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,


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.


  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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