After years of serving “bigger-is-better” meals, some shrinking thinking has worked its way into the minds of restaurant chefs. Claims like “burritos as big as your head” used to be marketing advantages, but now a growing number of restaurants actively promote their smaller, more healthful and value-positioned reduced portion sizes.
A few say the portion shaving is intended to help diners watch their weight, while others seek to offer less expensive meals. Still others allege smaller portions simply reflect America’s growing love of grazing. Among them is chef John Castro.
When Castro developed the winter 2009 menu at Winston’s, the teaching restaurant at Sullivan University in Louisville, Ky., where he’s an instructor, he added multiple small plates.
“When they get small plates, they don’t have to commit to a huge entrée,” Castro says. “They can taste a few different things on their own, or taste even more if they share.”
Andrew Jordan, senior vice president of marketing for T.G.I. Friday’s USA, also says the chain’s two-year-old Right Portion, Right Price menu primarily is designed to offer guests more options.
It gives “our guests an additional choice as to how much they want to eat, and subsequently how much they’ll pay,” Jordan says.
Naysayers believed small portions would flop at Friday’s, known for its piled-high plates, but Right Portion, Right Price claims between 10 percent and 15 percent of the menu mix, Jordan adds.
Au Bon Pain  initially developed its Portions menu to provide guests with convenient and portable food choices. That each Portions item has no more than 200 calories was a bonus, says Thomas John, the bakery-cafe chain’s executive chef and senior vice president of food and beverage.
“Customization is the big thing with Portions, because the last thing we want to do is tell people how much they should eat,” John says. “It’s all up to the customer to use this concept as they want.”
Mimi Somerman, senior vice president of marketing at Mimi’s Cafe, says the 140-unit chain’s Just Enough menu reflects customer demand for less food and lower prices. Just Enough main courses start at $5.99 for lunch and $8.99 at dinner. The program has been a home run since launching last year, she says.
Small sweets fatten the bottom line
With healthful dining at its core, Seasons 52 designed its Mini Indulgences dessert menu to provide a minimal but memorable ending to its meals.
But according to spokesman Mike Bernstein, guests often eat more than one of the 250-calorie sweet treats.
“We wanted to do great desserts without adding a lot of additional calories to the overall meal,” Bernstein says.
“These are full-flavored versions of classic desserts that allow people to indulge a little without the guilt,” he adds, “but yes, there are many guests who order more than one. That’s easy to do.”