I was recently out having dinner with my family and it reached the part of the night where we needed to order desserts.
I did my usual thing of ordering a beer for dessert, which is all well and good, and it gave me an opportunity to sit around and watch everyone else determine what they were going to have.
It seemed obvious everyone else wanted an actual dessert, people were tossing up between different cheese dishes, with a person occassionally staring longingly at the chocolate cake on the menu. However, then something very interesting happened – no-one ordered dessert. Instead, everyone ended up getting coffee, tea, or hot chocolate.
The catalyst for this seemed to be my mother. After saying to me that she was going to get a blue vein cheese platter she looked up to the person taking orders and asked for a pot of tea. Immediately I saw other family members respond in a flurry, shouting out for coffee or hot chocolate. At that moment I realised that my family had just fallen victim to an awful co-ordination failure.
As the waitress went away I said to the table that their choice of dessert was dependent on the choice of dessert other people were ordering – as no-one wants to be the only person digging into a big dessert. As a result, we have two equilibrium, one where everyone buys a big tasty dessert, and another one where everyone buys a drink and misses out on the cheese or cake. This is a pure and simple co-ordination game.
My family members admitted that this was the case, no-one wants to be the only person eating dessert and they also do not know whether the other people want a proper dessert or a drink. As a result, they are relying on the actions of others. Although it seems that it would have been, ex-post, parteo optimal to have everyone eating dessert, the people at the table did not realise that – and the fear of the potential cost of being the only person eating dessert had seen my mother switch to only purchasing a drink. With her decision made, the rest of the table quickly followed her to this sub-optimal equilibrium.
To me the moral of the story is simple, my family should learn to communicate with each other in order to avoid pareto inferior equilibrium in the future. My families response to this suggestion was simply that I’m a nerd, fair enough.