Sunday Pot Luck Brunches

Gathering in the living room

Thumbnail: One of my smoothies
Thumbnail: Tim cooks bacon
Thumbnail: Wooden trivet
Thumbnail: Pancakes
Thumbnail: Fruit bowl
 

Tim is, as he puts it, cut from the same cloth as his uncle, insofar as they both enjoy entertaining. They also live in a four-storey house, which is perfect for such a thing.

So every Sunday, people come together for a casual pot luck brunch, where guests are invited to bring food, the idea being that it’s be easier to bring a dish somewhere and share with everyone than sit at home and make breakfast for yourself. Last time, I got to try fancy smoked bacon, and a pancake-batter-cooked-in-bacon-grease experiment.

At this point, enough people know about it that no one has to mention ahead of time whether they’ll be coming, but there’s enough food for all.

Tim described this pretty well in a recent e-mail:

Dear Everyone,

I’m fascinated by coordination problems.

Coordination problems are situations where all the actors involved are more or less on the same side, but there is imperfect information. Everyone wants the same general outcome but isn’t sure how everyone else is going to get at it.

Driving is a solved coordination problem. No one wants an accident so we all want to drive on the same side of the road, but there is nothing special about choosing the left or the right side. How do people pick?

In 1958, Thomas Schelling ran this experiment on a group of university students in Connecticut: “Imagine that you are to meet someone in New York City at noon, but you don’t know where and you can’t get in touch with them in advance. Where do you go?”

Without consulting one another, the majority of them picked the same location. I wonder if you can guess what it was (where would you go?).

Every week, we solve and re-solve a coordination problem with brunch. Everyone wants a good and varied brunch spread. Different people come every week and no one RSVPs, so you can never be sure what other people will bring. We don’t consult in advance, I don’t assign dishes or types of dishes. The only information we have is what was at brunch the previous week and my written suggestion about fruits, which is mercifully ignored by most of you.

Yet every week brunch has a wide range of delicious foods. Isn’t that amazing?

I think it’s amazing.

Hope to see you on Sunday,

Tim

If I was participating in Schelling’s experiment, I would have chosen to meet at the clock in Grand Central Station; it’s always stood out to me because of the way it was prominently featured in the fantasy waltz sequence done by Terry Gilliam in The Fisher King. I had no idea that this was also the information booth, and it’s this place exactly that most students chose.

And it goes with the people at brunch as well. When one person eats, another will get up to cook. When everyone is done eating, the dishes are all put away, the pans are all cleaned. With the wisdom of crowds, nothing needs to be said.

I think it’s amazing too.

4 comments

  1. I would have picked Times Square… Probably because I’ve never been to Grand Central

    • Times Square is a good choice too…I bet that was a close second.

  2. I was thinking too iconically — I picked the Statue of Liberty.

    I miss a breakfast network of friends like this! Used to have it…I think having the space to accommodate is the problem where I am now. Everyone I know lives in tiny apartments. Food looks awesome.

    • I suspect that most of the world would have chosen the Statue of Liberty, although where in or around is another story.

      Hosting is something I certainly miss in my smaller townhouse. It’s not so much a problem for movies, but eating and games.

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