Ad hoc was originally intended to be a temporary space filler as Thomas Keller put the finishing touches on his burger and wine restaurant concept, but it became so popular that he decided to keep it around. The concept is simple: a fixed price ($50 a head) family style four course meal, changing daily. The atmosphere is great – casual, comfortable and hip with music that Liz’s brother occasionally found “flaccid and mundane” but otherwise enjoyed. The service was friendly and the food was great all around.
Smoked trout salad with radishes, fava beans, red onions, boiled potatoes and a delightful dressing.
Duck three ways: confit legs, seared breast, and duck sausage in rice. Sugar snap peas on the side.
Cheese plate with apples and honey roasted hazelnuts.
Bread pudding with raisins, vanilla custard and marmalade.
The success of ad hoc should be a model for other restaurateurs. Specifically what they should take note of is that, contrary to what many people believe, people don’t like options. Really, they don’t. There’s strong evidence from psychological research on decision making showing that people are happier with their choices when they have fewer of them. This may seem counterintuitive, but think of the experience of looking at a huge menu. It can be overwhelming. Are you in the mood for pork? Veal? Beef? Fish? Pasta? If a lot of the choices look good to you (indeed, especially if a lot of choices look good to you) you will likely take a long time to pick, pick arbitrarily and then have a strong case of buyer’s remorse when you see the waiter serve the hanger steak with polenta fries that you passed on to the self-satisfied stooge at the next table. Something not quite perfect about the monkfish you settled on? It’s so easy to imagine how good that steak would have tasted.
This phenomenon doesn’t solely work on the psychological level. A smaller menu lets the kitchen concentrate on making those dishes better. The cod fritter appetizer you order from a selection of 3 options will definitely be prepared with more care than the same dish ordered from a selection of 10. It’s a win-win. The customer is happier, the food is better, the kitchen is calmer. Of course, it would be unfortunate for people who have very specific dietary needs, and for those who are particularly picky eaters. But a smart kitchen will always be able to accommodate dietary restrictions in a tasty way, and I’ve always had a particular disdain for the latter group who think that every restaurant should be capable of accommodating their whims. Don’t eat fish because it’s yucky? Then go to a steakhouse. Trade specialization worked for most societies, seems like it would do wonders for the food industry as well. I am all about promoting more vegan restaurants if it makes it easier for other restaurants to cook food the way they want to and in a manner more conducive to quality.