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Small Portions + the Economics of Eating

Small Portions + the Economics of Eating

By Anne Miller


Good food and drink will forever remain one of life’s greatest pleasures. Here’s how to make it even better. 

By Anne Miller

If you’ve got the dough to drop on a fancy meal, here’s a tip: Don’t ask for seconds. So goes the Emily Post-style etiquette set out by Thomas Keller, a colossus among chefs, who presides over some of America’s most sought-after restaurant tables. (Don’t even consider New York’s Per Se if you’re not prepare to blow about $350 per person, minus the wine.)

But don’t you dare ask for seconds, even for the tiniest plates. As Keller told the author of the book Smart Chefs Stay Slim:

“Our whole menu is based on the law of diminishing returns. The most compelling portion of a dish is in the first three or four bites. With the first bite, you’re getting into it; by the second bite, you start to realize it; and it is at the third or fourth bite you get the maximum appreciation and pleasure from that dish … and you keep eating because of that memory of it being really extraordinary. But was it as good [at the end] as it was at that second, third or fourth bite? No.”

Keller was right. And now scientists — not just snobs — have proven it.

If you want to enjoy your wine or your meal more, take it slow and small. Forswear overindulging, and you’ll take greater pleasure from what you’re ingesting.

Restaurants that super-size their portions are actually harming their own business.

That’s what Stanford University researchers found in a series of studies about feeling sated. In one, for example, more than 100 undergrads were given a handful of crackers of different flavors and asked to rank how much they liked the different flavors of cracker.

The smaller the portion, the more students reported liking that flavor. So the flavor of a cracker doled out 15 at a time was ranked worse by students than the flavor of cracker doled out just three at a time. Less was more when it came to what the students reported liking. 

Emily Gabinsky, the study’s lead author, even goes so far as to say that restaurants that super-size their portions are actually harming their own business, because people will fill up so much they won’t be eager to return to buy seconds of the dish.

That’s almost counterintuitive to practices in many popular, less shi-shi eateries — and even in our own homes: Think massive food-centric celebrations, whether a big fat Greek wedding or Thanksgiving dinner.

Bigger? Ain’t always better.

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