Can’t decide where to eat? These 4 tips will save your friendship.

Last week I went to the Sounders game with a few friends. We wanted to grab dinner and drinks first, but couldn’t decide where to go. Everyone was being super non-committal. I couldn’t tell if it was because we’re all Seattlelites or Asians.

“What do you like?” “I dunno. What do you like?” “Uh…there’s Thai, Ethiopian, BBQ, pizza…” “OMG they all sound good. I can’t pick. You pick.” “If you make me pick I’m going to stab you with lucky bamboo.” “Is the Thai good?” “It’s ok, do you want to go there?” “I dunno, do you?”


The time is takes to make a decision is directly proportional to the number of people present in the group. Using the simple formula below, you can calculate how long it would take to reach consensus.

Time (in minutes) = x2-2x+4; where x is the number of people in the group.

People (x)
Time (y)
1 3
2 4
3 7
4 12
5 19

Thus, if you are alone, is will take you about 2 minutes to decide what order, whereas a group of 4 friends will need 12 minutes. The reasoning is simple—the more people in the group, the more prone a group is to distractions. If you ever find yourself in this situation, these four tried and true methods will reduce your group decision-making time considerably.

The Waiver Rule

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. For every person who waives their right to decide, you decrease the “x” variable by a factor of one, thereby reducing time considerably.

But exercise caution when waiving your right to decide. If you’re a picky eater — maybe you’re vegan or can’t eat spicy food like me — you probably do not want to waive your right to choose. It’s very likely none of your friends care that you don’t eat eggs, fish sauce, or gluten (whatever that is). For the Waiver Rule to truly be effective, trust is critical.

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.” That’s all! It’s super easy.

The Alpha Dog

One person, herein known as the Alpha Dog, can step up as the leader of the group. The Alpha Dog can be a natural leader — such as a parent or boss — or someone who is recognized among their peers as trustworthy and competent. In general, social workers and people in non-profit make terrible Alpha Dogs; they’ve already demonstrated a propensity to making poor life decisions. Don’t believe me? Ask their parents. Having an Alpha Dog decide the food options can reduce decision-making time by 20-40%, depending on the age and experience of the Alpha Dog.

“Hey Janice, some of us are going to the Watercress Bistro tonight. Wanna come?”

“No you’re not. I’ve decided we’re all gonna have dinner and drinks at TanakaSan. And then afterward, go see Godzilla at the Cinerama. Don’t forget to pre-order your tickets.”

“By your command…”

The Alpha Dog method may be difficult for Asian Americans, who constantly battle stereotypes of being timid or weak leaders. To this I say bull. Asian Americans make great leaders. But if you need practice, start with children who are smaller than you; though finding one may take some time.

The 3/1 Compromise

Though not as fast as the Waiver Rule or Alpha Dog, the 3/1 Compromise provides a balanced approach to decision-making. Many people prefer the compromise because it is a highly effective way to settle disputes and cool tensions.

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.

20 Under/Over

Most people, especially Asian Americans, are familiar with family-style dinners where you buy dishes that are shared with every person at the table. But again, the challenge in trying to figure out how many dishes you need for the table adds to decision-making time considerably. “20 Under/Over” takes the guess work out of it.

For dinners, order 20% fewer dishes than there are people (round up to the nearest whole number). So if there are 5 people in your group, you will order 4 dishes. If there are 12 people in the group, then you need 10 dishes.

For happy hours, this rule is flipped and you should 20% more dishes than the number of people present (round down to the nearest whole number). So if there are 6 people, you need 7 dishes.


Recognizing that my friends were about to drag me into a considerable time suck, I used three of the methods above to make sure we all made it to dinner on time and not miss the Sounders game. See if you can tell which methods were used!

Picking a place to eat: “We’re going to Purple Dot for dinner. Raul, call Lorie and tell her where to meet us. Actually you’re driving. Nevermind, I’ll call her. OMG. KEEP YOUR HANDS ON THE STEERING WHEEL!”

Deciding which dishes to order: “I waive my right to decide. I will eat anything.”

“Wait…you can do that?”

“You sure can bud,” I replied with a wink and a smile.

“I waive my rest too then.”

How many dishes to get: There were 6 of us. We ordered 5 dishes. No food was left on the table by the end of dinner. Booyah!

If you need help figuring how to pay, read my post on who pays for lunch, dinner and drinks.


2 thoughts on “Can’t decide where to eat? These 4 tips will save your friendship.”

Leave a Comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s