I stopped at a quick-service drive-thru recently and ordered a small drink that could keep a family of five alive for a week. I wasn't surprised; so-called super-sizing has been going on for years. But what drives me crazy is going into a full-service restaurant and finding portion sizes that are also ludicrous.
I love to see a “small plates” section on a menu. The idea of ordering a bunch of smaller items, as opposed to ordering an entrée, is far more appealing. A friend and I did just that recently at a local pub, ordering eight of 10 available small plates, each costing around $7.
What I didn't realize was that the restaurant doesn't adhere to the Spanish tapas idea of small plates. At this restaurant, each small plate could easily stand in for a meal. Does a dozen chicken wings constitute a small plate? Is a brick-size portion of mac and cheese a small plate? I don't think so.
Clearly, most customers will be thrilled to pay $7 for such large portions. But the sizing is not in synch with the concept of ordering a bunch of smaller portions and enjoying numerous flavors. As I was eating, I kept thinking how this restaurant could lower its food costs by appropriately cutting its portion sizes on a section of the menu that clearly states “small plates.” The food at this restaurant is very good. I believe it could compete quite well with a quality-over- quantity approach to portion sizing.
Here's another thing about this particular small plates menu: Since I ordered eight items, I asked the bartender/server to send them out as the kitchen prepared them, a common practice in tapas-style restaurants. The server, however, told me that this kitchen has a “policy” of only sending out a full order when it's complete. I was sitting at a bar with my friend, and the idea of having eight plates dropped in front of us all at once was not appealing. In fact, the eight plates at this restaurant would have sprawled beyond our allotted space. Not that it was a problem because the bar was half empty. There was no need to turn over seats quickly.
But, because of the policy, I withdrew my original order and gave her a new order with only four plates. After we ate what we wanted from those four plates, I ordered four more. I know what you're thinking: If there was so much food on the first four plates, why would he order four more? As I said, I love to taste around a menu and the woman I was with also wanted to try some other menu items. Did I mention she has blue eyes you could drown in?
This dining out experience begs some questions. First, has competition gotten so brutal that you have to serve large portions within a small plates menu? Second, isn't the kitchen “policy” of sending out only complete orders created to serve the restaurant and not the customer? And third, am I asking too much of servers, whom I see as restaurant tour guides, to point out menu peculiarities? Email me.