What better way to celebrate my 67th birthday than by ordering a pastrami on rye at a delicatessen in Berkeley every bit as authentic as the places I grew up with in Brooklyn.
My partner joined me. She was happy to mask up and present proof of vaccination at the door. Early detection and surgery had excised a pea-sized tumor in her breast, and she wanted to avoid Covid like the plague.
As she was getting certified, I noticed a sign on the counter: “Due to supply chain problems the cost of pastrami had gone up.” On the way to our booth, another signed announced: “Owing to a labor shortage, there will be no table service.”
Instead, we were directed to point our smart phones at a QR reader to review the selections and place orders. No more laminated menus, or the chance to ask questions.
All these changes gave me pause. I hadn’t had a pastrami sandwich in forever, so I didn’t know how the cost-per-sandwich now compared to before Covid. But I had lost weight during the long months of quarantine. Did I really want to pay inflated prices for a fatty lunchmeat that might threaten my waistline?
… Did I really want to pay inflated prices for a fatty lunchmeat that might threaten my waistline …
This is an example of what economists call rational thinking. The price increase tested my price elasticity curve – the term describes how much consumers would be willing to pay for a product before an increase in cost depressed demand.
I’d been making such decisions ever since my mother had sent me out with a shopping cart, a $10 bill, and instructions to pay no more for certain items then specified. Force of habit simplified my decision: roast beef on rye would be the equivalent experience for 85% of the cost, and a lesser likelihood of stretching my waistline as a bonus.
Placing the order was a cinch. A human quickly brought our plates. The robot hasn’t been built yet that could have performed the service as efficiently. The process worked so smoothly that I wondered whether the company behind the app was publicly traded. A search said the startup had recently gone public, makings its founders’ billionaires.
A different human took our plates and asked if we’d looked at the dessert menu. Some things don’t change. AI can’t match HI at offering temptation.
We exchanged looks. She crinkled her nose. I shook my head. I’d splurged enough. With the calories saved by substituting roast beef for pastrami, I had enjoyed the potato salad, guilt free. Mine and hers. That’s what I call a rational thinking.