Social Contract Theory In The Kitchen

Over Thanksgiving break, I went to a family dinner at a nice restaurant in my town. As I scanned over the menu, I decided that I was between ordering a hamburger and the ribs and I couldn’t make up my mind. I told the waitress, “Hey why don’t you surprise me and choose my dish for me.” After she left the table, my dad looked at me, smiled, and said: “Jon, you’re getting the ribs for dinner.” With a puzzled look on my face I asked him why he thought that and with no hesitation he responded: “Because it cost 5 dollars more.” My dad believed that the waitress would choose the more expensive dish for me because it would subsequently increase her tip.

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In this situation, my dad exhibited classic Hobbesian Social Contract Theory. My dad believed that the waitress, looking out for herself over the wants and wishes of others, would choose to give me the more expensive meal in order to increase her tip. I couldn’t believe this because in my mind, she would have chosen whichever dish she liked best or maybe asked a friend for her opinion. However, my dad being the Hobbesian believer that he is felt the waitress would look out for her own best interest before the interest of her customers.

Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes

Hobbes believes that people have a natural tendency to do what is best for them, regardless of others. He thinks that in the state of nature people don’t care about what others want or what serves the group best, but instead what would benefit them most.

Selfishness at its finest
Selfishness at its finest

Although this came as a shock to me, the more and more I thought about it at the dinner table, the more and more it made sense. It’s not necessarily stealing from customers, but rather taking advantage of them in order to do what is best for the waiter or waitress. A true Hobbesian person would always choose the more expensive meal for a customer because it benefits them the most. If someone believed in Locke’s Social Contract Theory, the idea of mutual assistance would come into play and the waiter or waitress would choose the meal that they believed would best serve the customer whether it be through their own personal experience or the thoughts of fellow waiters and waitresses.

Unfortunately for me, my dad was correct. The waitress brought me the 19-dollar ribs rather than the 14-dollar hamburger. I couldn’t help but crack a smile to my dad as she showed up with the ribs in hand. The inner optimist in me was crushed as I realized Hobbes might have a point. Not all people are sinister and not everyone looks out for themselves over others, but in the case of this waitress, Hobbes would be proud.

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3 thoughts on “Social Contract Theory In The Kitchen

  1. What a fun and relevant story! You did a great job connecting Hobbesian theory to a real-life situation. Despite the small chance the dish was chosen honestly, this story highlights the theme of selfish behavior in the form of economics, which has proven to be a common trend in society. Considering there is a possibility the dish was chosen honestly, I’d like to explore the reasoning behind it using the Nash equilibrium. Maybe, the restaurant is infamously known for serving mediocre hamburgers. As a result, the waitress could have reasoned that the ribs would be a tastier option. Not only, however, would the ribs benefit the customer (you) but the waitress as well. Thus, this situation could have easily been a subconscious reenactment of a food themed “prisoner’s dilemma” in which the waitress acted to serve her own interests as well as your interest.

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  2. I really enjoyed reading this blog! At first I thought that it was going to be connected to gender stereo-types for some reason. Thinking she was going to bring you the ribs because it was more connected to gender. But i like how you compared it to Hobbes. Although the Hobbes rational would predict that she brought you the ribs because of the price, but there is always a possibility that she brought those because they tasted much better than the burger…the fact that the ribs cost more could have served as a bonus to her. Though that would be me having too much faith in humanity. Waitresses do get most of their income from tips so it is safe to say that your father was right.

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  3. This article was a great read and I love the way you tied in Hobbes’s theory into practical day-to-day situations. It’s easy to disregard Hobbes’s theory because it may seem harsh at glance, and an overly extreme-realist view on human nature. However, your example of something as innocuous as a waitress choosing a more expensive option for the sake of an increase in tip, shows that even the smallest of decisions can be due to unconscious selfish reasoning. Hobbes’s theory may hold to be true when analyzing even the smallest of situations, such as the one you explained. Nice article!!

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