Effective Methods to Control Portion Sizes in a Restaurant

As a restaurant owner, controlling the portions of the food you serve is not only in the best interest of the health of your regular customers, but for saving money on food distribution as well. If you’re thinking of redoing your portion sizes, how should your restaurant manage portions going forward?

You can control portion sizes at your restaurant through these 7 effective methods:

  • Shrink the size of your dinnerware
  • Use a portion scale
  • Serve food on portioned plates
  • Know how to measure food
  • Have ladles of many sizes
  • Use standardized recipes
  • Train your staff

Ahead, we’ll discuss the above 7 methods for controlling portion sizes at your restaurant in much greater detail. We’ll also delve into the reasons why portion control is so important, so keep reading! 

Chef is wrapping airline food in foil, professional kitchen, toned image

Reasons to Manage Your Restaurant Portion Control

Everyone knows that when they go to a restaurant, the portions they’re going to receive are far larger than at home. That doesn’t mean your portions need to be out of control though. By managing your restaurant’s portions more efficiently, you’ll experience the following benefits. 

Meeting Customer Expectations

As your restaurant becomes better-known, you’ll eventually earn yourself some regular patrons. These are customers who come in all the time to eat at your establishment. They probably always order the same dish when they show up too. Thus, they’ll have general expectations of what that dish should look and taste like.

Let’s say that one of your customers always orders a cheeseburger. This is a simple enough dish, yet there are lots of ways the outcome can be impacted differently. Depending on how lean the burger meat is, the final product could be a bigger and beefier burger or a smaller and slimmer one. 

If your customer wants to sink their teeth into a large, mouthwatering burger and they find a skinny patty between two buns, they’re going to be disappointed. They’ll probably come back again because they’re loyal to your restaurant, but if you keep flip-flopping on the quality of the food, you may lose them for good. 

Valuing Customer Health

Another reason to prioritize portion control is for the health of your customers. Yes, going out to a restaurant is a treat, but that doesn’t mean your patrons want to shovel in huge quantities of calories at your establishment. Many people try to eat healthy, even when dining out. 

Fresh and raw beef meat. Whole piece of tenderloin with steaks and spices ready to cook on dark background

Being conscious of this will require reevaluating not only what you serve on your restaurant’s menu, but the portion sizes as well. For instance, if you have a section on the menu for salads, but these are as huge as dinnerplates and bogged down with dressing, then your customers will refrain from ordering the salads as well. 

If your restaurant eventually earns itself a reputation for unhealthy food either due to your menu offerings or your portion sizes (or even both), then people will only come in when they really want to treat themselves. This limits your customer base as well as your revenue.  

Controlling Costs

One of the biggest reasons to get your food portion sizes under control is managing food costs at your establishment. Let’s say your current food costs are at 30 percent, which is a good chunk of your spending, but not all by far. 

Let’s also say that the way your cooks serve the various dishes on your menu all depends on their personal preferences. For some, the ice cream dish means two scoops while for others, it’s four. 

By increasing the portions of food on your menu by only 10 percent, you’ve now boosted your food spending to 33 percent. You can see then how fluctuating portion control, especially spikes, can really hurt your restaurant financially. You might find yourself dipping into the red if you don’t amend these bad habits soon. 

Italian pasta bolognese with beef, basil and parmesan cheese.

Try These 7 Methods for Better Portion Control at Your Restaurant

Are you ready to get those portions under control? It won’t necessarily be easy, but it’s definitely worth doing. Here’s how. 

Use Smaller Dinnerware

This first trick is one of the easiest, and it will deliver instant results. By swapping out those plates that are nearly the size of car tires and using standard-sized or even smaller dinner plates and bowls, then your restaurant staff has no choice but to shrink portions. There’s only so much food that can fit on a plate or in a bowl before it’s overflowing and risks tipping over before the food even gets to the customer’s table.

This option may be convenient, but that convenience can backfire. Some customers might complain about the suddenly shrunken portion sizes, and rightfully so if you’re known for serving bigger dishes.

Before you implement this change then, make sure you give customers plenty of warning. Post about the change on social media, write an in-depth blog post about your decision, and put up signs around your restaurant. Mention that you’re shrinking portions for the health of your customers. That might reduce some of the ire, but expect that some customers could stop eating at your restaurant for good because of this.

Another thing you have to consider in relation to smaller servings is reduced pricing. It’s not fair to charge the same price as you would for more food when you’ve cut the portions of what you’re serving. 

It’s never easy to reduce prices on your menu, but the money you won’t have to spend on food costs should make up for it. 

Chef slicing fresh ripe tomatoes on a chopping board surrounded by ingredients for Italian and Mediterranean cuisine in a close up on his hands

Trust in a Portion Scale

If you’re not quite sure if you’d like to shrink your plate sizes quite yet, as that seems a bit drastic, you have plenty of other methods to try. We’d recommend your restaurant has a portion scale or several no matter what your current food portion sizes look like. 

Portion scales come in all shapes and sizes. Some have square-shaped bases and others circular bases. You can buy portion scales for measuring smaller quantities of food, such as 2 pounds, larger quantities of 10 pounds, or those gargantuan quantities of food at 20 pounds.

Some scales are even designed for very specific uses. For example, a 32-ounce compact ice cream portion scale tells you when you’ve served too many scoops when you put the cup or bowl of ice cream on the scale. Other scales are intended for liquid measurements, and some are even waterproof.

By having your chefs use these portion scales (as appropriate) each time they prepare a dish, they can create that kind of consistency across dishes that your customers will come to rely on. You can also control costs, so portion scales are absolutely worth having. 

Serve Food on Portioned Plates

You just ordered some portion scales, but it will be a while before they’re delivered to your restaurant. In the meantime, portioned plates are a good thing to have. Most commonly seen in school cafeterias, portioned plates have several sections or portions for putting food into. These plates are foolproof, as you can’t overload any one section of the plate too much due to the built-in sections.

If you want to make changes to your restaurant’s portions immediately, this is one method to use. You might also employ portioned plates when training employees so they learn what the correct portions of food are. Since portioned plates can come across as a little juvenile, you don’t want to keep using them indefinitely, only until your staff gets the hang of things regarding recommended portions. 

Get Good at Measuring Food

For your restaurant, portion size starts with the ingredients used to prepare your famous dishes and desserts. Understanding measurements can be a bit confusing–what the heck is ¾ a cup anyway?–but crucial in ensuring you produce the same consistent dishes that keep your customers coming back. 

You have several methods for measuring your food. You can rely on your trusty food scales to measure food quantities and ingredients by weight. You can also measure the ingredients by volume, which requires ladles, measuring cups, and measuring spoons. The third way to measure your food is by quantity count. For example, a steak dish that comes with a side of baby carrots should always have seven carrots instead of four. 

We do want to circle back to measuring food and ingredients by volume, because like we said, it isn’t always easy. Your restaurant probably can’t get by with a single measuring cup for doing all your calculations. You’ll need measuring cups that can determine quantities in quarts, pints, and ounces. 

Measuring spoons are also a necessity. These spoons are convenient because they let you measure several smaller quantities of food or ingredients per each set of measuring spoons. Try to buy heavy stainless steel sets of measuring spoons over plastic ones since plastic measuring spoons can snap if you’re sifting through a heavy enough bag of flour or sugar. 

In the same vein are measure misers. If you’re unfamiliar with measure misers, these are deeper spoons ala measuring spoons for scooping, spreading, measuring, and serving. Some measure misers have holes along the bottom that make them ideal for straining liquids. 

Don’t Use the Same Ladle for Everything

How many ladles does your restaurant’s kitchen currently have? If you answered several, but they’re all the same type, then it’s time to expand your horizons. You need ladles to accommodate all different fluid quantities, from 2 ounces to 6 ounces, 8 ounces, and even 32 ounces. Okay, so the latter tool is more of a dipper than a ladle, but you still need one.

Depending on whether you’re serving a chocolate syrup atop a cake or an expensive spicy arrabbiata, you’re going to want to control your portion sizes accordingly. That doesn’t mean you drop a dollop of the arrabbiata on the pasta, but with the right-sized ladle for the job, you can spoon some of the topping out so the dish is augmented but you’re not using too much of your supply. 

Move to Standardized Recipes

Let’s go back to the example from the beginning of this article when we talked about consistent product your customers grow to expect. Remember, we compared two burgers, one with a greater percentage of lean beef and the second with more fat. Those two burgers are going to cook up differently.

Now imagine that two customers at the same table order cheeseburgers and one customer gets a bigger, fuller burger and the other customer a slimmer, skinnier burger. The customers may wonder if they really both chose the same item from the menu because the burgers aren’t the same at all.

That’s one very compelling reason to begin using standardized recipes at your restaurant. What is a standardized recipe? This clear-cut recipe tells your cooking staff the exact quantities of which ingredients they need so they can make a dish the same way every time. 

In your standardized recipe, you want to write down such information as which equipment is necessary to prep the recipe, which utensils may be required, the volume and weight of every ingredient in the recipe, the serving size the cook is aiming for, and the recipe yield. 

Although it will take time, you need to go through every dish that your restaurant serves, from appetizers to main courses, side dishes, and desserts, and create standardized recipes for each. These recipes should be readily accessible to your kitchen staff, so make enough copies for all your cooks. 

Train Your Staff

All these changes to your portion control sizing can be a little overwhelming for your staff. It’s a good idea to hold training sessions for a few days or even a week to ensure that everyone understands what’s being asked of them going forward.

Chef in restaurant kitchen at stove with pan, doing flambe on food

Demonstrate how to use each of the new tools you’ve introduced, such as scales, as well as how to choose which size ladle or measuring cup and when. Spend some time in the kitchen after the training ends to ensure that your chefs are following the rules you outlined as part of your standardized recipes. Also, as we said earlier in this article, don’t be afraid to use portioned plates for a while until your staff adjusts to these new portion control rules.

If your staff has any questions about the changes, make sure to answer these questions clearly and concisely. The sooner that everyone is on board with measuring and serving food in the same way, the faster your restaurant can realize your portion control goals. 

Conclusion

Portion control in your restaurant is important for product consistency that continually meets your customer’s expectations. Those of your customers who want to eat healthily will also appreciate your more reasonable portions. Oh, and getting your portions under control will allow you to cut back on food spending, and that’s always nice.

The tips we outlined in this article will get your restaurant well on its way to better-sized portions that your customers can’t get enough of! Best of luck.

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