To say that large portions in restaurants are a bad thing may be counter-intuitive. More = good, surely? But massive portions are a massive problem for a number of reasons, and there is a possibility that they might even be covering up much worse issues behind the scenes.
To start with, it makes poor economic sense for the restaurant owners. Why serve up a calzone the size of a toilet seat when, the most anyone will ever be able to eat is half a toilet seat? I’m a big guy with an even bigger appetite, and it bothers me knowing that the food in front of me is going to go to waste. I shouldn’t be feeling guilty in a restaurant, I should be feeling delighted!
But there is more to the poor economics than just food waste. Who is going to order starters and desserts, when the main is enough for all three courses? The restaurant we visited yesterday evening is the prime example of this. It’s a fantastic restaurant, and we were determined to try their desserts. But we have made two visits recently, and neither time did we come close to ordering a dessert. It was impossible after eating so much food for starter and mains. That’s at least £20 lost on potential desserts orders, just from a table of two already. How many more times are they multiplying that during a regular week? On our next visit, we might even skip starters.
It doesn’t stop just at economics though. Taste is directly linked to satiety. We’ve all been there – you’re way past ‘full’, and that last mouthful takes about 23 hours to chew and swallow. That never ending mouthful simply doesn’t taste anything near as good as the first. This is obvious when we’re full beyond belief, but here’s the big nail in the coffin for huge portions: by as little as the second or third mouthful, we’re already experiencing a decline in flavour. Thomas Keller confirms this fact in his French Laundry cookbook – it is the very reason they serve tiny portions, but many courses. We enjoy it so much more that way!
So back on point. When I visited a restaurant and was served antipasti that would feed 4 as a single starter, or calamari for an army, it’s only going to wind up with us enjoying the main course a lot less. Especially when both the starters are so excellent that we’re going to want to finish them.
But finally, and most scarily, is the reasoning behind the massive portions to begin with. Every restaurant manager understands gross profit, and how the cost of the food directly affects money in the bank. Reason would have it, then, that reducing portion size to increase profits would be the logical progression for a restaurant if they’re falling on hard times. So why would a restaurant go the opposite way and start serving up half a farm with each course?
Maybe it is just good, hearty, Italian love of food and generosity? Or maybe it is an owner struggling to find a solution to putting bums on seats? If it’s the latter, you must start to wonder if there are any other unseen areas where the cash has been scaled back. After all – their profit margins will be getting even smaller with every bigger and bigger portion they serve up. If they’re struggling to make ends meet, the extra food must be being subsidised elsewhere.