Ask Ariely: On Enchanting Eateries and Sweet Strategies

February 27, 2022 BY Dan Ariely

Here’s my Q&A column from the WSJ this week  and if you have any questions for me, you can tweet them to @danariely with the hashtag #askariely, post a comment on my Ask Ariely Facebook page, or email them to AskAriely@wsj.com.


Dear Dan,

I travel a lot for work, and I’m keen on finding great places to eat in the cities I visit. Normally I use an app and narrow down my options based on ratings. But while I’ve found a lot of good meals this way, I haven’t found so many great ones. How would you suggest finding the best eateries on the road?


Restaurant ratings are a good place to start, as they can point out places to avoid. But they are not as helpful when it comes to narrowing down the best choices, because when people give good reviews, they don’t like to say anything negative, which makes it hard to differentiate the very good restaurants from the really great ones. Researchers found that about 80% of online restaurant reviews were four or five stars.

This positivity bias makes the star ratings useless for your purpose. But the researchers did find a better predictor of quality in the emotionality of the comments. For example, you might look for reviews that use demonstrative words, such as “enchanting,” instead of the more anodyne “excellent” to describe the experience.

Still, the best option is probably to ask someone who knows the city, such as a concierge. The wisdom of one well-informed local can often beat the wisdom of the crowd.


Dear Dan,

I’m trying really hard to cut back on sweets, but I always slip up. My friends tell me I shouldn’t be too hard on myself, but I’m worried that if I’m too forgiving of my bad choices, I’ll keep making them. Which approach will better help me get on track? Should I be hard on myself or not?


Thinking about how best to recover from setbacks is an important part of goal planning. If we are very forgiving of our failures, we might never feel the need to try harder. On the other hand, if we are very harsh on ourselves, we may give up on our goal completely. This is a Goldilocks situation, in which we must find the moderate level of both criticism and forgiveness that is just right.

A recent study bears out this observation. People in a weight loss program reported how they felt about themselves after a lapse. The researchers found that those who felt great about themselves after backsliding struggled to get back on track. So, too, did those who felt very negatively about themselves. The people likeliest to re-engage with their goals turned out to be those who were moderately self-critical.

So maybe your friends are correct, and you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself. At the same time, however, you should not be too easy on yourself. Mix it up a bit. After a slip-up, maybe start in a non-forgiving mode and take a moment to consider what led to the lapse and how it could be prevented. Then, once you have soaked in these feelings for a bit, forgive yourself.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.