08-09-11 - The Lobster

(this coinage is so obvious I must have stolen it from somewhere, anyway...)

I've been thinking a lot recently about "the lobster".

I've always thought it was bizarre how you can pull into any podunk town in America and go to the scary local diner / steak house, and there will be the regular items - burger, chicken fried steak, what have you, all under $10, and then there's the lobster, for $30, ridiculously overpriced, tucked in the corner of the menu with decorative squiggles around it (as if it needs velvet ropes to separate the VIP section of the menu from the plebian fare).

The thing is, the lobster is not actually good. They probably can't remember the last time anybody actually ordered the lobster. No local would; if the waitress likes you she would warn you not to get, the chefs roll their eyes when the order comes in. Why is it on the menu at all?

I guess it's just there as a trap, for some sucker who doesn't know better, for someone wanting to show off the money they just won, or someone on an expense account to waste money on. You're really just humiliating yourself when you order it, and the restaurant is laughing at you.

I think most people know that you don't actually ever order the lobster in restaurants (other than lobster-specializing places in like Maine or something). But "the lobster" can pop up in many other guises. Expensive watches are obvious lobsters, expensive cars can be less obvious lobsters (is a Maserati a lobster? an Alfa? an Aston? a Porsche?), certainly some of the options and special editions are obvious lobsters, for example the recent Porsche "Speedster" special edition that cost $250k and was just a regular Carrera other than a few colored bits, that's clearly a lobster and Porsche laughs and rolls their eyes at the Seinfelds of the world who are stupid enough to buy the Porsche lobster just because it was on the menu with squiggly lines around it.

I feel like a lot of salesmen try to slip the lobster on you when you're not paying attention. Like when the contractor asks if you want your counters in wood or stone or italian marble - hey wait, contractor, that's the lobster! okay, yeah, you got me, I don't even know where to get italian marble but I thought I'd try to slip it in there. Home improvement in general is full of lobsters. Home theatre stores usually carry a lobster; car wheels ("rims") are rife with lobsters.

The thing that makes the nouveau riche so hilarious is they are constantly getting suckered into buying the lobster and then have the stupidity to brag about it. Ooo look at my gold plated boat ; you fool, you bought the lobster, hide your shame!

One of the things that's so satisfying about video games is that you get a clear reward for more work. You kill some monsters, you get experience, you go up a level; you collect 200 gems, now you can buy the red shield, and it is objectively better than the blue shield you had before. It's very simple and satisfying.

Life is not so clear. More expensive things are not always better. Doing more work doesn't necessarily improve your life. This can be frustrating and confusing.

One of the things that makes me lose it is video game designers who think it's a good idea to make games more realistic in this sense, like providing items in the stores that are expensive but not actually very good. No! I don't want to have to try to suss out "the lobster" in the video game blacksmith, you want video game worlds to be an escapist utopia in which it's always clear that spending more money gets you better stuff. (the other thing I can't stand is games that take away your items; god dammit, don't encourage me to do the work for that if you're going to take it away, don't inject the pains of real life into games, it does not make them better!)


won3d said...

"Slip the lobster" sounds like PUA slang. It sounds salacious.

Our of curiosity: What do you define as an expensive watch?

There's another reason why Lobster might be on the menu. From searching around, it sounds like the concept is called the "contrast principle." Consider the triple cheeseburger. It isn't on the menu to sell triple cheeseburgers; it's there to sell double cheeseburgers. Still, I believe what you describe you certainly happens though.

cbloom said...

"Our of curiosity: What do you define as an expensive watch?"

Well, so watches are not usually lobsters, they're just jewelry for showing off your wealth. They only become a lobster when they're beyond the normal expensive level and also aren't actually better.

Like, you get a nice watch for $1k and that may be a waste of money but it's not a lobster yet. Then the shop has some fucking titanium funky looking piece of crap for $50k that they tell you is the "creme de la creme" but isn't actually better in any way. That's a lobster.

Shit like the Bugatti watch that's $2M and also ugly as fuck and anybody who saw it would never think it was worth much - that's a lobster.

For example, go here and see the "featured deal" for $5k which is way more than anything else they sell -


- that's a lobster

Michael Rooney said...

Just a small tidbit on your video game analogy for items. Some useless expensive items are in games as a form of money sink for game economies. In MMOs these can be very very important inflation controls.

An example being the limited edition red dye in UO that sold for ridiculous sums of money but didn't affect any stats at all. Interesting read:

Anonymous said...

The true story of The Lobster

old rants