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If a restaurant was FORCED to reduce its costs, what would you prefer it do?

ipsedixit Aug 27, 2008 09:02 PM

In light of rising food (and maybe even labor) costs, if a restaurant was forced to find creative ways to maintain its margins, which option would you be most in favor of?

1. Substitute with cheaper ingredients, but maintain same prices and portion sizes

2. Decrease portion sizes, but maintain same quality of ingredients and same prices

3. Increase prices, but maintain same quality of ingredients and same prices

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    Nicole RE: ipsedixit Aug 27, 2008 09:44 PM

    Definitely #2. I like smaller portions anyway.

    1. steve h. RE: ipsedixit Aug 27, 2008 10:02 PM

      what i would do.

      up quality: that is, demand suppliers deliver only the best meats, fish, produce, etc. i would inspect all deliveries myself.

      squeeze wine importers: they've been eating on the fat side of the hog for too long.

      fire marginal staffers: crummy staffers can sink a good shop. weed out the slackers/cancerous types. the rest of the staff will love you for it.

      stand at the front of the house: greet folk in, walk customers out. listen to what they say. it's not too hard.

      just my $0.02.

      1. c
        cstr RE: ipsedixit Aug 28, 2008 06:49 AM

        If the chow is outstanding, increasing prices is fine with me, never cheap out on ingredients.

        1. s
          swsidejim RE: ipsedixit Aug 28, 2008 06:54 AM

          no question, # 3 is my choice

          1. m
            MattInNJ RE: ipsedixit Aug 28, 2008 07:08 AM

            #2 for sure, they would be doing most people a favor, myself included.

            1. l
              LJS RE: ipsedixit Aug 28, 2008 08:20 AM

              Well, I will take #2, with reluctance-surely re-thinking the menu should be considered?

              1. iluvtennis RE: ipsedixit Aug 28, 2008 08:48 AM

                I would much prefer the portion size to be reduced. I always have leftovers and never get them boxed up to go, so this option would be just fine with me.

                1. rockandroller1 RE: ipsedixit Aug 28, 2008 08:52 AM

                  #2 would kill 2 birds with one stone. American portion sizes have gotten into the "completely ridiculous" stage with huge=good being how many people think. I would love to see an across the board reduction in portion size at nearly every place I eat.

                  At the small ethnic type shops where portion size hasn't been "Americanized," my choice would be #3.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: rockandroller1
                    Bill Hunt RE: rockandroller1 Aug 28, 2008 08:29 PM

                    I agree completely. Currently, there is a thread on the NO board, where a CH wants recs. for places with "super-sized" portions. I started to post a rude reply, but caught myself. As you state, too many see "huge=good." I'm so glad that the concept of tapas and "small plates," are catching on big time. Another reason that I gravitate towards "tasting menus." These are usually smaller portions, but still give great gastronomic pleasure. More than a few forkfuls are all one needs. If they want giant portions, then McDonalds can accommodate - "super-size me!"

                    Hunt

                  2. p
                    Pincus RE: ipsedixit Aug 28, 2008 10:22 AM

                    #2 and: Charge me for what were previously "freebies".

                    For example, bread basket and dipping concoction. If I don't want it, I don't pay. If I do want it, I pay a fair price for it.

                    If I started getting charged for tap water, however, I would quickly find a new restaurant.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Pincus
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                      queencru RE: Pincus Aug 28, 2008 04:39 PM

                      I think the no freebie approach is a good one, especially for those restaurants that include a soup/salad (or both) in the cost of the entree. Adding on $2-3 to include a soup or salad seems reasonable to me, especially considering not everyone is interested in that much food at every meal or would prefer dessert.

                      I do know one place that has managed to keep prices low by using the cheapest flatware/dishes known to man. It's almost as if they got them at an army surplus store. An interesting way to save money to say the least, but you do get a soup, salad, and bread included in the price of every meal and the price is quite good for what you get. Once I went and there was minimal improvement on the dish front and I was actually disappointed.

                      1. re: Pincus
                        ccbweb RE: Pincus Aug 28, 2008 07:20 PM

                        So...don't charge me for the things I do want (tap water) but definitely charge for things I probably will pass on anyhow (bread). I think if you want to hold the "no freebies" line, everything gets included, including water.

                        1. re: ccbweb
                          p
                          Pincus RE: ccbweb Aug 29, 2008 10:47 AM

                          Quite right. I should also be charged if I want to rent a salt and pepper shaker, and laundry fees for the cloth napkins.

                        2. re: Pincus
                          g
                          givemecarbs RE: Pincus Aug 29, 2008 08:33 PM

                          Yeah charging for water is bad. Once recently I asked for water and the waitress asked if I wanted bottled water and when I said no thanks just regular water she gave an exasperated sigh. But I still got my free water. I used to get free little cups of water at ice cream places, ice cream makes me thirsty, but now they just sell the bottled water mostly.

                        3. Miss Needle RE: ipsedixit Aug 28, 2008 11:08 AM

                          #2, but I think most Americans would have a fit. There used to be this street cart that sold a HUMONGOUS amount of food for $5 -- way too large for one person. DH and I would share it. Well, as costs went up, their portion size went down. I guess enough people complained because they returned to their old portion size and now charge $6.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Miss Needle
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                            Blueicus RE: Miss Needle Aug 28, 2008 11:47 AM

                            I'd have to agree with you, I think if business owners followed the advice of this board based on consensus you'd find even more restaurants going out of business faster. I don't mind smaller portions but there does reach a point when the portions start looking comical, and serving a single bite's worth on a plate seems quite ridiculous.

                            1. re: Blueicus
                              Miss Needle RE: Blueicus Aug 28, 2008 01:06 PM

                              Yeah, the consensus of Chowhounds' views on food is really not representative of the American public at large. On Chowhound, we have so many posts about people's food not being spicy enough, how Food Network is evil, etc. The reality is that the majority of Americans don't like extremely spicy food and love Rachel Ray.

                          2. j
                            jes RE: ipsedixit Aug 28, 2008 11:55 AM

                            While I personally find most food portions too large, is the problem with #2 is that it is a surprise. You are used to ordering a certain dish at a certain place and getting a set amount of food (possibly plan on it being two meals). Now you order the same dish at the same place for the same price and suddenly it is half the size, not really fair. With three, you see the higher prices on the menu so yu know when you are ordering you are going to pay more. With one the descriptoin of the food would reflect the chages so again you would know before you ordered it.

                            1. a
                              Angela Roberta RE: ipsedixit Aug 28, 2008 01:24 PM

                              I'd prefer number 3. Numbers 1 and 2 would both be more unpleasant to encounter if I went to a familiar restaurant expecting my usual experience. Prices do go up, especially in inflationary times--this is to be expected. If the bill is too much for my budget, I would go to the restaurant less often.

                              1. s
                                smartie RE: ipsedixit Aug 28, 2008 05:27 PM

                                yes, stop this ridiculous habit of taking leftovers home in wasteful plastic, styrofoam, foil containers which costs the restaurants a fortune. Either bring your own container, pay for a container or eat what you need rather than order so much.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: smartie
                                  q
                                  queencru RE: smartie Aug 28, 2008 07:53 PM

                                  Don't you think that's a restaurant's fault for offering portions big enough for 2 or even 3 people to eat? There are many places where I order only a main course and still only get through half of it before feeling like I will still explode. I would gladly order a smaller portion if it was available, but that's usually not an option at dinnertime.

                                  1. re: queencru
                                    Bill Hunt RE: queencru Aug 28, 2008 08:39 PM

                                    Often, when we know of larger portion sizes, we order three "first courses," and split the first. Now, I love multi-course meals, and would first choose small plates to get many different tastes.

                                    Hunt

                                    1. re: queencru
                                      s
                                      smartie RE: queencru Aug 29, 2008 05:09 AM

                                      queen, I think this harps back to the good ole days in America when food was cheap and restaurants piled it high. Portions in America are far bigger than the rest of the world in general, where people do NOT take home doggie bags. Even bringing home the leftovers adds to costs for a restaurant. Those take out paper goods are expensive. I would like to see prices stay the same and have restaurants cut the amounts down.

                                  2. amyzan RE: ipsedixit Aug 28, 2008 05:49 PM

                                    When I read the title of the thread, the first thing that popped into my head is not one of your choices. I'd prefer to have a restaurant control costs by narrowing menu options. I recognize this isn't feasible for many markets, but it's a great way to streamline expenses, albeit difficult for an existing restaurant.

                                    Of the three choices, I'd prefer #2 but recognize that's a death knell for restaurants where I live in the Midwest. Midwesterners love a lot of food and want "value" for their dining dollar. I'm a fish out of water here foodwise. I suppose I'd be willing to go with #3 but just dine out less often. If a restaurant scrimps on ingredients but doesn't degrade the quality of those ingredients, that's acceptable, too. I don't really go out to eat for items I can prepare simply enough at home, though. A restaurant had better be prepared to give me something labor intensive or special in some way to keep me happy, at least for special meals. That's where "value" lies for me, to some extent.

                                    9 Replies
                                    1. re: amyzan
                                      rockandroller1 RE: amyzan Aug 28, 2008 06:06 PM

                                      @amyzan - I am a Midwesterner and I actually think this is just something that everyone keeps saying but is not actually true. Out of the 20 or 30 people I can think of in my "circle" of co-workers, acquaintances, friends, good friends and family I can't think of more than 1 that are all about "big portions=good food." I think Midwesterners are actually more down on themselves than they should be, and help to self-perpetuate philosophies like this.

                                      Perhaps the "big is better" people are more VISIBLE as you see them lined up outside the Cheescake Factory, but it doesn't mean there are more of them.

                                      1. re: rockandroller1
                                        amyzan RE: rockandroller1 Aug 29, 2008 10:11 AM

                                        r&r1, I do think that Midwesterners get lumped together a lot where there's actually a good bit of regional difference. I live in the KC area, and generally speaking, people practice the large portions equal value credo here. It's definitely the standard in this particular area, and I'm not merely perpetuating a stereotype, though I can see your point for the Midwest as a whole. I would say in our defense that we're becoming more sophisticated, and there are a greater variety of restaurants but the majority of people still want bang for their buck. It's not a bad thing, necessarily, especially if they eat leftovers, but it's a real phenomena here, alive and well.

                                        BTW, I don't consider myself a Midwesterner. I wasn't born and raised here, but rather moved here eight years ago. There's much about living here that I love, but I'm constantly at odds with the shopping and eating habits. For instance, grocery stores regularly discontinue items that are a staple for us because they don't sell well. I shop multiple stores because of this, and while this might be in part because I live just outside the metro area, it's remarkable. I recognize that part of this is due to the economy, but it was an issue before this latest downturn as well. I am glad to hear that you have a different experience whereever you live in the Midwest. Perhaps matters are improving more quickly in some parts of the Midwest.

                                        1. re: amyzan
                                          rockandroller1 RE: amyzan Aug 29, 2008 01:06 PM

                                          @amyzan - yes, I know what you're saying about the discontinued items. What I have found across many parts of the midwest is that if your town is even relatively big, you are probably missing out on the niche places you should be shopping at. It has literally taken me YEARS to find all the wonderful places I've found here, and yes it often takes me a lot of driving around to different places over the course of a weekend to get all the things I need because I can't just go to the big, nasty, giant ugly grocery and load up my cart with junk like many other people, but there are surprisingly lots of pockets of these people walking around, it's taken me years to connect to them and find them. They are likely there, just below the surface and you might not be finding them.

                                          1. re: amyzan
                                            Bill Hunt RE: amyzan Aug 29, 2008 06:37 PM

                                            I am certain that many geographic areas get a similar rap. I think this way of the South (New Orleans as an exception), but that is built on decades of dining there and observing the choices of many others. I am FROM the Deep South, so it is fair for me to observe. Every visit back indicates that copious quantities of food are usually taken out of the restaurants, regardless of the level of that particular place.

                                            Hunt

                                          2. re: rockandroller1
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                                            soupkitten RE: rockandroller1 Aug 29, 2008 03:17 PM

                                            i think the constant, pervasive, insidious "midwestern" bashing is one of the more annoying things about the boards. it's also not particularly helpful-- lumping such a large area, with many various foodways, metro areas, economies, ethnic heritages. . . it just doesn't work-- you always end up with someone who's never visited your area of the country telling you about who you are, what you eat, and how you live because they have an acquaintance who spent a week in nebraska, or southern illinois, or green bay, or whatever. kinda like saying "all french people like to eat such-and-such-- and i'm the authority, though i'm not french, because i currently live in italy. . ." it doesn't make a lot of sense.

                                            1. re: soupkitten
                                              amyzan RE: soupkitten Aug 29, 2008 04:37 PM

                                              Whoa, soupkitten, I've lived here eight years, and my parents met and married here back in 1958. I visited here when I was a kid and my mother's family's been here over fifty years. Just because I don't consider myself a Midwesterner doesn't mean I have no insight into Kansas City ways.

                                              I think the phenomena you descirbe is more one of the internet than people demonstrating regional prejudices. Most of us know so little of one another here at CH, we have no idea whether the discussion is valid and circumspect. I certainly didn't mean to offend or demean Midwesterners. What's so bad about wanting quantity for your food dollar? It doesn't necessarily mean people are stuffing all that food down in one sitting. There are still restaurants here who serve family style, where people eat according to their appetite. The funny part about all this is that I think you, rockandroller1 and I are all variations in agreement on the subject, but I don't see that stereotype as being completely false for the area where I live. I think that most Americans in general prefer large portions and value for their money. It's not a judgement as much as an observation.

                                              1. re: soupkitten
                                                Bill Hunt RE: soupkitten Aug 29, 2008 06:48 PM

                                                SK,

                                                That's the nice thing about be being born and bred as a Southerner. I can observe, and comment on that general culture. Sure, it does change by region, but I am one and lived as one. In my general observations, it is "middle America," and that includes the Midwest, the South, states like Texas and actually much of what is considered the East. There is probalby a ton of this sort of "super-size me," so I can take home four meals, in Florida, and most of those folk are originally from elsewhere, and that is possibly NOT "Middle America." It has unfortunately (from my personal standpoint) become too pervasive.

                                                That is why I chose #2 from the OP's list.

                                                Hunt

                                                1. re: soupkitten
                                                  amyzan RE: soupkitten Aug 29, 2008 09:19 PM

                                                  Yeah, I get you, I do. Now who I really feel for is Appalachians. It's still somehow socially acceptable to publicly demean mountain people. It's all over tv, and offensive as hell.

                                            2. re: amyzan
                                              Bill Hunt RE: amyzan Aug 28, 2008 08:49 PM

                                              I see much of what you write of. For us, "value," is the flavors and the total experience, not copious quantities. Still, I feel that I am in the minority here.

                                              One recent "steakhouse" experience found me ordering their smallest filet. I'd had it just the night before, and had learned how extremely large the portions were. The filet was listed as 10 oz, but the server whispered to me that it was more like 12-14 oz, because that is what their normal patrons wanted. I called the GM over and talked for a while. He stated that he was putting a real petite-filet (8 oz max) back on the menu, just because he'd gotten so many comments like mine. Second night, we spilt an appetizer, and ordered one side to share. Still, I had half of my filet and wife had half of her pork loin (about 14 oz), and we'd "learned" from the night before! First night, we left enough food for a small village on the table and I hated that with a passion. The food was good, but everything was so large, that a normal person should only have ordered one dish and split it - no appetizers, no sides, just one danged entree and nothing more. Still, I'm in the minority. I saw couples leaving with 4-6 bags of leftovers and this was "fine-dining, linen tablecloth" place, where the entrees were in the US$45/ea range.

                                              Just did a similar restaurant in CA and we had four courses each, plus a shared cheese course and shared dessert for the same $. We had few leftovers on our plates, and were quite full. Guess which one made me the happiest.

                                              Hunt

                                            3. Bill Hunt RE: ipsedixit Aug 28, 2008 08:24 PM

                                              I vote for a decrease in portion size. Personally, I find portions too large in too many restaurants. I know that many do not. I order to dine then and there, not to take food home to eat later. I have not problem with leftovers, and as it is usually just my wife and me dining, face leftovers all of the time - I actually how many of the flavors meld with a bit of "rest." When reviewing restaurnats, primarily in the South, I often comment negatively on the gigantic portions served. Because I travel a lot, and do not always have a suite with a kitchen, I am not inclined to take food away with me. I also feel horribly guilty if I leave enough food to feed a family of three. Give me many smaller courses, that a normal person can finish and enjoy.

                                              Next, would be to increase the prices.

                                              Last would be to compromise on ingredients, but sometimes this also has to happen. The restaurant then risks losing me, as a patron.

                                              Hunt

                                              1. maplesugar RE: ipsedixit Aug 28, 2008 11:42 PM

                                                Most definitely #2. I'm firmly in the "portions are usually big enough for 2/3 people/lunch the next day" camp. Quality trumps quantity.

                                                1. k
                                                  kali_MM RE: ipsedixit Aug 29, 2008 01:45 AM

                                                  I'm with #2 - especially when I'm travelling for business (and am staying in a hotel room without fridge or microwave). I feel terrible when I can't finish a portion, and know that there's no facilty for either keeping my leftovers cold, or warming them up when I want them. I hate the waste.

                                                  However, I'm also referrring to places with overly large portion sizes... if there's a good restaurant with reasonable portion sizes, then it's #3 all the way for me.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: kali_MM
                                                    c
                                                    cstr RE: kali_MM Aug 29, 2008 04:41 AM

                                                    If I'm in a city using public trans, I'll leave the leftovers on a bench or on top of a trash recepticle for the homeless, they look in these areas.

                                                  2. macca RE: ipsedixit Aug 29, 2008 07:09 AM

                                                    I go with #2- but prefer I am told up front. Often, A friend and I will split an appetizer and entree, and it is usually plenty of food for the two of us. Of ourse, I can always ask, which I often do when dining at a restaurant for the first time. And the waitstaff is almost always happy to let us know if we are ordering the right amount of food.

                                                    1. farmersdaughter RE: ipsedixit Aug 29, 2008 12:25 PM

                                                      Decrease portion sizes. I never order main courses in restaurants because I can't finish it all. I usually end up ordering two appetizers plus dessert, or three appetizers. I just can't eat 8 oz of protein in one sitting.

                                                      3 Replies
                                                      1. re: farmersdaughter
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                                                        queencru RE: farmersdaughter Aug 29, 2008 12:33 PM

                                                        The unfortunately thing about appetizers these days is that the prices have gone up relative to main course prices and it's harder financially to make a meal out of two or three appetizers instead of a main course. I also prefer appetizers, but simply can't afford it when an appetizer runs say, $12 and the main is only $15.

                                                        1. re: queencru
                                                          iluvtennis RE: queencru Aug 29, 2008 01:51 PM

                                                          Yeah, i know what you mean. A lot of times, it seems like the apps are only a few dollars cheaper than the mains. At really high end places, sometimes the apps are a good bit cheaper than the mains, but the portions are tiny, tiny.

                                                          1. re: iluvtennis
                                                            Bill Hunt RE: iluvtennis Aug 29, 2008 07:01 PM

                                                            I believe that one of the reasons for this is that many chefs feel that it is the app. list that defines them. They get to unfurl their wings and soar there, but the ingredients are just as expensive, if not more so.

                                                            Still, due to sizes and the latitude that some chefs feel here, I go that route, vs the more traditional entrees.

                                                            Hunt

                                                      2. Chew on That RE: ipsedixit Aug 29, 2008 01:49 PM

                                                        Oooh this is tough. I'm inclined to say #2 because then you get the best of both worlds...quality ingredients for the same price. It just depends how much they decrease it..

                                                        1. Karl S RE: ipsedixit Aug 29, 2008 02:56 PM

                                                          It actually depends on the restaurants. Not all restaurants offer huge portions - I know many that already offer small portions.

                                                          Restaurants are already doing #1, whether we realize it or not. Eg, instead of prime meat, you get lesser grades, disguised with butter or sauce. (Basic rule of thumb - if it's yummy, but without lots of visible solid fat, it's had oil or melted fat added - this is a basic rule of buffet food, not only American foods but also Asian/Indian foods.) And most Americans would go for this - they are not looking for great food, only comfortable OK food, as it were, that offers respite from the grind of cooking and a pleasant enough place to socialize. And they want large portions so they get a later respite from cooking from scratch. This is what happens in an economy when there is no one home cooking all the time.

                                                          Only restaurants whose demand is sufficiently inelastic can get away with #3 - that means it must either already be cheap (diners) or its clientele must be people who are actually get paid more than the increase in inflation (a small minority of Americans).

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: Karl S
                                                            Whosyerkitty RE: Karl S Aug 29, 2008 08:25 PM

                                                            It would depend on the restaurant and item. You really don't need a gallon of pasta or a quart of french fries. But if you can get 3 meals from it, that justifies more cost.

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