The wisdom of Brahmin’s Coffee Bar

The wisdom of Brahmin’s Coffee Bar

Brahmin Coffee Bar is easy to miss, as it has no signboard. To be precise, its signboard is frayed and weathered; After so many years only one word appears ‘Brahmin’. To make things worse, the signboard has been placed in a niche, visible only to those who are about to enter this popular Bengaluru eatery anyway.

not a problem. Eaters here know where to come and exactly what to expect. The menu, nailed to the wall behind the cashier, is possibly the smallest in Bangalore, India. It offers only four items – Idli, Vada, Khara Bhaat and Kesari Bhaat – along with a choice of coffee, tea or milk.

No dosa.
Not a simile.
Not Uttapam.
Not Pongal.
No place to sit. You eat standing up.

Oh, and no branches. There’s only one Brahmin’s coffee bar on the planet, and it’s been standing in the exact same corner in Bengaluru’s Malleswaram district since 1965, when it was founded by Nagesh Adiga. His grandson today sits beneath a framed picture of his ancestor. His uncle Radhakrishna now runs the show.

Brahmin Coffee Bar got me thinking about the menu and then the options. How many items is ideal for a menu? Do long menus empower or overwhelm customers? How many choices do we really need to get ahead in life? Is there a golden number, or do more and more options just get better and better?

The average Udupi restaurant today would list more than a dozen dosa variants. Tarla Dalal has 120 different dosas on her website, ranging from one-night-stands like Szechuan Chopsuey Dosa and Dosa Lasagna. Starbucks has over 800 customizable drink combinations.

Are such unlimited options welcome or is more really less?

The golden number, according to menu engineer Greg Rapp, is seven. Any more than that, and customers will be confused. “And when they get confused they usually default to the item they had before,” he says.

About 60 percent of a restaurant’s sales come from just the three or four top sellers in each category, Bangar Smith concluded after evaluating hundreds of menus.

Let’s move beyond food to milk and marriage. You must first decide whether you want bovine milk or vegan alternatives like almond, soy, hemp, oat and rice. Go with cow’s milk, and you’ll have to choose between fat-free, lactose-free, full-fat, skimmed, low-fat, 2 percent milk, and a few others.

You’ll be standing there, catatonic, yearning for the tabla of your childhood.

Take marriage only. My parents didn’t choose each other. His parents probably made the selection after checking four out of five other possible matches. But today’s Tinder inundates you with scrolling choices of gorgeous faces, replacing insight and depth with cosmetics, flawless, glowing Photoshopped images and unflattering summaries.

So—are we adrift in a sea of ​​too much choice? Do we need a simpler world and fewer choices? Brahmin’s dating app maybe?

In 2000, Professor Sheena Iyengar of Columbia University conducted what is now known as the ‘jam study’. His team placed 24 jams in a busy supermarket, offering free tastings. About 60 percent of shoppers stopped by to sample, but only 3 percent bought the jam.

When only six jams were displayed, however, fewer people stayed but sales increased tenfold to 30 percent. The experiment caught the attention of psychologist Barry Schwartz, and in 2004 he wrote The Paradox of Choice, about how limitless and stressful endless choices can be.

Do a search on Google and in milliseconds you are inundated with a blinding flood of answers. Find a recipe and spend the next hour sorting through the variations. Search for a hotel and go crazy trying to sort through the thousands of conflicting customer reviews.

How the seamless option affects you depends on whether you’re looking for the quickest option or the best option. Maximizers, who want only the best, are doomed before they even begin because a perfect choice is impossible. They are cursed to wonder forever if more research might lead to an even better choice.

The paradox of choice came under fire when other studies showed the opposite: more choices led to more sales and satisfaction. For example, when you’re looking for a home or buying a car, you don’t want the Brahmin option to be the only one out of four options. Choice, it seems, is a zero-sum game – it helps as much as it hinders about half the time. Science also shows that when it comes to products, people hate being offered just one choice, are relieved with two and are happiest with three.

If we are talking about dosas, then there can be a plain dosa, a masala dosa and a ghee masala dosa on the menu.

The idli turned out to be hot and soft as desired, bathed in chutney. I also tasted vadas flavored with ginger and black pepper, perfected over five decades.

“Why don’t you add dosa to the menu?” I asked grandpa.

“No one asks for dosa,” he says, scratching his stub and counting out more cash. “People are happy with our four items. See the crowd.

He looks up like someone is about to sin and whispers, “We don’t even serve sambar – and nobody cares.”

You can contact CY Gopinath at
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The views expressed in this column are those of the individual and do not represent the views of the paper.



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