My husband and I went to a Mongolian Barbecue restaurant for dinner tonight. For those not familiar with the concept, it’s like a small buffet where you fill an empty bowl with raw meat, vegetables, various condiments and sauces, and the chef cook the food for you on a large round iron skillet. According to Wikipedia it traditionally does not involve any starch, but these days most restaurants include choice of noodles to be stir fried with the rest of the ingredients.

I was surprised to find a big bowl of rice when I brought my food back to the table. My first thought was this seems really unnecessary. Sure a handful of customers do skip the noodle, but when I looked around virtually no one else has touched their rice, and those who did got a spoonful or two just because it was there. How much rice the restaurant must be wasting every day!

The point of the story isn’t just about food wastage, but how often people or businesses get into the habits of doing things a certain way without asking the important question – Why. Perhaps the rice was essential before they introduced the noodle. Had they pay attention to their customer lately,  they should have realized it’s no longer the case. We see similar patterns in tech – features that exist because “they were there since v1”, even though data shows no customer really uses it. It’s true that unused feature does not cost a company the same way wasted rice does to a restaurant, but it could make the UI clutter or worse, gets in the way of simplifying the overall UX.

Of course one also has to be careful of the opposite issue – taking away features/options that actually delight your customers. So it’s crucial to really spend the time to understand your user base. In the restaurant’s case my guess is it wouldn’t make any difference to its popularity if instead of giving rice by default one has to ask for it. They might, however, lose some customers had they hid that self-serve ice cream machine. At least it got my attention.

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