The following memorandum is from the business manager of Happy Pancake House restaurants.

“Recently, butter has been replaced by margarine in Happy Pancake House restaurants throughout the southwestern United States. This change, however, has had little impact on our customers. In fact, only about 2 percent of customers have complained, indicating that an average of 98 people out of 100 are happy with the change. Furthermore, many servers have reported that a number of customers who ask for butter do not complain when they are given margarine instead. Clearly, either these customers do not distinguish butter from margarine or they use the term ‘butter’ to refer to either butter or margarine.”

Write a response in which you discuss one or more alternative explanations that could rival the proposed explanation and explain how your explanation(s) can plausibly account for the facts presented in the argument.

Even though it pains me to admit it, this is a well-written memo. The writer is honest in acknowledging the restaurant chain’s management may not have thoroughly investigated their customers’ preferences before making this change and admits that the difference seems to have gone relatively smoothly. However, the last sentence in the paragraph states a conclusion that cannot be supported by the evidence presented.

The writer claims that only 2 percent of customers have expressed displeasure with the change and that this figure is consistent across restaurants. This may be true, but given a large number of customers at the chain’s 80 locations, a minor complaint from 2 percent of diners translates to a significant loss of business for the restaurants. Furthermore, the servers claim that some customers who ask for butter prefer margarine, which is a rather outlandish claim. It is hard to imagine a customer who eats a Happy Pancake House breakfast every morning being content with margarine instead of butter. It is also difficult to imagine that the customer would even be able to tell the difference. Therefore, the likelihood that the customer was requesting butter, not margarine, is extremely low.

The writer also states that the customers’ preference for butter is not distinguishable, which is problematic for two reasons. First, suppose the customer cannot distinguish between butter, a dairy, and margarine, a vegetarian. In that case, the customer is likely confused or uneducated about proper nutrition. If the customer is confused, then the customer may choose butter instead of margarine to get more calories. Furthermore, if the customer is uneducated about proper nutrition, then it is possible that the customer does not know that margarine has more calories per serving than butter, which may not be significant to the customer, but could be significant to the restaurant chain if the customer consumes several meals per week.

Suppose the customer is uneducated about the proper consumption of butter. It could also be the case that the customer is confused about the difference between butter and other dairy products. Butter has milkfat, which is an essential component of a healthy diet. However, many butter substitutes do not, and margarine, in particular, has been shown to contain trans-fatty acids, which have been linked to various diseases, including heart disease. Therefore, the customer may be requesting it out of ignorance. The writer’s description of the customer as ‘educated’ about this change, which suggests that the customer is aware that butter is a dairy product, contradicts the claim that the customers are confused. The customer may be thinking, “If the restaurant chain will serve me margarine, then why should I order anything else? I’m not getting any healthier for it.” The evidence presented does not support the conclusion. Therefore, it is possible that the customers are confused by the change or do not understand the difference between butter and other dairy products.

Furthermore, the servers may have been embellishing their experience, as it is unlikely they would lie about the number of people who complain about the butter substitute. However, it is also possible that the customer does not differentiate between butter and other dairy products. If this is the case, then the customer may be confused, or it could be that the customer does not care about nutritional value. Either way, the restaurant’s management would be wise to investigate their customers’ preferences further before making another change.