Persistent Question: Why are meals offered in only one size?

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My friend Fumiko and I pondered this question over our lunch hour. I can’t seem to get my arms around the concept, for the following reasons:

1. Size options are a necessity in a world of differing people and varying needs. After all, most things in life come in different sizes: shirts, socks, sandals, Starbucks. How can a 6’4″ male athlete and a 5’3″ female be expected to finish the same-sized meal? When we go for Chinese takeout at lunchtime, who is that $5 combo platter meant for?

2. This mentality is contributing to America’s obesity epidemic. The idea is that “one size fits most” and the average person will be able to finish the portion, give or take a little more or a little less. Like a kid’s menu “for ages 12 and under,” today’s default food serving appears to be something along the lines of “serves large, active men and smaller.” If you happen to belong to the “and smaller” part of the equation, it’s your responsibility to determine when to curb your ever-hungry eyes.

3. We’re unfairly paying the same price for different levels of need. If you wanted to buy a 15″ analog TV, would it be fair to pay the same price as someone who wanted a 30″ plasma flat-screened HDTV? No one would stand for that. So why is a small woman willing to pay the same price for food as a large man?

4. If Starbucks can do it, how hard can it be? Enough said.

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2 Responses to “Persistent Question: Why are meals offered in only one size?”

  1. Interesting question, although if you look at it from the proprietor’s point of view, esp. at mom-and-pop restaurants, portion sizing makes things more complicated on their end. I wasn’t sure if you were referring mainly to local/national chains or not.

    I think a lot of it is our responsibility, and that’s the challenge. Can we exercise self control, especially if we’re eating out a lot? I know I have that problem, but no one is forcing me to eat this way either. And If portion sizes were smaller, I might be more inclined to order extra food to make up the “difference.”

  2. frugalfoodie Says:

    How awesome that your blog provides “food for thought” (ba dum bum)! I very much agree with the need for more options of portion size and the serious contribution this might have to our culture’s misperceptions of how much food is appropriate (aside: research shows that people will eat more just by virtue of more food being in front of them). I just thought I’d bring up some thoughts for the sake of discussion…

    Paying for satiety versus the actual amount of food seems to be the conundrum here. Your point about there being different needs and price point makes me think that this is a matter of seeing the situation in two different ways. From the perspective of the business or the consumer.

    Should the restaurants be thinking about their production as binary (for which every person has a different threshold but ultimately the outcomes are either 0=not satiated, 1=satiated) or by sheer volume of food that is produced? My guess is that from a restaurant’s point of view, it is more a question of “what portion size would be sufficient to maximize the number of customers who walk out satiated (hence, happy)?” Then of course we can’t forget that restaurants can charge more for more food (with exception of fast foods’ Plus-sizing). I also wonder what the trade-off would be in terms of the actual food prep if there were different portion sizes offered.

    But from the consumer’s perspective it could go either way: someone who requires more will prefer the former perspective whereas a person that has a smaller appetite would find the latter to be more economical. Which begets the question from the consumer’s point of view: what do you consider to be a value or “getting your money’s worth?” This is all tied to how we define “need” from a consumer’s point of view. Other examples come to mind when you brought up the TV example: should women who buy Petites pay less than regular sizes? Should Plus-sizes be proportionately more expensive? Anyone who is larger (in appetite, physical form) would systematically be biased against in these examples? I see the TV example as slightly different; it is a matter of pure choice (a bigger TV is generally a luxury) versus fulfilling basic needs (e.g., satiety of a meal). It all seems to depend on the perspective.

    You hit upon a really good point about our culture’s obesity epidemic, and the restaurant industry definitely plays a part in our culture’s way of defining value: satiety versus sheer volume of food. It is interesting how restaurants considered to be “finer” dining (and in the European tradition, mostly) tend to have much smaller portions, but I can’t really think of sit-down restaurants that offer the option for meals.

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