à la carte contre ta·bles d’hôte

by Trey Nosrac

You want to know something that irks me?” I asked David as I steered the Lexus out of The Liquor Well, a drive-thru beverage store in a repurposed gas station.

“Not particularly,” he replied.

“Okay, I’ll tell you. Remember going through the cafeteria line at college?”


“We pointed to the big pan of mashed potatoes, the person on the other side of the plastic shield plopped a scoop onto your plate, you moved over to the left a few feet, then pointed to the roast beef, and you got a few slices next to your potatoes. All the while, in your head, you were doing the math — potatoes a dollar, roast beef two dollars, carrots 50 cents. At the end of the line, the cashier rang you up, and you paid.”

He shrugged. “Everyone is familiar with the à la carte concept, a separate price for each item offered on the menu.”

I nodded. “That system was great. You saw what you were ordering, no small talk with waiters or waitresses, and no tipping. You just ate your food, set your empty plate into a metal slot in the wall, and headed out to mayhem.”

“The good old days.”

“Ah yes, I’ll never forget my six years in Community College. One of these days, I may go back and complete my two-year degree.”

“What’s your point?”

“In the cafeteria, before I got to the cashier, if somebody dumped an uninvited scoop of rutabaga on my plate and made me pay for it, I would have complained.”

“What is a rutabaga?” he asked.

“I’m not sure, I think it’s a root. I might even like the taste, and I may be slandering an excellent food to demonstrate my point.”

“Which is?”

“When gambling on horse races, my racing program has a lot of rutabagas. For example, I have never wagered every card on a horse racing program. From the national anthem to the last finish line at a single racetrack is much too exhausting on my patience and my wallet.”

“Yet, you are forced to pay for the entire program.”

“Yep, and these days my wagering is online. I may play two racetracks, maybe three to speed up lag time. That means I need to purchase more rutabaga, and it irks me.”

He smiled. “As a person who spent many years in the technology business, this is an easy technological fix. In theory, a customer who wants data for ten races should choose which ten races. However, bundling is a standard operating procedure. From a seller’s point of view, bundling or package deals are complicated because they want to maximize profit.”

“Well, from a buyer’s point of view, I’ve had enough rutabaga. In 2021, I can buy an eBook with the complete works of Charles Dickens for the price of one racing program.”

He asked me a few questions, “Have racetracks ever done studies to predict how free online race programs would affect handle? Do you believe you would gamble more if you had free race programs?”

“I don’t know about any studies, but I know free racing programs would increase my wagering. What happens to me is this, and it has happened a thousand times – I pull out my phone and think about playing a race for a couple of bucks. The first thing that crosses my mind is that playing without at least glancing at a program page is wrong. My second thought is that buying a program for one race is wrong, and two wrongs don’t make a right, so I pass.”

He nodded. “I have an idea for your program purchasing predicament, a ta·bles d’hôte option.”

“Save your incomprehensible French for impressing a mademoiselle on a post-pandemic romantic evening.”

He smiled. “The term means the ownership offers a meal of pre-selected courses served at a fixed time for a fixed price to the guests at a hotel or restaurant.”

“You could have just said a pre-planned package deal.”

“When you speak another language, you look for any chance to dazzle.”

“Consider me undazzled.”

He chuckled and said, “Customers often find package deals appealing. I believe this could transfer to racing. I wonder if anyone selling racing programs online has tried it.”

“Walk me through this, in English.”

“Let’s say you want to sit down and play some races tomorrow night, but you don’t want to purchase a complete program or purchase multiple programs.”


“The entity who sells your programs decides to offer a program of eight races with post times staggered between 8 and 10 p.m. tomorrow night. They have preselected the eight races from various racetracks. You pay for one program, no rutabaga.”

“I like the idea, but the outfit who sells my program will not be thrilled to sell me that kind of program because they might lose money.”

He said, “They may lose you as a customer without this innovation. They would need to run the numbers, but if the product proves popular, they could find revenue on the back end via advertising and tracks that would pay to be in the bundled packet.”

“What was the French name?

“Ta·bles d’hôte.”

“Sacre Bleu, I’d pay for that program. You are onto a concept that is… less irksome.”

He shook his finger and said, “A concept that is…moins inquiétant.”

I sighed.