Damon Baehrel is a chef who runs a tiny restaurant out of his house in upstate New York. These days he charges around $400 per person for his tasting menu, and people rave about the food; he has appeared on lists of the best chef in the world.
How did he get in the enviable position of being to earn his living by cooking lavish meals for half a dozen guests a night? By announcing that his restaurant was booked for five years in advance and he was no longer taking reservations.
Really; Nick Paumgarter documented the whole strange story in the August 22 New Yorker. When Baehrel made his announcement, hundred of big time foodies immediately began to scramble for places at the table; how, they asked, could we not have known about this? Eventually Baehrel called them back and said, "Oh, there's been a cancellation so I have an opening next week." They rushed to taste his food. There is no evidence that Baehrel has ever even now really sold out his restaurant for a week, let alone five years.
There is more. Baehrel claims to do a vast number of things himself, relying heavily on the produce of his 12-acre property. He says that he gathers wild food, everything from sycamore sap to acorn flour to cattail roots. Anyone who knows the first thing about gathering wild food knows that this is hooey; one person simply cannot feed even a tiny restaurant full of diners with ingredients gathered in the wild.
On the other hand, everyone agrees the food is amazing. So if the status-crazed foodies who trek to Baehrel's basement feel like they are getting their money's worth, what is he doing wrong?
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"On the other hand, everyone agrees the food is amazing. So if the status-crazed foodies who trek to Baehrel's basement feel like they are getting their money's worth, what is he doing wrong?"
Well, the obvious immediate answer is that he's lying to people. The trouble is, it often feels like people these days don't much value the truth anyway, so if you lie to them in a way that doesn't outrage them, they'll often excuse it out of hand.
This guy sounds like a conman, cleverly running a completely legal confidence game.
You couldn't do this in most fields of business - if you try to sell most things at absurd prices by making outrageous and clearly false claims, you end up in hot water. But in the food industry, where nearly all measures of quality and value are completely subjective, so long as you can dupe people into willingly paying your prices, no one will ever object.
Clearly this guy is exploiting known human biases and fallacious thinking. People - even experts - can't tell the difference between a $10 bottle of wine and a $100 one. More than that, people will also enjoy a bottle wine more if they're simply told it is more expensive, even if it actually isn't. And even with food itself, identical meals produce substantially different ratings of satisfaction dependent simply on things like how they're arranged on the plates.
So this conman lies to people. He exploits their confidence in him, manipulates their biases, and engages in social engineering to turn an undeserved profit. He's selling ordinary food on par with plenty of other restaurants, but by taking advantage of flaws in human psychology, he can charge absurdly high prices and get away with it.
It's a classic snake oil sale - it doesn't matter that the product itself isn't anything special, so long as you can fool people into believing that is, then you can convince them to pay a small fortune for something effectively worthless.
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