A recent study by Consumer Reports found some discrepancies between the calorie and fat numbers listed on the websites of many national chain restaurants and their own team's findings.
While most of the chains' nutritional facts were fairly accurate across the board, the study found some surprising results when comparing different locations of each restaurant. It named four major chains that had noticeable differences in portion sizes at varying locations. In one case, Consumer Reports ordered the same dish at three different locations of a popular restaurant and found that the portion sizes differed by a range of almost 8 ounces. That's half a pound!
Lack of portion control can affect menu labeling — in a big way. If the calorie and fat content is calculated for a "typical" dish weighing 14 ounces, what happens when the head chef at a different location piles the plate a little bit higher? The numbers are no longer accurate, and diners are no longer able to make an informed decision.
As any restaurant operator can tell you, portion control can also have a huge impact on the bottom line. Over-serving adds to food costs, cuts profit margins, and contributes to obesity and food waste.
Not to mention that patrons love chain restaurants because they can order their favorite dish at a different location and receive the exact same meal — although most diners won't complain about being over-served, they will definitely speak up about getting less food than they're used to. Today's diners are savvy, and they're paying attention to what's on their plate.
Tips for maintaining portion control
Portion control really comes down to consistency, and supplying your staff with the right tools for the job can make all the difference. Train kitchen teams to use specific ladles and serving spoons to easily keep track of how much is being plated. Provide a list or chart of menu items that shows exactly how many slices of cheese go on a Deli Club sandwich. Photographs can also go a long way to show portion ratios and correct plating techniques.
Above all, reiterate the importance of portion control to your teams on a regular basis. Not only can it impact the bottom line, it can also undermine your restaurant's efforts to provide up-to-date, correct nutritional data for diners who have come to expect this level of transparency from their favorite restaurants.
By controlling portion sizes, you ensure that diners receive consistency when they order their favorite meal, while also staying on target to provide accurate menu labeling.
Betsy Craig brings 20 years of food service industry experience to MenuTrinfo, LLC a menu nutritional labeling Company. Her commitment to the betterment of the food industry and her desire to affect the dining public are the driving forces behind her new company Kitchens with Confidence, LLC.