A war over pistachio ice cream

I recently stepped into a new ice cream shop down the street. Upon scanning the chalkboard menu my eyes were immediately drawn to the red hearts accompanying speculoos cookies and cream, vanilla sweet cream, and fresh strawberry. These are the staff favorites, according to the cheery employee behind the counter.

Curiously, next to green pistachio lay a suspicious red smudge.

A new assistant manager had recently revoked green pistachio’s “favorite” status amid outcry from the junior staff. She had attempted to erase the heart from the blackboard menu but ultimately left behind a faint hint of its former glory.

Nothing about the ice cream had changed - so why would its status as favorite be up for debate?

Pistachio is one of those polarizing flavors - I don’t like it at all, while some of my friends order it everywhere they go. For a pistachio-hating customer (and even some pistachio-loving ones), a pistachio recommendation is essentially useless. Put another way, removing pistachio from the favorites list probably doesn’t really affect how many people order it, since the pool of “persuadable” pistachio customers is small compared to other flavors.

The distinction here I think is between judging a recommendation on its utilization versus its objectivity. Assuming the ice cream staff are actually able to make a more objective judgement of flavor quality (I certainly would trust them more than anyone else), it makes a lot of sense for pistachio to keep its favorite status. But if you’re concerned about whether it’s useful to more customers, a great but controversial option will always see less support than a mediocre, but more palatable one.

The philosophy that centers utilization echoes the “data driven” and “user centered” ethos in tech these days. But it commits the cardinal sin of measuring the wrong thing - just because more people engage with a recommendation, feature, or product doesn’t actually mean it’s “better” - one needs more clearly defined goals. Ice cream satisfaction isn’t obviously correlated with recommendation utilization to me, and if you exist in the margin (ie, are a pistachio lover) this philosophy will only ever see your niche flavor preference pushed further and further to the edge.


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