Under-size me, please


I was out with a friend for lunch the other day at a hamburger place which had large signs on the wall extolling their excellence in quotes from various magazines and newspapers.  One of these read “The best $5 hamburger around” (or something like that).  I thought that was a dismaying idea, to brag about a hamburger that cost $5, but it’s not entirely relevant to our discussion.  Still, in a blog titled “Ramblings”, I’m going to wander off frequently.  If you’re still reading this thing after all this time, you’re at least used to it, if not engaged by the practice.

So, as I paid my nearly $10 for a burger, fries and a small soda (ouch), I walked over to the soda machine to meet my friend as we waited for our food.  As I filled up my cup I asked him why he got a large soda when the refills were free.  He shrugged, thought for a moment and ultimately came up with the answer that he liked to take a big cup of soda with him when he left.

Even taking the answer at face value, it got me to thinking (which regular readers know is never a particularly good thing), how much of our eating out is controlled by the untested belief that everyone wants more food.

Take this place, for example.  The burgers come in regular size (one patty) or big size (two patties).  When you order the fries, they fill a cup (I’m thinking 8-10 oz. cup) and then overflow even more in the paper bag that holds your food.  And, of course, free refills on the drinks (which is always smart, since once you fill up on liquid you’re less likely to feel like you didn’t get enough food).

I can’t speak for others, but I got plenty of training when I was young about cleaning my plate.  Beyond the vast piles of international guilt from all those starving people who would love my remaining two ounces of mashed potatoes or 3 brussel sprouts, you also had the attendant Mom or Grandma hovering nearby just waiting to plop more on your plate (thus I learned about pacing myself at an early age, too.  More retroactive admiration for the matriarchs in my family).

That training becomes a potential weakness when out at restaurants, though.  Now, with the guilt-driven compulsion to eat all your food, you’ve got to finish off quantities usually in excess of what would be comfortable, let alone healthy.

How about restaurants?  Most of them serve such large portions that you should ask for the takeout box to arrive with your meal so you can scoop it in immediately.  This method would no doubt cure much of the obesity problem so often talked about in the papers.

I understand the restaurants’ point-of-view, they want to be able to charge those inflated menu prices (are there places where you can sit down in an air conditioned place and get away for a lunch under $12?) and the profit margin on much of the food is more than worth a little “pile on” to make sure the ticket price stays up.

I’ve seen the other side.  Back in my youth, many years ago (I think they still used spears and stone knives to kill food back then) I was visiting a couple old college roommates.  I took them out to this classy Russian restaurant (very highly rated).  The boys had a good laugh when we got there.  The valet took the car (and $5) from in front of the door, backed it up and parked it 8 feet from where we were standing.  They laughed harder after they saw the menu prices.  Still, being a good sport, I maintained my intention to treat.  Showing the decorum and maturity one would expect from roommates of mine, they ordered the most expensive items on the menu.  The food was excellent, by the way.

When I received my main course, it was served on a beautiful large plate, almost a platter.  The reason I could tell it was beautiful is because the actual food took up so little space.  To this day, I have never found a worse food-for-price ratio in any eating facility in any place, here or abroad.  Thus, I can at least see the point-of-view of the restaurants and fast food places for serving large portions to keep the ticket prices appear reasonable.

However, as I lean forward (just in case) as an encumbered waiter or waitress passes by or glance around some of the other places I am out having a meal, I notice an alarming amount of uneaten, unboxed food heading (hopefully) to the garbage can.  I have to believe those people would have been more than happy with a smaller portion (and smaller price).

Considering the emphasis recently placed on eating healthier and the current economic emphasis on spending healthier, I’m surprised there aren’t more “under-sized” menu offerings (other than your $1 menus at some fast food places).  I could probably afford to eat out more often if I didn’t feel like I was paying for two meals at once.

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