I have an experiment for you to try this week. (If you were the kid in school who hated homework, think of it as an adventure in discovery!) Here’s what I need you to do:
Plant yourself firmly by the dish-pit for a dinner shift. What do you see? Are you watching clean plates coming through the door? (If so, then you can quit reading.) If, however, you see large amounts of uneaten food returning from the dining room only to be scraped into the trash-bin, then something’s got to change.
First, let’s figure out if there’s a problem with the quality of the food. If this is the case, then it’s probably time to find a new chef. More than likely, though, your food is fine. I’ll bet there’s a problem with your portion sizes.
Many popular fast-casual restaurants are famous for their grotesquely oversized entrees. I’m not going to name any names, but the one that comes to particular mind rhymes with “squeeze-flake quackery.” Due largely to the popularity of these chains, Americans have become accustomed to seeing gargantuan plates of food. Some of them have even learned to finish them off. The average human, however, is physically incapable of consuming that much food.
Are your portion sizes too big? Take a long, evaluative look at what your chefs are plating and collaborate with your staff to make the necessary changes. By cutting back your portion sizes, not only will you be cutting cost and minimizing waste, you will be increasing the satisfaction of your guests. (Yes: You read that right.)
Studies have shown that dining guests are actually happier with high-quality, beautifully plated food in smaller portions. There is an inverse relationship between the perception of quality and portion size. Dining guests should never leave your restaurant hungry, nor should they feel so full that they request an after-dinner crane to dislodge them from their seats. There is a fine line between too little and too much. It will take a bit of experimentation, but with a little elbow grease, such a balance can certainly be found.
So once you have established appropriate portion sizes, how do you maintain them? Here are a few tips:
- Standardize recipes: keep a book or post your recipes, complete with appropriate measurements, at various accessible stations.
- Train your staff: Make sure that your line cooks are trained to follow these recipes and are not throwing random ingredients or proportions together on the fly.
- Be consistent: Make sure that each specific menu item is the same, every time. That means that each serving of protein is carefully weighed and that each serving of starch or vegetables is also measured and distributed.
As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter. How do you manage portion sizes and if you have made changes, how have your guests responded? Please feel free to leave comments!