Second Helpings

Let’s talk another bite out of portions. As we’ve discussed, larger portions mean people eat more, but also leave more behind. In today’s America, obesity and waste somehow go hand-in-hand. 

In her all-encompassing book What to Eat, Marion Nestle tackles portions. Like a wise old aunt, she remembers the days when diners could finish their plate before it got cold. In response to restaurants’ defense that you can always take home leftovers, Nestle fires off this salvo:

I don’t like taking food home from restaurant meals because it never tastes as good the second time around. Instead, I want restaurants to offer what I consider to be real choices–reasonably light options on their menus in reasonable sizes. I wish restaurants would train waiters to be pleasant if you only order an appetizer or if you want to share portions. I wish they would give you at least a small price break for ordering a smaller portion.

To that, I’ll add: I wish waiters had a financial incentive to have people order sensibly, instead of the opposite. And unless you’re off to the theater (or some other event which prevents you from reaching your refrigerator) I wish everyone would take home what they don’t finish. Where I live, there are a few homeless people who wouldn’t mind half an entree.

Anyway, getting down off the soapbox, I’d say that The Cheesecake Factory’s gigantic portions are part of its identity. As they describe themselves in their 2005 annual report: “We believe our restaurants are recognized by consumers for offering exceptional value with generous food portions at moderate prices.”

And here’s how Nation’s Restaurant News describes their business model: “Large restaurants with a large, something-for-everyone menu that serve large portions to large numbers of people.”

The Cheesecake Factory experimented with smaller portions this summer. Whether that idea catches on, though, remains to be seen. Because the better value always seems to be the gargantuan option (the Super Size It phenomenon), stores and restaurants tend to lead us towards overeating and overwasting.

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