Photo: Flickr / visualthinker
Picture this: You’re sitting in a greasy spoon, plastic-covered menu in hand, scanning the offerings. You could get the regular-sized plate of pasta and pay $15—or you could be a cheapskate and order off the kids’ menu. I’m not going to lie here. When I go to a restaurant, I’ve got a budget in mind—no more than $10—and I’m not about to let a little stank-eye from some waitress deter me.
Other times, I’m just not that hungry. Why pay for a big meal when I can order a small one? Isn’t that better for the restaurant’s bottom-line?
A friend recently suggested I find out whether my money-saving habit is frugal or tacky, so I turned to a couple ethics professors for their take.
First up to bat was Joshua Halberstam, author of Everyday Ethics and a professor of philosophy at Columbia University. In his opinion, I’m dishonest and should probably seek professional help.
“This kind of deception is basically unwarranted,” he scorned me by phone. “The worst case is when you’re with your child and your kid’s not eating anything, and you’re just ordering for yourself.”
When I insisted I didn’t have kids, he snapped: “Order a smaller portion then.”
At issue is the relationships restaurants have with their patrons, he explained. “When you lie it undermines that understanding. There’s a lot of things that people do that are on the edge with restaurants, but you don’t want to undermine their expectations.”
In their mind at least, despite standing at a modest 5’4″, I should want to eat—and pay—twice as much.
Peter Singer, professor of bioethics at Princeton University and author of Practical Ethics, feels differently.
“I think it’s entirely ethical,” he said. “I think for many people, American restaurants give overly large portions. A lot of foreigners come here are amazed at the size of them. They don’t want to waste food.”
His verdict was one I can live with: “If ordering off the kids’ menu is a way to get a more moderate-sized portion and a way to save money, I think that’s fine. Restaurants can let let their diners know if that isn’t Ok. But it’s up to the customers to choose.”
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