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Playing with portion size

4 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

This guest post is by Shashi Bellamkonda, senior director of social media and public relations — employees call him Social Media Swami — at, a company that helps small businesses establish an online presence and conduct online marketing. He is also an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. Having worked in the hotel and restaurant business for more than a decade, his love affair with the industry clearly has not ended.

I love eating good restaurant food. Being on the wrong side of 40, I now pay close attention to what I eat. When I moved to the U.S. about 14 years ago, I marveled at the large portions that most restaurants in the U.S. served. Even more astonishing to me was that most people seemed to eat all of it and have clean plates at the end of the meal. I also loved the “doggie bag” culture of asking for any leftover food to be packed to take home.

As healthy eating becomes more prevalent in the U.S., with public figures such as first lady Michelle Obama championing healthy eating and active lifestyles, more people are paying a lot of attention to what they eat and what their kids eat. Chefs and restaurant owners have taken notice and adjusted their menus accordingly, and even the quickservice sector has made moves to offer healthier fare — McDonald’s has the option of apple slices in its kid’s meals and has an oatmeal choice for breakfast.

With more Americans watching what — and how much — they eat, the challenge for restaurants will be sustaining current levels of revenue without reducing portions and price. Here are some ideas to keep cash coming in and customers coming back for more:

  • Try to source more local produce and make sure you tell your customers about local produce featured on your menu.
  • Offer to plate half of a customer’s entree and pack up the other half to go.
  • Offer a lunch and a snack menu. Along with a reduced-portion lunch, customers get a carryout snack they can have after a few hours.
  • If a customer orders a reduced-portion meal, they get a coupon for the value of the difference that they can use on their next visit. This may make them repeat customers.

I asked two Washington, D.C., chefs their views on portion sizes.

Chef K.N. Vinod of Indique Heights said, “I am a big fan of the first lady’s suggested food plate. I eat out very frequently — trying out new restaurants, in which many of the portions seem to be huge. My advice to those patrons dining out: If you receive a large portion, it does not mean that you need to eat the whole thing. Eat half and take the rest home to have for another meal, and you will be surprised how full your stomachs are already! I love to eat at places offering tapas, otherwise known as small plates. It allows you to try an array of different dishes, yet in small quantities.

“At my restaurants, Indique and Indique Heights, we offer an abundance of small plates. We have also introduced some innovative and healthy dishes such as Salmon Sliders, salmon cakes sandwiched in between two savory lentil pancakes, and instead of using tartar sauce, which is made of eggs and oil, we make a ‘tartar’ with low fat yogurt.”

Luigi Diotaiuti, chef and owner of Al Tiramisu, said he is happy there is a movement to sensitize people toward the importance of eating healthy. He advises people not to think of food as just a way to satisfy the needs of the body, but to make a pleasant ritual of enjoying the food and make it a tradition.

A 2010 USDA survey titled “The Impact of Food Away From Home on Adult Diet Quality” found that “[m]ost Americans eat too few fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, but also consume too much saturated fat, sodium, and added sugar. Americans spend a large share of their food budget (42 percent) on food away from home (FAFH), which has been found to be less nutritious than food prepared at home.”

It seems that even when we clean our plates, we may be leaving out the nutritious foods our bodies need and indulging in a few too many of the sweet and salty treats that we crave. What do you think? Do you eat more when you eat out, or do you have a secret strategy you could share with us?