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Interesting piece in the New York Times about the dilemma facing many in the nation’s restaurant industry, as they try and deal with the conflicting desire to deal with the nation’s obesity crisis while still satisfying consumers.

“Shrinking portions puts restaurants in a bit of a pickle,” the Times writes. “Customers have come to associate huge quantities of food with value, a proposition that makes reducing portions difficult. Restaurants also point out that even when consumers say they want smaller portions or healthier choices, they often do not order those options.

“Restaurateurs point out that while they offer huge servings, they also offer consumers a choice of some smaller entrees, whether it is a single cheeseburger or a half order of pasta. But the reality is, the smaller offerings are rarely promoted and are often not as good a deal for the consumer, compared with the larger servings.”

Different companies are taking different approaches:

• Carlson Restaurants Worldwide, which owns T.G.I. Friday’s, is not only offering reduced portion sizes but doing so at dramatically reduced prices, believing that this could help attract new customers and offer existing customers additional options.

• Wendy’s apparently has gone for a more cosmetic approach. The Times reports that “a soon-to-be-released study by Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University, and Lisa R. Young, a dietician and adjunct professor there who has tracked the history of the supersize phenomenon, found that Wendy’s simply renamed its ‘Biggie’ drink, at 32 ounces, a medium; a large drink now contains 42 ounces.

• And, the Times writes, “Perhaps no restaurant chain has flaunted its portions more than Burger King. In the last two years, it has introduced a Triple Whopper, the BK Stacker with four beef patties, and an Enormous Omelet sandwich, which is a sausage, bacon and cheese omelet on a bun. But that seems small compared with its Meat ’Normous, a breakfast sandwich that the company pitches with the slogan: ‘A full pound of sausage, bacon and ham. Have a meaty morning.’”
KC's View:
While we think that in the long run it is both responsible and good business to offer a variety of sizes – and to be truthful about what a company is offering, which apparently may be a lesson lost on Wendy’s – it ultimately is the consumer’s choice what to eat and not to eat, and where and where not to eat. We love doughnuts and French fries, but the sad reality of being 52 is that we can’t – and shouldn’t - eat that stuff anymore. Which means staying away from fast food joints and doughnut shops.

The discipline has to be ours, though we’ll take any help we can get.