Restaurant Portion Control

How to Reduce Portion Sizes and Still Keep Customers Happy

Woman Eating Hamburger

Oscar Wong/Getty Images

One of the reasons franchise chain restaurants are so successful is because they standardize menu portions in all of their stores. Therefore, customers can expect the same food in the same portion size whether they visit an Applebee’s in New York or Montana. 

Customers prefer that predictability, as they receive the same food and quantity they expect. This encourages customer loyalty as well as return visits.

Restaurant Portion Control

Restaurant owners need to standardize and monitor the portion sizes leaving their kitchens to ensure customers receive the portions they've come to expect. Thus, portions should not be too small or too large. Every item on your menu should have a controlled portion size to maintain food costs while keeping customers satisfied.

Portion control is also important in keeping your business profitable even if you own a small, independent restaurant.

Restaurant portion control should also occur during every shift. For example, your restaurant offers an entrée of cranberry chicken with mashed potatoes and a side vegetable. The entrée is broken down to streamline your portion sizes: a 6-ounce boneless chicken breast, a cup of mashed potatoes, a half cup of cooked vegetables, and two tablespoons of cranberry sauce on top of the chicken. Every kitchen worker should be serving these same portion sizes.

Chain restaurants can ensure healthy profit margins by streamlining their portion sizes to manage their budgets as well as customer expectations.

Why Portion Control Is Important

Imagine a customer’s reaction if they ordered the cranberry chicken entrée and they were served a 4-ounce chicken breast, half cup of potato, and a quarter cup of vegetable. People rarely complain about getting too much food but they'll certainly notice if you give them less, especially if the menu prices remain the same.

It’s also important to keep portion sizes in check so you can maintain correct food cost and your overall restaurant profits. Not only will this help to manage your budget but also balance your inventory to avoid a possible food shortage or surplus, which can negatively affect profits.

Example of Lapsed Portion Control

A restaurant offers a bowl of clam chowder for $4 that is based on 10 ounces of chowder per bowl, which amounts to 40 cents an ounce. However, the kitchen staff uses the wrong ladle and overfills a bowl by one ounce, five times each day during the lunch and dinner rush. That equals $2 a day in uncharged chowder, which doesn't seem like a lot. However, this adds up to $730 a year if it happens every day.

Now, imagine that happening consistently with all other menu items. If restaurant portions aren't kept in line with food costs, the business will lose money as well as customers.

How to Control Restaurant Portions

Start by training your staff to use the correct serving utensils and dishes consistently. A chart breaking down every menu item is also helpful for new staff. You can list exactly how much food goes with each item. For example, five mozzarella sticks for an appetizer, one slice of cheese for a burger, and three cherry tomatoes for side salads. Photographs also help staff correctly portion food as it leaves the restaurant kitchen.

Portion Control for Special Requests

Customers frequently make special requests based on dietary needs or preference. They may ask for substitutions or extra side dishes, which can cost more. Therefore, it is important to handle these requests properly to avoid a loss in profits.

Have a plan in place to determine what can and cannot be substituted, the portion size, and the price if the substituted food is of greater value. For extra side dishes that are not included with an entrée, measure and price them accordingly. Make sure your plan is understood and enforced by all kitchen staff.

Along with consistently using the same sized ladles and serving spoons, a commercial kitchen scale is helpful for weighing deli meats and cheeses into correct portion sizes. PC cups can hold set amounts of sauces like guacamole or salsa.

By controlling portion sizes, you'll not only keep your food cost in line, but you'll ensure your customers receive consistency when they order their favorite meals.