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Restaurant Portion Control

How to Reduce Portion Sizes and Still Keep Customers Happy

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Hamburger, close-up, waitress in background (wide angle)
Zigy Kaluzny/ The Image Bank. Getty Images
One of the reasons that franchise chain restaurants are so successful is because they have menu portions under control. Whether you go into an Applebee’s in New York or in Montana, you’ll be served the same food in the same portion sizes. Customers like that predictability. And by streamlining their portion sizes, chain restaurants ensure healthy profit margins. Even if you own a small, independent restaurant, portion control is still an important factor in keeping your business profitable.

What is Restaurant Portion Control?
Just as individuals need to watch the portion sizes of foods they eat, restaurant owners need to watch the portion sizes coming out of the kitchen. Every item on your menu should have a controlled portion size in order to keep food cost in check. Restaurant portion control is also important for keeping menu items consistent for every shift. For example, say your restaurant offers an entrée of cranberry chicken with mashed potatoes and a side vegetable. To streamline your portion sizes, the entrée is broken down as follows: a six 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 time this entrée leaves the kitchen, no matter who is cooking, the serving sizes shouldn’t waver.

Why is Portion Control Important?
Imagine a customer’s reaction if they ordered the above meal and instead got a four ounce chicken breast, half cup of potato and a quarter cup of vegetable. While people rarely complain about getting too much food, they certainly notice if you are giving less, especially if the menu prices remain the same.

On the other hand, it’s important to keep portion sizes in check in order to maintain correct food cost and overall restaurant profits. Consider the following scenario: You offer a bowl of clam chowder for $4.00. You based the price on 10 oz. of chowder per bowl. That equals .40 cents an ounce. Say that five times each day, during the lunch and dinner rush, your kitchen staff uses the wrong ladle and overfills a bowl by one ounce. That equals $2.00 a day in uncharged chowder. Not a huge loss. But if it happens every day, that adds up- to $730 a year. Now imagine that happening consistently with all your menu items. A ounce of chicken here, a ounce of cheese there…get the idea? If you don’t keep your restaurant portions in line with your food costs, you will lose money.

So How Do I Control Restaurant Portions?
Start by training your staff to always use the correct serving utensils and dishes. A chart breaking down every menu item is also helpful for new staff. On it you can list exactly how much food goes with each item: five mozzarella sticks for an appetizer, one slice of cheese for a burger, three cherry tomatoes for side salads, five for an entrée salad…and so on. Photographs also help staff correctly portion food as it goes out of the restaurant kitchen.

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

By controlling restaurant portions, you not only keep your food cost in line, you also ensure that customers will receive consistency when they order their favorite meal.

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