So many choices!! How to handle
April 18, 2016 8:46 AM   Subscribe

I'm moving to the city with potentially the most choices of anywhere in the world (NYC). I'm anxious planner who spends 15 minutes a day figuring out where to eat lunch. Help me whittle my choices down on a daily and long term basis so I don't get stressed out by the experience. Types of choices include event, food, drink, attraction decisions.
posted by sandmanwv to Human Relations (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Before you make a list of choices, you need to make a list of requirements.

Having a list of requirements helps you narrow your options from everything to just the things you need.

From there it's a matter of preference. So identify your preferences. Pick the options on your narrowed list that meet several of your preferences, patronize their services as often as you'd like, and tip your service personnel generously. Forget about everything else.
posted by carsonb at 8:51 AM on April 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Which neighborhoods are you going to be living and/or working in? If I told you there's really a really good lunch spot in Astoria, that doesn't do you a lot of good if you're working in the Financial District.
posted by griphus at 8:58 AM on April 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

One important thing I've learned about NYC is that almost all the events I like recur eventually, some of them on a regular basis. So as far as events, it may help ease the anxiety to remember that you'll probably have a chance to try everything eventually. I suppose this is also true of lunch, but events tend to have a false urgency that make you think "I have to choose which of these two conflicting amazing things to go to and either way I will MISS OUT," only to find that both of them are back next month anyway.
posted by babelfish at 9:01 AM on April 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have never done this, but I have a friend who swears by it; he uses a random generator such as a coin flip or the spin of a wheel to make decisions like this. He "leaves it up to the decision gods" as he puts it.
posted by AugustWest at 9:06 AM on April 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

NYC tends to just beat this impulse out of you through exhaustion. Im the guy who would almost always walk past three okay thai spots to go to the one i really like, but that doesnt seem to be shared by a majority of New Yorkers (and ill be honest even i sometimes get bested by the city and just need to use/eat/buy whatever is closest/easiest even it its not the absolute best).
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 9:21 AM on April 18, 2016

I live and work in New York so I feel you there. If I deliberate on lunch, it can take an hour to decide, so I try to not deliberate and keep a schedule. If I deviate from that schedule, it's usually because I want something specific so making a decision doesn't factor in to it. Something like Monday: Salad from [salad place] Tuesday: Sushi from [sushi place] Wednesday: Pho from [pho place]. Thursday: I'd usually get a deli wrap today but today I want a burger instead from [burger place]. Etc, etc.
posted by greta simone at 9:24 AM on April 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

For food and drink, if a lot on the menu looks good, I'll ask the server, "I'm between this or that, what's your opinion?" Then I go with it. I'm rarely disappointed.

Ditto with cocktails, I'll either ask what the house drink is or I'll fix on MY cocktail and only order that. I used to order a Bacardi Cocktail, because they are delicious. But inevitably the server comes back and tells me the bartender doesn't know how to make it, and rather than letting them screw it up, I have a Madras instead.

I like the randomizer idea.

Get Jars, and some post it notes, write different things on them. Events, restaurants, bars, etc. Then when you're faced with a decision, pull one out of the jar. Boo-ya! There it is!

FYI, you can't screw up getting lunch from Rafiqis food cart, they're all over town. $6 for rice, salad and gyro. YUM! They're really, really good!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:26 AM on April 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Kinda parallel to Babelfish's observation, the thing that helps me is accepting that there is so much stuff going on that while it's hard to optimize to The One Best Thing, you can always find lots of pretty awesome options so just pick something (random number generator if that's what it takes!) and do it! The spatial and temporal density means that if you happen to pick poorly, you can always bail and with very little effort try something else out.
posted by yeahlikethat at 9:27 AM on April 18, 2016

I live in NYC and it really helps me to think of it as a collection of neighborhoods to explore, one at a time.

So, instead of feeling overwhelmed by a zillion options, I narrow it by neighborhoods I want to check out. Go to Koreatown for Korean food and shopping one weekend. Check out Astoria to check out Greek food, Greek music, Greek dancing, etc. Greenpoint Brooklyn is currently hip and traditionally Polish, so look for the top rated hip or Polish things to try there another weekend. If a concert I'm interested in is happening in a certain neighborhood and I haven't hung out there, I'll try to find a drinks spot in that neighborhood.

Your home neighborhood and work neighborhood are jumping off points; you can work outward from them like a grid if you're really methodical. Ask your neighbors and coworkers for their favs, and that will get you better recs than just going on Yelp, which might paralyze you with its petty complaints and too many listings.

Seamless ratings are good though-- even if you're not ordering in, but looking for a place to go out, you can see the places your neighbors like.
posted by kapers at 9:37 AM on April 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Having a lot of choices means that you can make _good_ choices.

Think now, and every week, about what is really important to you. Good choices flow from this.

Think long term as well as short term. Is having friends important to you? Choose places and events where you're likely to find friends, or enjoy the friends you have. Is planning for the future important? Is learning and improving yourself important to you? Is de-stressing more important than all of these? All these values can guide you to making choices quite easily.
posted by amtho at 9:39 AM on April 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

This reminds me a little bit of Aziz Ansari's character in Master of None where he'd end up spending two hours on Yelp to find THE BEST taco truck only to travel there and have it be closed or out of tacos or something already because he took so long narrowing down his options that he missed his window.

We can't have you ending up taco-less! I would start by looking at the neighborhoods where you will be working and where you will be living (and if they're the same one, then okay) and use a mixture of Yelp reviews, Time Out NY writeups, and internet chatter to try to get a short list of places you're interested in trying. That way whenever you're like, "Hm...I should get lunch," you can consult your short list and pick one at random or pick whichever one is currently closest to you or something.

Over time, you're sure to find new places because friends suggest them or you hear new things, but having a short list saved in Evernote or Google Docs or something for you to refer to when things get overwhelming might be a good idea for now.
posted by helloimjennsco at 9:42 AM on April 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Wheel of Lunch and Wheel Decide can be localized to your zip code or favorites.
posted by beaning at 9:48 AM on April 18, 2016

I think it's good to remember that there's no such thing as a perfect choice, and actually, about 90% of your choices don't matter at all.

What job you take and who you marry and whether you end a friendship- those kinds of decisions have longterm ramifications.

But which restaurant you go to, which museum you see- those don't matter at all. They'll be somewhat interesting, or they won't, and either way they might make for a mildly entertaining anecdote later, and that's pretty much it.

Maybe experiment with disengaging from the planning- plans change all the time anyway. Try randomizing your decisions by involving elements of chance:
Ask someone, "where should I eat today".
Ask the waiter what the best thing on the menu is and eat that.
Check Yelp as you walk (like open it as you leave the office to head to lunch, or as you enter a neighbourhood, not a moment before), and eat wherever has the most stars.
Walk on the sunny side of the street for up to 10 minutes until something smells good, then eat that.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:20 AM on April 18, 2016

For things like lunch choices, make a list and work your way through it. Put ten places you're interested in on a list and work down it. Then make a new list. And work through that. You don't have to go to the very best place today -- you have a lot of lunches ahead of you.
posted by gingerbeer at 11:02 AM on April 18, 2016

This is where things like Time Out New York can come in handy - that is a free publication that comes out every Wednesday, and you can treat it like a personal advisor when it comes to "what should I do". If you take their advice into account, then it's like someone having pre-screened things for you.

Or - you can adopt an experimental attitude. Meaning: instead of trying to decide where to have lunch every day, you can methodically work your way through each and every restaurant near where you work, day by day, to try them all. that way, it's not a decision - you're moving down a list, and the next day, the decision is made for you because "welp, that place is next on my list, that's where I'm going for lunch." The advantage to that is also that you may discover one place that's so great that you decide that you never want to eat lunch anywhere else. (There's also the possibility that you may discover a place that sucks, but that's an advantage too, because that way you never have to consider whether to eat there again.)

And sheer location is going to narrow down a lot of your choices for you. 90% of the time I make my movie selection based on "what happens to be playing at the closest movie house to where I live".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:03 AM on April 18, 2016

100% agree with carsonb on this:
Before you make a list of choices, you need to make a list of requirements.

So, for lunch, how quick do you need to be? How far from work or home will that mean you can go? What is your budget? What are your nutritional concerns? What kinds of companies do you like to endorse? How much does variety matter to you? Would you rather be recognized and have "the usual" being made as soon as you show your face, or would you rather try something new each day? Do you want to spend a couple bucks on a slice or much more on a salad? Knowing this stuff will make lunchtime decisions much, much easier, and still allow room for suggestions from colleagues (also, get suggestions from colleagues!). Just know your parameters first.

Regarding attractions, I think a lot of that depends on your living situation and whether you'll have out-of-town guests. Personally, I very quickly reached the point that I was happy to save "touristy" stuff for when guests were in town and wanted to see something. Once friends and family know that sandmanwv lives in NYC, you might have more guests than you ever wanted, and they'll all have ideas of what they want to see and do. You don't have to do it all at once. (That said, now I love sending my guests out on their own, and I feel glad that even though I tidied up and did some cooking in their absence, my guests are more exhausted than I am.)

Obviously, guests aren't the only catalyst. If there are things you and your wife want to see or do, go for the jar idea that Ruthless Bunny suggested, and make those into dates. One thing I'd add to any entry into the jar is a glance at the website to see if there are days that are free. Lots of museums, etc. have free or donations-welcome days.

Most of all, don't sweat it. I know, easier said than done, but honestly, walks around your neighborhood will be full of interest and texture. Adjusting to your particular commute and finding the best place to get essentials to set up home will likely be enough to keep you busy in the beginning. It's absolutely fine to be a resident of NYC without having seen all there is to see. Seriously.

Best of luck, and welcome to NYC!
posted by whoiam at 11:12 AM on April 18, 2016

A lot of these day to day decisions get made for you by virtue of choosing what neighborhood to live in, what route to take for your commute, where your job is, what time of day you do things, etc.

For example. Let's say there are a thousand coffee shops in NYC. But only a dozen of those are within a 5-block walk of my apartment in Brooklyn. That still sounds like a LOT of choice, but one must remember that I mostly get coffee in the morning on my way to work, and I take the 2 train to the office at around 7:30 AM. There are three coffee shops on my walk from my apartment to the 2 train which are open at that hour. That *still* sounds like a lot of choice, but from those three coffee shops, one has slow customer service and one is Starbucks, and I'd rather patronize a local shop. Thus, from a thousand coffee shops, I narrow it down to the only one that is actually useful to me.

This will hold sway for all aspects of your life. You'll have 5-10 actual office lunch options, out of a potential thousands. Of those 5-10, there will probably be some cuisines you like better than others, or a few with delivery policies or hours of service that don't work for you. So it narrows down easily to a manageable number of choices. It seems like there are a million places to shop, but you'll soon learn which stores sell the things you actually want to buy, and which of those stores are convenient for you to get to, in your price range, etc.
posted by Sara C. at 2:13 PM on April 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

My only suggestion, as a person who was once in exactly this situation for a summer in NYC, is to manage your stress in other areas of your life. If I'd been having a less stressful time in general, I might have done better with this problem, but at the time I really struggled with the problem you outline, and all the "make a list of requirements!" advice in the world would only have exacerbated that. Make a small, no comprehensive list of some things you want to see. Don't try to optimize for location, free events, what your guests are into, etc. Just go do some stuff. Check out a neighborhood on a Saturday afternoon, and see things mostly unplanned (besides maybe one stop and which train to get there).

It may be overwhelming, and that's ok. You cannot have perfect knowledge of NYC, so don't even try. It'll just stress you out needlessly, I found.
posted by deludingmyself at 7:37 AM on April 19, 2016

You need Simple Rules. Basically it's a way to simplify decision making for decisions that you make frequently, like what to eat or what to do on the weekend. Most people do something like it automatically, but thinking about the process and writing down your simple rules will make it go a lot faster. For example, for eating lunch on a work day:
  1. Less than 15 minutes walk from work
  2. Less than x$ per meal
  3. No "fast food" chains
  4. Haven't had two bad meals in a row there
  5. Haven't eaten there in the past 7 days
  6. Haven't eaten that type of food in the past 4 days
  7. If I have a big meeting, choose something that's unlikely to leave food stains on my clothing
Use 1-4 to make a list, 5-7 to narrow down the list every day, and then pick at random from the choices. It's surprising how much easier it is if you come up with the rules first and then apply them to the choices, rather than if you try to do it free-form by just comparing each choice. The book goes into a lot more explanation about how to come up with good simple rules and examples and such (a lot of it is business oriented, but even those examples were helpful for me).
posted by anaelith at 4:56 AM on April 21, 2016

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