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Do you see severe cutbacks at restaurants because of the times?

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I was at Alias on the LES tonight. I've been there several times and always enjoyed it for the tasty comfort food and generous portion size. At 8 o'clock we we're only the 4th party there, and they just sat a party in front of us. I order the ribs (half rack according to the menu), my wife the fish, and my niece the hanger steak. The food arrives, and I have 3 ribs on my plate, my wife has a piece of bass 2 inches wide, and my nice had a similarly small portion of beef on her plate. The food was the usual tasty fare.

I brought the rib portion to the server's attention, and after consultation with a guy in the kitchen, got half off my order.

Then to top things off, the waiter made a math error on the bill overcharging me. Since he wasn't around in a half empty restaurant, I made a notation on the check and downgraded his tip.

Do people see essentially halving of portions at other places?

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  1. Yes, I do see severe cutbacks at restaurants. I've noticed that people are downgrading tips over the slightest thing.

    1 Reply
    1. re: ccbweb

      I'm a server and I've definitely seen a downgrade in tips too, especially when guests notice changed portion sizes. That is, it goes without saying, beyond the control of the server.

    2. Not the sort of thing you mention, but I have seen several restaurants start charging for side dishes or condiments that they used to provide gratis. My favorite Italian place, for example, used to include a small salad with every meal but now offers a (slightly larger) salad only as a separately-priced option.

      1. It's rough in the restaurants. I'm a chef and I serve a steak that costs me $41.00. I charge $48.00. I can't raise the price any higher; people assume that it's already overpriced; and I lose money for each one I sell. I could see wanting to now charge a small amount for sauce, though I never will. But yeah, your mashed potatoes and salad are overpriced.

        Back in the 70's when McDonalds faced a similar crisis to one restaurateurs face now, they considered lowering prices to bring in more customers. It would decrease gross profit, but hopefully the bottom line would benefit. Instead they chose to raise prices and increase portion sizesat the same time. It had the same effect on gross profit, but did wonders for the net - a formula which brought them permanent success. Supersize it!

        5 Replies
        1. re: almansa

          $41, ouch. I certainly don't doubt you but the amazing, great quality, flavorful steaks I'm getting from my family farm vendor in Vermont (who delivers to Boston) is $6.50 a pound. And this primarily grass-fed, organic, humanely raised meat is as good as what I've eaten in top restaurants in Boston. And it's not just my non-chef taste buds that say so... one of our CSA members formerly worked in Boston restaurants and has been in the food business for 25 years and he said this is top quality.

          I don't know what other pressures you're under but it sure seems to me like you might want to switch vendors or at least do some shopping around. It just really surprises me because from your past posts, I know you know your beef, so I wonder why you're stuck paying such crazy prices. Is it hard to find smaller, high quality vendors that can meet the quantities needed for your operation, or are you locked into purchasing agreements with larger vendors... or something else?

          I've had a bit of experience pricing menus and I really feel for you if you're getting squeezed at both ends like that.

          1. re: Chris VR

            I assumed he meant the $41 is his burdened cost, not the actual vendor cost of the steak. I can't imagine any cut wholesaling that high unless it's true Wagyu or some such - in which case $48 retail is cheap!

            1. re: BobB

              Whew, yes, that would make a LOT more sense!

            2. re: Chris VR

              My friend raises the cattle, and his family's not operating at much of a profit. Granted I could spend much less on normal USDA prime, but the quality's not there, so I choose to spend more. And the $41 is the plate cost of the meat. Labor is not factored into it. That's bone-in striploin with 3 inches cut off of the vein end in the door at $15.95/lb, then ending up at a 34% yield on the plate. Depending on the size of the animals we might yield a bit better, but it's usually between $37-41.

            3. re: almansa

              I'm surprised you're actually trying to make a profit from high-end steaks. Steaks are known to be loss-leaders. The profits come from the sides, drinks, desserts, etc. Can't rely on maintaining your margins with the steak entrees.

            4. Restaurants should note on their menus if half a rack of ribs has gone down to 3 riblets...I don't believe they need to do this in the case of the other dishes you mentioned, though some do offer weights as in the case of steaks...
              Yes, there is no doubt that there are cutbacks taking place at restaurants on almost every level possible...some immediately apparent, some not...at the same time we are seeing prices rise on all levels from cocktails, appetizers (small plates), main courses and desserts. Restaurants are feeling the pressure to pass along a portion of their increasing costs in this economy. The hard part is where to compromise...we, as customers, have a threshold too.

              3 Replies
              1. re: gutreactions

                gutreactions,

                I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you, but when diners start expecting descriptions of portion size (e.g. 3 riblets for a half rack), where does it end?

                I know this is standard protocol for steaks, but should the same apply to things like seafood (e.g. 8 oz salmon filet?), or pasta (1 cup of rigatoni?), etc.

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  >>I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you, but when diners start expecting descriptions of portion size (e.g. 3 riblets for a half rack), where does it end?

                  If I am paying $14 for a serving of ribs, I better get more than three bones, which is about 3.5 oz of meat off the bones.

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    ipsedixit, "where does it end?" When they close. Here on the gulf side of Florida, so many restaurants have gone dark in the last 6 months it is scary. I hope there is enough business to keep the survivors afloat.
                    Whittling down portions as a desperate attempt to increase margins will only serve to hasten a restaurant's demise.

                2. Well it's not exactly a restaurant but it does have captive customers. The cafeteria at my college has cut back a lot. I felt lucky last semester because the fish here is usually good. Had it (or rather a bite of it) last friday and it was awful They used to have pecan pie and other pies on the dessert table, and this semester there was apple pie once. And they ran out of the fresh fruit salad one day (my favorite) and only had canned fruit. Yesterday they ran out of utensils in the main area and we all had to go hunting them down near the pizza. The soups don't seem as good either. I could go on but yes I agree. Great topic. It's been on my mind as well.