Forget Tomorrow, what about Today?

I’m not a huge fan of Maggiano’s.* I don’t see eye-to-eye with restaurants that serve gigantic portions that leave diners with an awkward choice: overeat, waste food or take it home (especially since some folks don’t like leftovers or aren’t going straight home, etc.).

Now comes news of a new Maggiano’s promotion: Today and Tomorrow. You order from a list of $12.95 entrees and they send you home with another entree, gratis, packed and ready to go when you are.

photo by ivanlanin via creative commonsNow this deal could be a real boon in these tight times. I would guess that some of us could get at least four meals out of those two entrees. And I get that people are looking for value. But the tone on Maggiano’s site is all wrong and reinforces the whole gluttony thing:

“Trust me, in Little Italy, less definitely isn’t more.”

Ugh. And do they reserve prime parking spaces for Hummers, too? I’d rather see more restaurants go in the direction of smaller portions for less money.

Flipping the curmudeon switch into overdrive, my main beef with the promotion is the use of the word ‘leftover’ in the press release.

Some say the recession is causing a new generation of Americans to eat a dish they’ve never eaten before: the leftover. ‘Today & Tomorrow’ re-invents the leftover, with a free meal that is world-class quality and made fresh daily to take home,” said Steve Provost, senior vice president of marketing and brand strategy for Maggiano’s.

The thing is, they’re not re-inventing leftovers, but superseding them with an entirely new dish. And I’m guessing that will make more diners decline to take home the sure-to-exist remains of their first entree. And what about those weirdos (kidding!) who dislike leftovers–what will they do with this second meal?

What do you think: Will Today and Tomorrow make diners snobbier about what foods are worth taking home? Or will it train those not already in the habit of taking home restaurant food to do so?

* See comments below for an update–I dislike Maggiano’s less knowing that they offer half portions.

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  1. Rachel
    Posted August 3, 2009 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    I’ve never understood not liking leftovers. Home cooking (or restaurant leftovers) stretched over more than one day? It’s a god-send for those of us with kids!

    I think Today and Tomorrow will encourage more waste, since people will not take home the leftovers from the meal in favor of the pristine extra entree. Given how huge the portions are at Maggiano’s, that’s too bad. I can’t see how they think a single person can eat one of their entrees.

    At least at Carmine’s in New York, where the portions are huge, they are upfront about the fact that they expect you to order family style.

  2. Bellen
    Posted August 3, 2009 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    While initially I thought there would be more waste, I wonder. Maybe if instead of labeling it ‘doggie bag’ or ‘leftovers’ the remains of a meal were called ‘planned overs’ and suggestions for using were included. It doesn’t always have to be the same meal.

    Personally, at restaurants I either order from the children’s menu if allowed or ask for a take home container when my entree arrives. I refuse to waste food.

  3. Posted August 3, 2009 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    Is Maggiano’s particularly bad when it comes to portion sizes? Or are their portions similar to those at other restaurants? I’ve never been there, so I don’t know!

    We eat out really infrequently (to save money), but when I have leftovers, I always take them home with me.

  4. Posted August 3, 2009 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Hi Jonathan,

    Thanks for sharing your perspective on our “Today & Tomorrow” promo! I want to point out that our guests have one more choice when they visit our restaurant: share.

    Passing plates around the table is a part of Little Italy that we are inspired by. Most our dishes are designed to be shared, so that everybody can have a taste of something different. We offer half and full portions, depending on your appetite and your party size.

    In this economy, we definitely offer guests a strong value in our portion sizes. People are trying to make their dollars stretch, and most our guests are glad to enjoy a meal that can stretch into a nice lunch tomorrow too.

    One other point of clarification: if a guest isn’t a “leftover person,” they can still just order a half portion off our regular menu.

    Again, appreciate your perspective! Best of luck with your book.

    Maggiano’s Little Italy, Marketing

  5. Posted August 3, 2009 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    Smaller portions for less money don’t work out economically in general. There’s a fixed cost to seating you at a table in the restaurant. The food is only a small part of it. When you pay that $12.95, you’re also paying your share of your waiter’s wages, the rent, the cook’s wages, the cost of the dishwasher, the cost of the table and dishes, and so on. To serve you less food doesn’t mean they can easily cut the cost of the meal. So if it doesn’t cost them that much to give you the equivalent of two (or four) meals for one price, that’s a better way for them to improve the value of the price of the dinner, without going bankrupt.

    Also, I’m kind of missing how this is contributing to wasted food. Sure, some people might not take their leftovers home. But most people don’t take them, anyway. I’m not convinced, without any kind of evidence, that being given a second meal to take home would make somebody choose not to take home anything else. Especially since in my years of observing people who do take food home, what they end up taking home is less than half the original meal, and that means either having a smaller second meal or supplementing it with other leftovers. Like, say, the packaged entree they also brought home.

  6. Posted August 3, 2009 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    Hey Michael,
    Thanks for reading and responding. I like sharing. And I like half portions.

    I didn’t know you offered half portions because it’s not on the online menu. You guys should publicize that; I know it gives me a higher opinion of Maggiano’s.

    Anyway, I’ll be curious to hear how the promotion goes–will you tell me if, in practice, people aren’t taking home leftovers? I know that’s hard to measure. In the meantime, I’ll take you off my “enemies” list, thanks to the half portions.

  7. Posted August 3, 2009 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    Ayse, on your second point–it’s my hypothesis that this will cause some diners to abandon the remains of their first meal, knowing that they have that second entree to take home. That, or they may overeat, as the goal of having leftovers has already been fulfilled. It’s not something that I can say definitively, or that anyone could prove unless you did a study observing diners at many Maggiano’s. I’m sure that our man Michael has plenty of free time and can’t wait to provide such a report (right, Michael? By the way, I was joking about the enemies list. It’s only a “frenemies” list.).

    On your first point–it’s an interesting question. I’m no economist, but what about the customers who are attracted by spending less for smaller portions and who otherwise wouldn’t come? Unless the restaurant is always filled and these new customers are replacing ones who’ll pay more, I’d say restaurants still benefit from more volume. Plus, as we’ve seen with TGI Friday’s Right Portion, Right Price menu, the average check for these customers is slightly higher, as they splurge for apps and/or dessert because they’ve spent and ate less on their mains.

    Finally–not everyone wants to eat 2 (or 4) meals that are roughly the same to get the max value. They’d rather have a half-portion and be done with a genre of food (for a while). Now that I know Maggiano’s offers that option, I’m much happier.

  8. Posted August 4, 2009 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    On the waste prevention front, there’s always the hope that people might be _more_ likely to take home their leftovers since they’ll already be carrying a package. (I know people who think it’s too much work to ask for a box, remember to put it in the car, take it out once home, etc. It’s never seemed all that much of an inconvenience to me, but then, I like leftovers!)

    And on the consumer front: if there were an M’s in my area, I’d be making plans for a dinner out with a bunch of friends right now. So I’m guessing it works.

    what’s in the bucket? um…

  9. Julia
    Posted August 8, 2009 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    My family and I ate at a Maggiano’s a few weeks ago for the first time. There were many things we liked about it, especially the casual atmosphere, good service, and it was child-friendly for our 8 year old son (crayons and word puzzles etc.). However, even the half portions are HUGE. I ate way more of my half order of vegetarian pasta than I had intended because I didn’t want to waste it and since we were staying at a hotel, there was no way to take it home and eat it the next day. (We don’t eat out that often and I normally LOVE bringing home leftovers and enjoying them the next day.) I had also ordered a side of broccoli which was enormous. My husband’s half size salad was as big as a normal order at other places, my son’s “macaroni and cheese” from the kids’ menu (which turned out to be penne and cheese, I just hate it when restaurants do that because he doesn’t like penne, he likes MACARONI) was so ridiculously huge that I couldn’t have eaten all of it so 99% of it got wasted. So if we go there again, we will order a lot less food. And it’s nice to think of sharing orders across the table, but it doesn’t work when you have two vegetarians and one carnivore (who only eats meat when in a restaurant!)

  10. WilliamB
    Posted August 13, 2009 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

    How cool that M responded to your post. Unfortunately that doesn’t change the fact that passing the plate justifies overly large portions only makes sense if customers order fewer dishes – a party of 4 ordering 3 dishes, for example. I’ve never seen that happen, I’ve never heard of that happening, I don’t expect it happens more than 1% of the time.

    So kudos to Michael of Marketing for his thoughtful response but the logic doesn’t hold.

  11. Posted August 13, 2009 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    WillB–Totally agree on both your points. Good on Maggiano’s Michael for writing in. And too bad you’re probably right on the sharing. Although I’d put it higher than 1 percent!

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