Increasing concerns about the effect of portion size on overall caloric intake and its impact on weight are causing more customers to reconsider what they’re eating at restaurants. Those concerns are also prompting restaurants to re-evaluate how they serve and price their food.
With some thoughtful adjustments, restaurateurs can remain profitable while accommodating those who want to reduce portion sizes.
Understand the problem
Two out of every three American adults are now either overweight or obese. Achieving and sustaining an appropriate body weight reduces the risk of disease and helps maintain good overall health.
The USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans points out that balancing calories consumed with calories burned is the key to managing weight.
Help create a solution
One of the most common ways for people to lose weight or maintain a healthful one is to consume smaller portions. Many restaurateurs are becoming wiser to this.
“We live in a country where obesity is a national security issue,” says Geoff Tracy, owner of Chef Geoff’s in Washington, D.C. “We ultimately affect others when we don’t take care of ourselves. It’s our job as restaurateurs to create a balance between smaller and fuller portions on a menu. It’s also important that we provide delicious food that’s equally nutritious and healthful.”
A safe zone for more-healthful or smaller-portion restaurant meals for adults is under 700 calories, says dietitian Joy Dubost.
“More casual- and quick-dining restaurants are now offering dishes that are as light as 400 calories or fewer,” she says. “Chefs are also even more innovative in altering the perception that healthy food doesn’t taste good.”
One strategy she suggests for controlling portions is to use smaller bowls and plates and taller, narrower glasses. She also recommends using more fruits, vegetables and whole grains to make the plate look full and attractive without packing it with calories.
“If restaurateurs are patient and committed to the concept, both smaller and more-healthful portions can be right in the mix of solid sales,” she says. “It’s just a matter of innovating, naming, describing and presenting them correctly.”
Consumers looking for smaller portions can also consider meal-sharing or splitting the portion size and taking the rest home to enjoy the next day.
“Ordering during the day tends to depend on the individual diner,” Tracy says. “We find our customers to be at different phases of where they wish to be with moderation. We do see a lot of them splitting dishes with others during a multi-course meal.”
Portioning can be vital to savings and profitability, too.
“Portion control is critical to the business side,” says Tracy. “The amount of food served must be carefully monitored, or else we’re sending money out the door.
“In the end, portioning benefits all of us. Distinguishing between lighter and more indulgent meals can help customers sample and savor other food for greater enjoyment of dining. That in turn is good for us as restaurant operators."