Life’s secret menu

// 2.55 min read

When we sit down at a restaurant, we get handed a menu and given some time to look it over. A few minutes later, a staff member comes over and we get asked what we’re going to have. That’s how it works—at least on the surface.

When the waiter asks us “what would you like?”, we unconsciously add a frame on top of it in our minds, and interpret the words instead as “which of these items on the menu would you like?”.

Some restaurants are buffet-style instead, which is a different way of framing the same decision. The buffet says to us “these are the options you can choose from—what would you like to eat?”. It’s like the items on menu, but because they’re all right there in front of you, prepared in bulk, and ready to serve yourself, the frame becomes even more powerful and difficult to challenge.

Frames like a menu or a buffet can work in our favour, because they help us focus and let us enjoy the experience of trusting the frame that’s been created for us. We’re trusting that the chef who designed the menu or selected the buffet dishes knows what she’s doing. We choose a certain restaurant because we trust the person or the establishment that created the frame for our decision. We opt-in to their frame.

Have you ever ordered off-menu? If you haven’t, you should try it the next time you go out for dinner.

Some places have a secret menu. The regulars all know about it, and chances are the things on the secret menu all started off as requests from the regulars themselves—but newcomers never think to ask. Even if the place doesn’t have a secret menu though, they’ll almost always look for a way to give you what you ask for. If what you’re asking simply isn’t possible, they’ll tell you so—but they might suggest something else they could do for you instead that’s just as good.

This can be nerve-wracking to try for the first time, so start by asking for something simple. If you’re ordering breakfast, ask to swap the piece of toast for an extra egg. If you’ve never done this before, you might be surprised to hear the waiter simply say “sure thing!” and squiggle your request down before moving on to the next person at your table. The lesson? Don’t ask, don’t get.

Once you feel comfortable doing this at a restaurant, you suddenly start to see opportunities for doing it in other places too. Not just with other shops or businesses, but with all areas of your life.

This is worth getting your head around, because we often can’t trust the frames we’re given. In life, there is no chef. Everyone has their own agenda for us, and it’s up to us to be in control of the frame we put around our life decisions. The question of “what’s on the menu” suddenly becomes ours.

It’s our off-menu requests that decide what’s on life’s secret menu.

So… what would you like?

Coby Chapple (@cobyism)

@cobyism—a.k.a. Coby Chapple is an autodidact, systems thinker, product architect, pixel technician, full-stack algorithmagician, multi-media maker, cryptography geek, aspiring linguist, and generalist Designerd™ extraordinaire. Read more »