Efficient Food

post by Fluttershy · 2015-04-06T05:20:11.307Z · score: 4 (5 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 19 comments

Yudkowsky's 2014 April Fools Day's confession notes that food production could be more efficient:

Food in dath ilan was made by people who were very good at making a particular variety of food, and they’d pick a few dishes and make a huge amount of it on any given day. There’d be many places like that within 2 miles of you, and a small courier-carlike-thing would attach itself to another car and arrive with the food you liked within 2 minutes.

A quick Google search suggests that restaurants tend to spend around a third of their revenue on ingredients (more quick estimates of restaurant operational costs on page five of this slideshow). Of course, fast food and fast casual restaurants spend a higher percentage of revenue on ingredients than other types of restaurants, but spending 30-35% of revenue on ingredients seems standard. So, it should be possible to reduce the cost of food by producing food more efficiently, that is, by making huge batches of one or two types of food at a given restaurant.

I've only been able to find one example of an establishment that actually does this. Ugi's, an Argentinian pizza chain, sells 12-inch (?) cheese pizzas for about 4.91 USD in Buenos Aires. Ugi's has a couple of locations in the US, too-- this one in Boston sells 12-inch cheese pizzas for 6.55, but also sells items other than cheese pizzas. For comparison, a 12-inch cheese pizza from Domino's pizza costs around 11 USD to order via carryout in Boston.

I, for one, am fascinated by the idea of restaurants that only serve one item, and would definitely purchase food from such establishments if they were more common in the US.

Also relevant:

 

19 comments

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comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-06T22:41:05.539Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I can't believe you've never come across a hot dog stand that only sells hot dogs. In general, restaurants don't have a lot of regulations other than for food safety. Almost everyone has experience with them because they're so common so there's a large market size from all directions. Transactions are simple, quick, and straightforward and involve high levels of information from all parties. You know exactly how much you paid, and how much you enjoyed the item. The restaurant knows if they're making money off of those items or not. In short, restaurants are one of the most efficient markets out there, and you're unlikely to find a significant improvement that most successful restaurant owners have never heard of.

comment by drethelin · 2015-04-07T07:29:29.084Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

These would not be restaurants. They would be food factories, and already exist. You can go into a grocery store and buy pre-packaged pre-made food from dozens or hundreds of different factories collected together for your convenience

comment by hyporational · 2015-04-09T17:21:11.323Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The pre-packaged food in grocery stores has to be preserved somehow, perhaps most importantly with excess salt, which often makes it pretty unhealthy. Fresh made food also tastes better.

comment by drethelin · 2015-04-09T19:22:33.372Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

In higher end grocery stores you can get lots of made fresh that day foods, even sushi and cooked dishes.

comment by Vaniver · 2015-04-06T14:57:49.564Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

There are a handful of startups in the Bay Area that do delivery of whatever the chefs wanted to make that day--Sprig is the one I'm most familiar with. In many cities, there are lots of street vendors and food trucks, that will typically sell either just one thing or a handful of related things. (Think a hot dog vendor.)

It seems to me like this is roughly the world we already live in--if you want to get a pizza delivered, there are people who make lots of pizzas and very little else waiting to send you a pizza. To increase efficiency more we need to be poorer: instead of you deciding that you want pizza, it is decreed that it is Taco Tuesday and everyone is eating tacos. (This is comparable to Hanson's claim that we could have a lot more things if we had a lot fewer varieties of things.)

comment by listic · 2015-04-11T23:07:08.443Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There's also SpoonRocket.

Though for some reason, this seems to only work just in some parts of the world: here in Russia even the grocery delivery seems to only be properly implemented in Moscow.

comment by Lemmih · 2015-04-06T07:19:30.949Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Are you only interested in solid food or would you want to buy Soylent/Joylent as well? Soylent/Joylent and Meal Squares are so simple that you wouldn't need new restaurants. They could easily be sold at, say, Starbucks.

On a related note, drinking Joylent has improved my feeling of well-being more than anything else I've done. The low price is just an added bonus.

comment by Dustin · 2015-04-07T02:25:04.894Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This makes me think of Little Caesars pizza. They have a variety of pizza-place-type of stuff on their menus (hot wings, breadsticks, etc), but I wouldn't be surprised to find if 90% or more of their business was their $5.00 14-inch pepperoni pizza.

Around here (midwest USA), during prime pizza-buying hours, they set up a card table outside stacked with dozens of pizzas and people just drive by with a $5 bill out and grab a pizza.

comment by Punoxysm · 2015-04-07T01:30:59.268Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The big pizza delivery chains have expanded their menus over time, from pretty-much-pizza to sandwiches, desserts, wings, salads, etc.

So it seems efficiency is not the driver.

comment by Jiro · 2015-04-08T21:55:17.535Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Transaction costs mean that people who are eating in a group don't want to go to one store for the pizza, another store for the sandwiches, etc. The benefit from not having to make separate orders at separate stores for the sandwiches and salad outweighs the loss in efficiency from the store not completely specializing in pizzas.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-06T13:26:13.470Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Sometimes, I think people can substitute 2 meals with 1 large portion of borsch:) I used to fantasize about conquering the un-Borsch-ed countries with it:) it's basically a soup of <=20 kinds of vegetables&fruit prepared usually on meat stock, which can be put into the fridge and grows mellower after a day or two. However, it is rather a long recipe and so the typical restaurant version always seems abriged.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-04-16T21:02:18.701Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I've only been able to find one example of an establishment that actually does this. Ugi's, an Argentinian pizza chain, sells 12-inch (?) cheese pizzas for about 4.91 USD in Buenos Aires.

Given that Argentinia is on the metric system why should they have 12-inch pizza's?

comment by SimonJester23 · 2015-04-16T20:27:54.619Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm going to agree with the observation that "make food production more efficient by making only one type of food" isn't a likely winner for restaurants.

If you're really trying to optimize for the economic efficiency with which food is produced, you don't make hot fresh-cooked food in the first place; you make food on assembly lines and package it. At which point the incremental cost of using preservation techniques and selling it on supermarket shelves is minimal- and all you're sacrificing is flavor and the health of the food... and people who are trying to optimize for 'cheapness' in their food tend to not care about that.

This is not a likable conclusion, perhaps. But it's definitely the one supported by the evidence of what market economies with plenty of access to information for all parties actually DO.

Now... yes, in an imaginary world where handwavium drone-robots make it possible to deliver anything you want for free and never mind the logistical implausibilities (i.e. that of Yudkowsky's "dath ilan"), a situation where you order three different foods from three different vendors who all specialize in that exact food might work.*

In a world where you have to go TO the location of your food, or where there is ANY significant extra cost associated with making three smaller transactions over one big one, it's a non-starter.


*Although even then you still need room for customization- a pizza place that literally refuses to make pizzas with more than one topping combination will usually lose out to a pizza place that lets you pick your toppings.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-04-17T13:33:54.022Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Now... yes, in an imaginary world where handwavium drone-robots make it possible to deliver anything you want for free and never mind the logistical implausibilities

Drones aren't very implausible tech. Amazon is already in field trials to deliever packages via drones.

*Although even then you still need room for customization- a pizza place that literally refuses to make pizzas with more than one topping combination will usually lose out to a pizza place that lets you pick your toppings.

It's not that simple. At the highest price points restaurants don't let you order your toppings. The extend to which people value customization has a lot to do with the culture.

comment by Zubon · 2015-04-08T00:20:37.921Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The Aldi's chain of grocery stores takes a similar approach. They promise to do less: fewer products, fewer brands (often 1 for a product), fewer hours, lower prices.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-04-09T08:58:41.932Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, and the result is that you need to shop in at least 2 shops. For example beer is something most people only willing to buy their favorite brands, and that is rarely the Landgraf stuff Aldi sells (actually the bottled version is not too bad, still, I'll stick to Warsteiner when and if I will drink alcohol again). If people are happy with their beer, they will find that they don't like the Ritter chocolates they carry almost exclusively, because they want Milka or Cadbury. Another shop again.

My point is, if people need to go to 2 shops anyway, it would be better if Aldi would drop those kinds of products people tend to be picky about the brand anyway, and carry only the product types where people usually don't care about brand (detergent, butter, milk, mineral water, orange juice...)

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-04-09T20:23:25.001Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

People do care about butter brands. Kerrygold manages to sell at a higher price point than other kinds of butter and make up 50% of the market of branded butter in Germany.

If you go to Lidl they sell Kerrygold for 1.79€ per pack and their own "Golden Kelly" brand for 1,11€. I think Aldi sells a Irish butter brand in that slot, which is a bit less direct about being similar to Kerrygold.

Then there are people who are fine buying non-Irish butter (likely not Grassfed) and people who do want bio-butter.

comment by DanielLC · 2015-04-06T06:24:15.595Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

There might be issues with allergies. Can you have a restaurant that simply refuses service to people who are allergic to the one item on the menu?

Do you count "restaurants" that make the one meal, package it, freeze it, and distribute it to grocery stores?

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-04-06T07:09:20.966Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

There might be issues with allergies. Can you have a restaurant that simply refuses service to people who are allergic to the one item on the menu?

If I find nothing on the menu I can eat, the restaurant is not refusing me service. I am declining to eat there. No restaurant is (yet) obliged to provide vegetarian choices, or to cater to allergies beyond declaring e.g. the presence of nuts.