The Yale Buttery

In the basement of Durfee Hall on the Old Campus was the Yale Buttery, a student-run hamburger joint I worked in freshman and sophomore years. It sold burgers, fries, soft drinks, milkshakes, and other junk food, such as Hostess cupcakes. The place was little more than a large, dull basement room with a kitchen and sales counter at one end, but it did a thriving business every evening till 11:00.

It was a challenge to keep the place clean. Boiling french fry grease would atomize and settle on the floor and every other low surface. We had to swab the floor with detergent every night after closing. The city health inspectors, who came around monthly, were meticulous about two things: the temperature of the freezer where we stored the meat, ice milk, and frozen french fries, and the cleanliness of the refrigerated “cows” that dispensed milk. They were not concerned with the french fry grease, which we changed daily, nor with the age of our Hostess products, which somehow never got stale.

Working at the Buttery was not exciting, but I had one memorably satisfying experience when I achieved the only “marketing” success I’ve ever had. We sold two sorts of milkshake: “regular”, made with two scoops of ice milk for 50 cents, and “thick”, with five scoops of ice milk for 75 cents. The thick shakes actually cost us less to make since by volume ice milk was cheaper than liquid milk. Hence, we were motivated to get people to buy thick shakes instead of regular. But how do we convince them to do that? An ingenious solution suggested itself to me. We needn’t change our prices, or the proportion of ingredients of the shakes. All we needed was to change the description of the shakes from “thick” and “regular” to “regular” and “thin”. When a guy (and in those days it was still all guys) ordered a shake we would ask him “Regular or thin?” Very few people would ask for a “thin” shake, and no one would be so obviously cheap as to buy his girlfriend one. Sales of “regular” shakes soared.

I have often wondered whether the marketing professionals for commercial products have it all wrong: instead of selling regular, large, family, and jumbo sizes of laundry detergents, say, they could relabel them as tiny, mini, small, and regular respectively, thereby encouraging people to upgrade their purchases to “regular”. If this ever happens, you heard it here first!

David Jefferson