the same doneness to increase the odds that they'll be cooked properly.  Ordering an 8 oz and a 10 oz on the same check practically guarantees that one or the other will be overcooked.

  9. Branden says:

    The book "Predictably Irrational", by Dan Ariely, has an interesting section on this exact phenomenon.  It turns out that the social forces that compel people to choose their second choice, when somebody else has already ordered their first choice, lead people to have a worse dining experience than those that just go ahead and order what they want – even if the whole table orders the same meal.

  10. Pop.Catalin says:

    This behavior even if we are zero percent aware of it at conscious level comes from our deep subconscious instincts of survival.

    Going for different types of food reduces the risk of poisoning (humans had potentially poisonous foods in their diet for millions of years), going for variety increases the chance of successfully procuring food (humans have pursued multiple types of foods for millions of years).

    This urge to pursue food variety if you have the chance comes from subconscious level, but has no rational explanation in today's world, that's why our rational brains find it very strange.

  11. Maurits says:

    I've tried many times without success to convince her

    Rookie mistake. The correct response is to wait for her to come up with an alternate dish, then say "y'know, that sounds good; I'll get that too."

    Bonus points if you do this when the server is already at the table.

  12. dave says:

    It turns out that the social forces that compel people to choose their

    second choice, when somebody else has already ordered their first choice,

    lead people to have a worse dining experience than those that just go

    ahead and order what they want – even if the whole table orders the same meal.

    This assumes some correlation between the order of my menu-driven

    choices and the quality of my dining experience. To the contrary, it

    does not follow that I'll enjoy my first choice more than I'd enjoy

    my second choice, particularly if I've never been to this restaurant

    before.

    To put it another way, I choose on the basis of indirect evidence ('what

    the menu says') and enjoy on the basis of direct evidence ('what the

    food is actually like').

    If the two were the same, then the damn-I-wish-I'd-ordered-that reaction

    wouldn't exist.

    dave

  13. Brian 587 says:

    I guess I'm weird.  My wife and I often order the same thing and it's never been an issue.

  14. Mike says:

    In defense of ordering the same thing: cooking time should be the same/similar and less screw ups. I used to hang out with a youth group in college and we'd go out pretty much every week for dinner. Someone always ordered the filet-o-fish or the casual dining equivalent suboptimal prep-time item. Problem: they wanted to say grace before eating but considered it rude to do that before everyone had their food. So I ended up with my ribs in front of me for 10-15 min before I could eat, usually after an evening church service so ~9pm at night and I was HUNGRY :) Boo.

    One time where order the same (or close failed): both me and a friend ordered a steak medium. His came and it was charcoal. So they ended up reordering his item and by then they were busy so took about another hour for his food to show up after mine. That sucked too.

  15. @Eric TF Bat: Depending on the Chinese restaurant and how adventurous the people are feeling, there eventually comes an N where repeating items is probably a better idea for everyone in the party.  (Also, I subscribe to the "N+1 dishes, plus rice" principle for N diners, but that's partly because I normally just go out with my wife, partly because I can eat through 1.xxxx dishes, and partly because I like having leftovers for lunch the next day.)

  16. Marc says:

    My girlfriend and I don't share exactly, but we do taste each other's choice.  When I eat with my other friends, we definitely don't share – but we still tend to get different dishes, so that we can compete in the traditional "Mine was better than yours" contest.

  17. Gabe says:

    If we're planning on sharing, we always try to get different orders. If we're not planning to share, we always try to order what sounds the best. Even though I'm the person usually trying to encourage sharing, I consider it a point of pride when somebody changes their order to the same thing I'm getting.

  18. Ken in NH says:

    @Mike

    Don't go to restaurants that cannot handle variable cooking times. They should be plating all items for a table at the same time which means starting the item with the longest cooking time first and starting each item as necessary for it all to reach "done" near simultaneously. (Some items, like pasta and sauce, can wait in a "done" state without affecting quality.)

  19. Jen says:

    Then what makes my mother-in-law ALWAYS order the exact same thing I do?

  20. smf says:

    "Then what makes my mother-in-law ALWAYS order the exact same thing I do?"

    She doesn't want to risk you asking to share with her.

  21. Mop says:

    My wife and I now adhere to this rule after ordering identical dishes while on our honeymoon.  The meal was terrible.  We generally won't send a meal back for tasting bad (only for things like "this is undercooked" or "not what we ordered"), especially when we don't want to waste time. So we both went a little hungry that night. Now we both order unique dishes so that if one is inedible we can split the second.

  22. Sugendran says:

    I'm pretty sure the wife orders something different so that she can swap with me half way through is she isn't happy with her choice.

  23. Lee says:

    "In that case it would make no sense to order two of the same thing": It makes sense if one of the dishes is terribly popular, e.g. a dish that the restaurant is known for. "Where do you want to go for lunch?" "Let's go to ABC, I love their XYZ." "Oh yes, so do I."

  24. Me says:

    I guess we do this some, but not as a rule. Given that most of our dinners out have two persons ordering, occasionally three or four, and that the menu usually has at least eight entrees, the chance of collisions is fairly small anyway.

    On the other hand, there's the scene in the movie Tampopo where the fellow disrupts a business lunch by not ordering what everyone else–starting with the big boss–ordered.

  25. chentiagemalc says:

    Our wife and I often order different and share. But some places there is 1 dish so perfect we both just order it. When I was working in China I had an Australian colleague who wasn't used to the popular concept in Asian dishes of order many different dishes and share. I remember at Chinese restaurant the waiter (who couldn't speak English) kept trying to give him hints "put your dish in center of table, share it" but he just cuddled his dish in a protective embrace :)

  26. valentin says:

    I've never heared of this until now. I'm actually happier if people order the same thing because it would be faster to prepare.

  27. David says:

    Hah, that's funny, apparently this also happens across cultures. I have dated (and married, on occasion) Argentinian, Brazilian, German, French and American women and I *always* saw this behavior. I guess dating isn't really the best example though, as everyone is trying to display as wide a range of likes and dislikes in the process that might somehow skew the results, but even on longer term relationships where there was no need to impress the other this behavior was invariant. Interesting.

  28. Cheong says:

    There's one exception to this: If your friends have ordered some sort of "fried rice", you shouldn't order the same.

    This is because the cook is known to fry the 2 orders at the same time, but frying 2 serving of rice would be too difficult. Not only the wok would be heavier, the heat would be more difficult to distribute evenly over the rice. And the ingradients and salt would be difficult to distribute evenly too. So the cook will tends to reduce the size of servings.

    Net result, each of you have smaller dish of fried rice that when you put them together, it would be around 1.5 dishes only.

  29. Cheong says:

    @Eric TF Bat: When it comes to order Chinese dishes, if N = 7, you either order one more dish or one less. That's because a 7-dishes meal in Chinese has special meaning – that's for people who have just attended funeral ceremony. In Chinese traditional thought, people believes ordering dishes like that unless you're that kind of people brings bad luck to your family.

  30. Dan F says:

    Sounds very very familiar. If I know I'm sharing, I'll order something different. If I'm just with a bunch of mates, we'll order whatever we feel like and not worry if anyone orders the same.

    We're not as bad as the Turkey Sandwich club though – blogs.msdn.com/…/10391042.aspx

  31. Drak says:

    I generally just order what I want at a restaurant regardless of what anyone else is having.

    This usually doesn't include an entree (which is what you get before the main course) because the main course is generally enough for me.

  32. GWO says:

    My wife and I do do this occasionally, but we've now reached an (unspoken) position where when we go out we'll often eat something the other person does not like – since we eat together, this rarely happens at home — so meals out are an opportunity to indulge in those "forbidden" food stuffs.

  33. Eric says:

    Wow,I am impressed, we both like to eat what we like. And we will regularly order the same things but equaly often different things.

    I didn't realise how exceptional this is.

  34. asdbsd says:

    I'm sorry to go completely off-topic, but I've just noticed that the address of this blog goes:

     blogs.msdn.com/b/oldnewthing/

    In other words, bold new thing.

  35. NT says:

    "I'm planning to get X"

    "Oh rats, I was thinking of getting that."

    "Yeah, you should order that too.  That way I'll get to eat all of mine."

    :)

  36. Mark says:

    @Programmerman

    It isn't just for sharing food. My ex-girlfriend would always insist I order something different. That way if she didn't like hers we would swap dishes. She knew I would eat anything and not care and she was far more picky.

  37. 640k says:

    @asdbsd:

    The old non-buggy blog software didn't have /b in the url, it's a new thing.

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