Sunday, October 6, 2013

Just Water Economics

The family went out to dinner last night. Perfect weather on Lake Hopatcong (the largest lake in New Jersey) with a sunset worthy of a painting.

When the waiter came to the table, the girls were not ready to order (go figure) so my son Robert went first. Chicken Parmesan with Onion Soup appetizer. And to drink? “Just water, please” was his answer. Next up was Tom Jr., with a steak and salad and a side of pasta. Again, “Just water, please”. I was up next with the King Cut Prime Rib, and the Onion Soup sounded good. And then I did something that I never do when eating out: I said “I’ll have just water, thank you.” When all was said and done, all five in our dinner party ordered “just water” with their meal.

I’ll fast forward to the end of the story: a great time at the lake. The food was perfect. The service was excellent. The portions were huge, and when asked, no one had room for dessert. Not even coffee. Just the check, please.

There was something wrong with the check. It seemed to be “too small”.

Before we sat down at the table, I had a number in my mind of how much this evening was going to cost. From many years of eating out (and picking up the tab) you tend to have a guesstimate of what things should cost (dinner at a lakeside restaurant in New Jersey vs. The Four Seasons in New York City).

Because we all had “just water” and we also passed on coffee and dessert, the final tab was around half of what I was prepared to pay. I am sure that many of you (especially if you have young families) have had this “just water” epiphany. If it was not for my son going first, we all would have had beer, wine or soda - but not “just water”.

Then it also hit me: were there for the good food and the atmosphere (sunset on the lake) not to drink. It was a restaurant, not a martini bar. We should be focused on the food and the conversation, not the beverages.

It got me to thinking about other “just water” moments. Did you really need all of the features in that new smartphone, or could you have been just as happy with a regular phone? I carry an iPad mini everywhere I go. Do I really even need a smartphone? Or do I carry a smartphone because I don’t want to be seen carrying a regular phone?  

Do people order more than “just water” at a restaurant, because they don’t want to look cheap ordering “just water” in the eyes of the server? Don’t worry guy, your 20% tip is still safe.

Now make the leap to the money that we spend on technology. Do you know how to monetize the features of your laptop, desktop or server? Do you know the incremental costs of the extra storage, the extra speed or the bigger screen size? My “just water” moment from last night made me think about all of the technology that I purchased over the years without even thinking about the choices I could have made regarding the transaction.

At a restaurant, water is free. Coffee, Tea, Soda is not free. In business, online collaboration tools like StartMeeting and Google Apps are free, while collaboration tools like GoToMeeting or GoToWebinar are not free. Do we know when to pay for technology, and when to use a free service? is free, while is not. Sometimes free is just fine, and other times, free is just too damn expensive. The key is to know the difference.

We tend to buy Cable TV packages with 1000 channels, the latest smartphones with the extra pixels on the camera, and new computers with the fastest processors. New Computers. New Appliances. New Cars. Do we know why we buy Premium Gasoline for our cars if Regular Gas is just as good?

According to my research on Google today, I should be able to use regular gasoline in my vehicle, no need to buy the higher octane for $0.35 more per gallon. The next time I fill up my car, I’ll tell the guy “just regular, please”.

Sadly, it will never be as much of a savings as saying to your waiter “just water, please.”

1 comment:

  1. We always do this when eating out. "Just water please". Plus, "not cold". :-)

    This one's nice. Savings...