It's a timeless, exhausting and frustrating struggle. You're with a friend or your significant other and you're both so hungry you start to wonder what the other person would taste like with a little mustard. Before resorting to murder and cannibalism, try one of these tricks.
Why It's So Hard To Decide
You know the fight. How do you not know what you want?! You can tell me about hundreds of "things" that you want, but you have no idea what you want to eat at this moment?! Turns out it's a pretty basic decision-making problem.
There's a deadline, and it's not just an imaginary place in time. You can feel this one. You're hungry and your stomach is sending this message to your brain: eat something or you'll die. Now, you're not actually going to perish, but that deadline is there, and deadlines can do funny things to your brain. Not only that, but your brain is comparing tastes, determining what nutrients it needs, and finding new ways to make things like this more complicated.
Now, add in the fact that you're with at least one other person going through the same process and things get pretty complicated. You suggest pizza, but the other person just had that last night. They suggest Chinese, but you were planning on having Chinese with family later on in the day. The pressure builds, and soon that small decision becomes your world's most unsolvable problem. Linda Sapadin at Psych Central explains that part of the problem is that a lot of things sound good at the time:
Decisions force us to close the door on other possibilities, small ones and big ones. You can't order every delicious dish on the menu... Fantasise all you like, but you'll never really know.
Your mind goes over all of your tasty options, and your brain worries itself over whether you'll make the "wrong" choice. Unfortunately, you can't have it all. Unless you got to a buffet.
Break It Down With The Process Of Elimination
It sounds crazy, but let's bring some logic into the equation. There are a lot of ways you can at least narrow down this life-changing decision. First, decide what you don't want. You know when something doesn't sound that great, so you can save yourself a whole lot of work by having all parties eliminate what they aren't "in the mood for". Here's a few other guidelines that can narrow it down further:
- Consider each other's food goals: Are you on a diet? Is the other person a vegetarian? Does your significant other refuse to eat bread? Diets and allergies can eliminate a lot of options.
- How far you want to go: Does someone have a time limit? Do you have transportation? Are there good options within walking distance?
- Look ahead: Will you be glad you ate there when it's all over? Did you really need that extra order of macaroni and cheese? Do you feel bad for throwing down 20 bucks for spaghetti? Picture yourself after the meal and really think about how you'll feel about it.
Shift The Power
Instead of a team effort, put the mighty power of food choosing in another's hands. Sometimes people just need a leader, and other times people just need to succumb to their destiny. Here's a few ways to put the power somewhere:
- The Alternating Leader: You both know what restaurants the other likes. If you don't, now's as good a time as ever to learn. The leader gets to pick anything from the list of places the other likes and the other gets only one veto. Next meal — or next day — the other person is the leader.
- The Social Network Gamble: If you've got things narrowed down somewhat, see what your friends on Twitter and Facebook think. People love making decisions for others. Another alternative is calling somebody up, or texting — because who are we kidding — and asking them what they would choose right now if they could eat anything.
- The Coin or Wheel of Fate: Start driving or walking. Start flipping a coin to decide whether you go left or right and let the fates decide. Eventually you'll see something both of you can agree on. Alternatively, head to Wheel Decide, and with a spin of the wheel you'll know what's on the menu.
Get Diplomatic If You're With A Group
If you're with more than one person, deciding where to eat gets exponentially harder. Now, you have at least three people that can't make up their mind, and also more competition if you all decide to eat each other. Again, elimination is key here. James at weblog Playing Asian has a couple or tips that can keep things moving, while being diplomatic. First up is the waiver:
Members of a group can waive their right to make a decision or give input. You are not allowed to choose a dish, the place to eat, type of meat you want, how spicy something is, etc. You have absolutely no say. You can't even comment on other people's decision. At first glance, this may seem really harsh with no upside. However, effective use of the waiver increases decision-making time considerably. With a witness present, utter the words "I, [state your name] under my own free will and without threat or coercion, hereby waive my right to decide where or what we eat tonight."
Of course, you can modify this rule however you want. You can still choose your dish, for example, but the idea is that you voluntarily give up your say and have to live with the consequences. The second option is the 3/1 compromise:
The first person to speak up and declare "I'm invoking the 3/1 Compromise" becomes "The Great Compromiser". The Great Compromiser then presents three different options to their friends. "We can go get Pho, Mexican, or burgers." There can be absolutely no disputes to these options. Someone can't respond "But I just had pho yesterday." It doesn't matter! Eat it again! This is why it's called a compromise. Next, the group members must select one of the three options for dinner. They can work together as a team, draw straws, form caucuses, or battle it out like on Gladiator. Anything is fair game.
This is effective because everything is automatically narrowed down before the discussion really begins. As The Great Compromiser, you can sit back and watch the peasants fight over food, or help keep the peace. The former sounds more fun, but it's your call.
Create A Food Chart, Tournament Bracket Or Map
Let's get real for a second. Struggling to choose where to eat happens to you and whoever you're with all the time. It happens enough that maybe you should have something prepared for such occasions. It might sound kind of nerdy, but some form of reference could save you some serious time.
Sometimes kids will teach us more than we can teach them. A six year-old decided to create a food tournament bracket to determine what he wanted to eat. He's lucky he even gets to pick at his age, but at least he's tackling his problem head on. You're old enough to choose what to eat and you're sitting there in your own hunger. Grab a piece of paper and take turns listing options on each side, then let the tournament begin!
If you've narrowed down things a little beforehand, a flow chart designed to cater to specific tastes could help. Make simple yes or no lines and you'll have something both of you can refer to in times of need. Better yet, our own Whitson Gordon suggests making a custom, collaborative Google map:
If you haven't created a custom map in Google Maps before, it's quite simple. Just click the "My Places" button, then click Create Map. Name it, give it a description, and start adding places. To add a new place, just find it on Google Maps (by searching), then click on it and choose "Save to Map". Choose your newly created map from the list, and you'll see it show up as a blue peg. Click on it in the sidebar to give it a description. I usually like to add a link to the Yelp page and the menu, if it's available online, so we have easy access (you'll have to edit using Rich Text, not the default Plain Text, to do this). You can also add other notes about the place, including your favourite dishes or secret menu items your friends might not know about. You can also invite others to help you out by clicking the Collaborate link in the sidebar.
Now you have an ever-changing reference that all involved can modify. What should we get for lunch? "Consult the map!"
Try Something New Or Pair It With An Activity
Maybe you can't decide because you're both sick of the same ol' places. Instead of struggling to pick a place you like, pick a new place you've never been before. Who knows, it could become a new favourite. There are lots of apps that can help you discover new restaurants so be adventurous and give it a go. You can even plan ahead of time set location based reminders for restaurants you've been meaning to try. Now when you're out and about, and you need a place to eat, you can see exactly what you've been meaning to try around you.
Maybe you don't know what you want to eat, but you know what you'd like to do. Decide on an activity together and then plan a meal that goes along with it. Something that's near the movie theatre, or a place next door to that art exhibit. Your search for an answer can easily be refined if it has to fit with other plans.
When In Doubt, Stall
Maybe you can't decide because you're really not that hungry. Maybe you can't decide because you're feeling the pressure all of the sudden. Whatever the reason, if you can't figure it out, just stall. Maria Baratta at Psychology Today explains why stalling might be the best answer:
When you feel pressured and a decision is impossible, when in doubt, stall. Stalling is the basic task of securing more time to think, feel or process information relevant to a solution or choice. We make many of our decisions from the gut — an intuitive reaction that honours an internal truth. Yet decisions made in haste might lack the necessary time to get in touch with that internal truth. In those situations, allow yourself more time — "Let me get back to you, I need to sleep on it, Can I let you know next week, Can you put that on hold for me , May I have a few more minutes to decide." Buy yourself more time. Giving yourself permission to stall might just take the pressure off making a hasty and bad decision.
While you're stalling, find something to take your mind off of things. You might be hungry still, but a few moments of clarity might lead you to an epiphany. If you want a little more assurance that the answer will come to you, do a gut check test.
Still can't decide? You can always save some money and eat what you have sitting in your kitchen. Now you can fight about what to make for dinner. Let the battle begin!