“Getting a good meal in D.C. requires some ruthless economics”

This piece is by me, in The Washington Post. Here is one bit:

The key is to hit these restaurants in the “sweet spot” of their cycle of rise and fall. At any point in time Washington probably has five to 10 excellent restaurants; they just don’t last very long at their highest levels of quality.

Here’s how it works. A new chef opens a place or a well-known chef comes to town and starts up a branch. Good reviews are essential to get the place off the ground, and so they pull out all stops to make the opening three months, or six months, special. And it works. In today’s world of food blogs, Twitter and texting, the word gets out quickly.
. . .
Through information technology, we have speeded up the cycle of the rise and fall of a restaurant. Once these places become popular, their obsession with quality slacks off. They become socializing scenes, the bars fill up with beautiful women (which attracts male diners uncritically), and they become established as business and power broker spots. Their audiences become automatic. The transients of Washington hear about where their friends are going, but they are less likely to know about the hidden gem patronized by the guy who has been hanging around for 23 years, and that in turn means those gems are less likely to exist in the first place.

In economic terms, think of this as a quest for the thick market externalities. Search and monitoring are most intense in the early stages of a restaurant’s life, and so that is the best time to go. There is an analogy in music: Bob Dylan and Chuck Berry do not always give the very best concerts, because they do not have to. You may or may not like up-and-coming bands, but at least they will be trying very hard.

The full article is here.

Originally posted on Marginal Revolution – click to see comments and suggestions.

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