Hunka, hunka burning portion sizes are served at restaurants
We are in quite a precarious position here in the United States.
On the one hand, millions upon millions of people are either actively pursuing or need to be doing something about their weight for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is to prevent the onset of diet-related diseases which science is confirming more and more of lately and much more research is on the way.
At the same time, we have the restaurant industry feeling the pressure from consumers and their fierce competition to offer large enough portion sizes for the money being spent which has resulted in astronomical increases in portion sizes to keep up with the consumer demand.
And this USA Today article about the results of a new survey of restaurant chefs released on Saturday at the Annual Meeting of the Obesity Society confirms this fact.
Conducted by the NPD Group along with researchers at Pennsylvania State University and the South Carolina-based Clemson University, 300 restaurant chefs were surveyed to determine whether they are aware of the larger portion sizes and calories they are serving to the public.
Here are the major findings of the survey:
- Food portion sizes are 2-4 times larger at restaurants
- Restaurants believe consumers WANT lots of food on their plate
- Meals served at restaurants have at least 60% more calories
- Americans ate 209 meals each away from home in 2005
- Portion sizes have steadily grown since the 1970s
- Chefs know the larger portions they serve are unhealthy
- Restaurants expect people to eat most or all of the food served
- Over three-fourths of the chefs think their portions are "regular"
- Less than one-fifth of them think portions are bigger
- 58% believe people should eat until they are full and no more
- 86% state diners would notice if the portions were reduced by 25%
- Nearly 60% said diners would not notice a 10-15% portion reduction
Of course, all of these statistics from restaurant chefs will be used to argue that restaurants should cut back on their portions and calories. You know another wave of criticism is building up and will yet again blame the restaurant industry for this. But, as you know, this is something I have previously addressed as a bad idea. Nevertheless, I do think that portion sizes have gone down a slippery slope that will be very difficult to overcome because of the most culpable party in this debate--THE CONSUMER!
Let me illustrate this point by sharing my experience working in the customer relations department for a large chain of restaurants. The philosophy of the company was that most people expected to get a "good value for their money" so they naturally loaded up their specials with tons (and I do mean TONS!) of food that the average person could not, or should I say SHOULD not, be eating in one sitting. In fact, my wife Christine and I regular ended up splitting one of these meals and it was still almost too much food for us to eat (although I liked the idea of saving money through sharing a meal!).
From the restaurant business standpoint, it certainly makes sense. You want to create the impression in the mind of your customers that the dollars they are spending are being stretched and maximized to their fullest when they eat at your restaurant. Rising gas prices, uncertainties about the economy, and other factors all play a role in the psychology of restaurant marketing. It literally HAS to! With fierce competition for the coveted restaurant consumer budget money, that is one way to create a niche for yourself and market your products in an effective manner that stands out and creates financial results.
But the reality of this strategy is that you will turn off a lot of people who don't want that much food when they eat out. I can remember getting my fair share of feedback from customers who suggested we cut back on the portion sizes and maybe offer a discounted version of the same meal except without so much food. I knew this would NEVER happen because of the "value for your money" philosophy that I've already explained. Like I said, we've gone down a slippery slope.
My general response to criticism like this was that they could order another menu item that gave them less food, but inevitably that would cost them more money since it was not a special deal. Then I would explain that they could simply request that they do not want specific items in the special meal deal if they didn't think they could eat it. But this would then cause the customer to want a discount on top of the already discounted meal. UGH! You can't win!
Finally, as the only trump card left in my deck, I would make the suggestion that the customer take the extra food home with them and have it for another meal later or split the meal in half like my wife and I do. Some would balk at this idea, but others had not even thought about doing that before. Ya think?
Like I said at the beginning of this post, we really do have a dichotomy on our hands here. Consumers EXPECT to have larger portions so they can get their money's worth when eating out, but they don't want to feel forced into eating larger portions of food for the money that they spend in restaurants. Can you see why this issue is such a tough one for restaurants to figure out? Consumers really need to make up their minds collectively about what they want--smaller portions for a little less money or larger portions for a "good value?" What's it gonna be restaurant consumers?!
Going back to my experience with my restaurant customer service job, people often let me know when they felt we were cutting back on our portion sizes. If the company changed vendors to get a better price on a food item on our menu and the food did not look EXACTLY like it did before (by filling up the entire plate all the way to the edge), then our customers would accuse the company of skimping on the portion sizes while raising prices and cry foul. Price increases are not always the restaurant's fault since they can vary widely based on the market for that product. For example, pork prices have gone through the roof in recent years, so that has negatively impacted the price that is charged on any menu items that include pork.
Quite frankly, though, customers don't give a rip about these kinds of issues. What they seem to want is LOTS OF FOOD for as LITTLE MONEY AS POSSIBLE when they are eating out. Why else would all-you-can-eat, buffet-style restaurants continue to keep popping up everywhere and stay busy ALL THE TIME? People WANT to stuff themselves with food and don't feel bad about it because they "got their money's worth!" Admit it, you've even thought that yourself. I know I have and it is further evidence behind my theory that the consumer is at fault for growing portion sizes in American restaurants.
Studies have been done on portion sizes and how they effect the amount of food we actually eat. It really is scary to think about. But still we have a media-frenzy and consumers go wild when something like a 19-pound hamburger is introduced on a restaurant menu.
When will we ever learn?!