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Enough is Enough: Portion Sizes at Restaurants

Restaurants serving extremely large portions contribute to over eating and food waste.

Photo of Jason Rissman
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As the OpenIDEO team has been preparing this challenge, a funny thing has happened: I see food waste everywhere. The waste surely isn't new, but now I actually notice it. And once you understand the implications of food waste, it's hard to not care when you see perfectly good food get thrown away. 

This happened recently when my family went out for breakfast. As soon as the food arrived I knew I was in an uncomfortable position -- I either had to over eat or contribute to the problem of food waste. Sure we could take the leftover pancakes and waffles home with us, which we did, but what about the two huge omelettes that must've each used five eggs? I'm all for leftovers, but I have yet to find a good way to reheat eggs. And so, just after making up my mind to try to waste less food, there I was wasting food because of extremely large portions at a restaurant.

 It got me thinking,

  • Why do restaurants (especially in the US) serve such large portions? And how might we change their behavior?


  • What if I started asking about portion sizes before I ordered my meal? Had I asked for a 2 egg omelette would it not only have prevented food waste but also help the restaurant pay more attention?


  • Looking at all the huge portions it seemed clear that wasting food was not a real concern of the restaurant, and I could only see part of the picture. What was happening back in the kitchen?


I'd love to learn from others who have worked in restaurants and have found good ways to reduce food waste while dining out.  

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Photo of Shannon Cummings

It would be interesting if we could select different size plates, where appropriate (like a cup or bowl for soup). If given the option to select a smaller omelette, serving of pad thai, or salad, it seems likely that many people would choose to do so. I don't know what the pricing scheme would look like to ensure there would be incentives for restaurants to engage, but it doesn't seem unfathomable. 

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