21 August 2010

The Move Towards Infinite Inventory

Today we tried a new place for lunch - CBW. I ordered the fajita bowl and thought that my ordering was done. The following ensued:

Cashier: Do you want beef, chicken, or tofu?
Me: Chicken.
C: Breast meat, dark meat or crispy chicken?
M: Crispy.
C: For grain do you want white rice, brown rice, noodles or quinoa?
M: Quinoa.
C: Would you like chips or a tortilla with that?
M: Tortilla.
C: Flour, Wheat, Spinach, or Tomato tortilla?
M: [by this point dizzy with the options] Just the flour.

If I calculated correctly, I was heading down a decision tree with 288 options. (Assuming, I guess, that there were as many options down the tofu or beef and the chips trail.) Not only that, but this fajita bowl was one of probably 30 items on the menu. If they all offered as many possible combinations, it means that I could eat 8,640 different, unique meals at this one fast food place. That is, I could dine there for lunch more than 20 years and never have the exact same meal twice. And after I ordered, I could walk over to the "flavor" bar to choose between the six (or was it eight?) different sauces ... which meant that I actually would have more than a century's worth of unique lunches at this one place.

Economists are now talking about biflation. By this they mean that commodity prices appear to be rising (inflation) and prices of goods appear to be dropping (deflation). This little experience might explain why: with so many varieties, the competition for meals would bid prices down. With the need to stock so many options, this would bid the prices of commodities up. Maybe.

I just know that next time I'll simply ask the cashier if I can just have the #1.

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