It’s Saturday, and many of us are looking forward to eating out. Actually my wife and I basically eat out every night anyway, so it’s no big deal. Sure beats doing dishes! However eating out often presents a problem… the large serving sizes. Having the willpower to only eat what is necessary is difficult, and that was especially difficult last year while I was in the midst of losing 40 pounds to get back down to my pre-beer college weight of 25 years ago. I guess I was getting rid of "excess inventory."
The latest Knowledge@Wharton has an article discussing a trend among some restaurants to serve up smaller portions. Many high-brow restaurants have always served up miniscule portions believing them trendy… you know, the single pea with half a carrot and if you’re lucky a scallop surrounded by a thin line of chocolate syrup in the shape of a flower. Probably for about $50. But this article is about legitimately smaller servings at more mainstream restaurants.
This spring, T.G.I. Friday’s announced what it called an "unprecedented move in the casual dining industry" when the restaurant chain began offering smaller portions at lower prices for select dishes. Called the "right portion, right price" menu, T.G.I. Friday’s added six new smaller entrees to its line-up and also began offering smaller portions for four of its long-standing menu favorites like shrimp Key West and baby back ribs.
The problem the article brings up is that consumers still think of "value" in terms of "volume." This tactic has been tried before without much success, and although the obesity problem has more public prominence, Wharton’s Lisa Bolton doesn’t give this latest effort much chance either.
But Bolton isn’t convinced that this increased awareness is enough to drive consumers to eat less when eating out. "Consumers like a good deal, and more food for less money is considered a good deal." In addition, she notes, "consumers have waste aversion: We hate to throw [food] out, so we just keep eating. We value those things more than we do the long-term health consequences." These attitudes "are driving us towards larger portions and eating more. ‘Bigger is better’ is a very American belief."
Many of you lean manufacturing types are probably getting a "hmmm…" moment like I did when I read the article. Always thinking of the world from a lean framework, as nerdy as that sounds, makes me wonder if this instinctual mentality of probable caveman origins also influences business decisions.
"Ugga ugga… must build bigger warehouse!"
"Ugga ugga… must use up all raw material even if no customer for finished product!"
This primeval rationale for nonleanliness (hey I should trademark that as well!) may be further explained by an experiment described in the article, which attempted to understand how consumers decided what an appopriate portion unit size was. (Those of you reading all the way down to here to figure out what the rest of my post title meant can now get your minds out of the gutter.) A slice of cheesecake was presented with various combinations of plate size and utensils. And the result?
"Minor environmental cues that we are not aware of dictate huge caloric differences in intake. The message is that the environment has a lot to do with how much we eat, even though if you asked people how they would respond in such situations, they wouldn’t believe that they could or would be influenced by such minor differences." [said Andrew Geier, PhD candidate at U Penn]
So now perhaps we understand the underlying biological or psychological rationale for batch production. Ok, that’s admittedly a big leap. But think about the visual cues affecting traditional manufacturing operations… a big room must be filled with stuff. Benches and benches full of work in process appears more productive than a tiny room filled with a single unit being worked on. A machine must always be running even if there is no customer for the product.
Too bad we couldn’t learn more from the pre-refrigeration caveman…
"Ugga ugga… must kill only dinousaur we eat today otherwise bad meat make us sick."
Enjoy your dinner tonight.