Domino’s in the City
Over at Volokh, David Bernstein asks, “Really, in New York (outside, perhaps, Manhattan, where the pizza situation has become dire) you are rarely more than a few blocks away from at least decent New York pizza. . . . Why would anyone in Brooklyn, ever order the dreck they sell at Domino’s?”
It’s a good question. (There are indeed Domino’s and Pizza Hut outlets in the city.) A similar question arises here in San Diego. There are approximately fifteen thousand really good Mexican food joints in San Diego. There is an abundance of small mom-and-pop places, some high-end restaurants, and authentic chains like Rubio’s. Yet amidst this land of plenty, I also see the occasional Taco Bell, as well as its bastard cousin Del Taco.
What’s going on? Two things, I suspect.
First, there is some population that actually prefers Domino’s over real pizza, and Taco Bell over real Mexican food. What can I say? There’s no accounting for taste.
Second, though, is this legitimate concern: Domino’s and Taco Bell may set a pretty low bar, but it really can get worse. Both Domino’s and Taco Bell are consistently bland, uninteresting, uninspired. On a scale of one to ten, they’re a two, or a three at best.
But some of the mom-and-pop shops — the bad ones, not the good ones — can be truly awful. On a scale of one to ten, they’re worse than a mere two. They’re a one, or a zero, or into the negatives. I’ve had bad pizza from more than one corner pizza joint in New York that was truly nauseating — substantially worse than Domino’s. And I’ve had bad Mexican food here in San Diego that was similarly worse than Taco Bell.
Given that backdrop, the presence of Domino’s or Taco Bell provides a minimum baseline of quality — uninspiring, but unlikely to be truly, nauseatingly awful. If I have limited information about the restaurants in a location, and if I’m risk averse, I might rationally choose the relatively safe (but uninspired) option.
Say that I end up in an unfamiliar part of New York City. On one corner, I see a sign for Bernstein Pizza; on another corner, Wenger Pizza; on a third corner, Solove Pizza; on the fourth corner, Domino’s. I have no information about any of these restaurants, other than Domino’s. Chances are that one or two or even all three of the other options will be good pizza, and if they’re good, they’ll be much better than Domino’s. But one or more of them might be awful, and I don’t have a way to know which that might be.
Now I’m personally not all that risk averse, and most likely to simply try my luck on one of the corner delis. (Hence my cache of stories about bad food.) But I won’t begrudge the risk-averse actor in that situation her decision to limit potential losses by choosing to eat at Domino’s.