A system of manipulation

We were touring in the great city of Istanbul. Its city center is packed with thousands of restaurants, and we finally chose one to dine in.

Four of us were seated at the table. Our waiter was friendly to an unusual degree. He walked over every fifteen minutes to check on us. He doled out lavish praises every time we ordered something. Towards the end, he offered us some tea and baklava on the house. When all the dishes were cleared, he came over to us and paused. He leaned forward, lowered his voice and asked us for a favour.

“Could you review the restaurant on Tripadvisor. And could you also add my name to your review?”

He spelled out his name on a card and stayed at the table, insisting we do this right away. A couple of us whipped out our phones and left a good review. We then left the restaurant. On the way back to our hotel, we discussed how we would never dine in that restaurant again.

What had happened above was interesting. We experienced bad service, but we left a good review. By doing so, we had slightly diluted the quality of a public resource that we ourselves rely on. From the restaurant’s perspective, our decision to not go back would not hurt them – we were tourists after all. Our review, on the other hand, is likely to give them two or three more customers, perpetuating this system of manipulation. We were not alone either. Several other people had left that restaurant and its waiter very positive reviews.

What causes people to be manipulated in this manner?

Reciprocity is a strong impulse that is ingrained into human beings. It is the urge to return a favour to somebody who has done us a good turn. It is burned into our genes. It  was needed to keep us in strong tribal bonds to ensure our survival. Today, it is the implicit glue in an elaborate society that is based more than ever on giving and taking from strangers.

Nevertheless, our tendencies for reciprocity can be exploited. One restaurant in Istanbul has learned to deal with cut-throat competition by doing so. To break these systems, or at the very least not contribute to them, it always helps to ask ourselves if there is anybody we are doing a disservice with our favours.

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