I’m a major foodie, and my friend and I reserved an expensive tasting menu dinner for next month, which I’m excited about. I never spend this much on food — the price tag for this dinner will be about twice my monthly grocery budget — so I want to make it count. How do I get my money’s worth in terms of appreciation?
— An Amazing Meal is Always a Happy Spend
Dear An Amazing Meal is Always a Happy Spend,
I agree that an amazing meal is a happy spend! And there are a few research-proven steps you can take now to make sure that this dinner is one to remember — and well worth the splurge!
One thing we’ve found in our lab is that people enjoy an experience more once it’s paid in full. I know that usually, the bill for dinner comes at the end of the meal, but in this case, it may be worth it to call the restaurant and see if it’s possible to pay for the bill in full now. If not, could you buy gift cards to pay for the cost of the meal? It may sound like a silly step, but knowing that the dinner is dealt with financially can enhance your enjoyment during the meal. That way, you can end the meal on a creme brulee high without having to worry about paying the bill.
Daydream about dinner (really!)
Read reviews. Browse through Instagram. Peruse the menu. Enjoy the meal before you even step into the restaurant. Maybe choose a special outfit in advance, or think ahead to what sort of photographs you’ll want to take. Indulging for a few minutes a day in the weeks leading up to the meal will enhance your pleasure of the experience. Anticipation is a free form of happiness, and it’s a way to bank positive feelings. Here’s why: You can’t control what happens on the actual dinner. Most likely, the meal will be lovely, but life can happen — your waiter can be in a bad mood, the menu might not have a favorite option. When you daydream, you can be the director and star of the events, allowing things to happen exactly the way you wish them to happen. Plus, it’s fun!
On d(inner) day, take it easy
This is advice I wish I had recently followed. My dad was in town, and we had booked dinner at a great restaurant I’d wanted to try for months. But it was also a really busy period for me at work, and I had a pretty big presentation the next morning. Dinner was great, but I felt like it was so hard to be present. My to-do list was looming in the back of my mind, and I felt I couldn’t linger after dinner as much as I wanted to. I also rushed over there, and felt pretty harried when I sat down, making it tough to relax. I’m not saying you need to take a day off from work, but try giving yourself plenty of time to get there, and try not to hop back on work email once you get home.
Enjoy your memories
Post some snaps on Instagram. Write a diary entry. Write a Yelp review. Do whatever it takes to let the memories linger. It’s a decadent meal, and it deserves plenty of decadent memories. Enjoy every last bite!
Elizabeth Dunn, Ph.D. is a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia who researches how time, money, and technology shape human happiness. She is also the scientific advisor for Happy Money, a financial company that combines psychology and money to help people live happier lives. Have a question for Liz? Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org and check back every Tuesday for her next column.