Decaf Coffee and Yes/No Questions

I only drink decaf coffee.

I know, this is terrible and tragic and I’m obviously not living life to the fullest. But bear with me.

When I order decaf, in a restaurant or a Starbucks or wherever, I know that I’m the anomaly and that often waitrons often forget or tune out the request or there’s just no decaf to be had and they’re in a HURRY. So I always double check. I used to double check by saying, “Is this decaf?” when it was handed to me. And always, always, the answer: “Yes!” Even when it was absolutely NOT decaf.

So (after a few jittery days and sleepless nights attributable to fake decaf) I decided to implement a survey methodology best practice into my coffee ordering.

Let me explain.

Acquiescence bias is the tendency of survey respondents to give a positive answer, even when it’s not true. So, if you ask “Do you like working at X company?” people who only sort of like it, or don’t really like it but don’t want to be negative, will say yes. People might also say yes, or agree with a statement, because it just seems easier than saying no or disagreeing.

But there are huge differences in response distribution if someone is asked a yes/no or question (“Do you like working at X?”) rather than given options (“How do you feel about working at X? Like a lot, like a little, neither like nor dislike, dislike a little, dislike a lot.”)

So now, when I order coffee, I always ask, “Is this decaf or regular?” It’s kind of tricky; there are two valid options, so the server has to pause for a second and formulate an answer rather than just saying “yes.” This might be annoying for them. But I haven’t had any more sleepless nights caused by coffee.

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