It seems to be an age-old restaurant industry debate: does plate size really matter? Whether you are an executive chef or operate a full-service restaurant or neighborhood cafe (or wear both hats), plate size and portion size were inevitably apart of your consideration at launch, and continues still as you overhaul menus, create seasonal offerings and change plate presentations to stay fresh.
So, at VSAG we got to thinking about the pros and cons of portion extremes: small plates vs family-style servings…
Small Plates. Over the past decade or so, small plate-centric restaurants (such as tapas bars and tasting menu spots) seemed to work well for many smaller establishments, and are also pervasive in chain restaurants as well, but it seems as though the tide is turning away from that trend. Since the small plate genre typically embodies less and sometimes lighter food selections, diners generally need to order several plates to satiate their appetites. This translates to higher check averages when the perception is that the smaller plates have smaller costs relative to smaller portions.
Family-Style. At the polar opposite of small plates, these feast-size portions are meant to feed many. Sure, guests may require a couple larger dishes to feed their table, and these oversized offerings may help avoid the ‘Will there be enough food’ question, but the idea here is excess. And with that excess comes the fact that this type of dining limits ordering, and decreases the variety that the party may enjoy. If they fill up on the entrées, they may not get to dessert, which can have a detrimental effect on the bottom line and check average. Guests are usually just too full at the end of a family-style entrée service.
In short, switching to a menu of all small plates may prove prohibitive to guests, while offering only family-style dishes may prove too limiting.
But, don’t lose hope. There is an option that combines the best of both worlds: Shared Plates.
Shared plates by nature invite folks to combine, share or take home from a variety of selections after the meal. This option offers guests a happy medium between the two extremes: Not too big, and not too small.
Shared plates incorporate the allure of communal, family-style dining with the desire to taste and try various foods that the small plates model offers.
Thus, offering your guests a varied shared plates menu will enable you to keep your restaurant current, without being too trendy… all while staying true to your brand and overall culinary concept.
Food for thought, top to bottom: small plate, shared plate & family-style.