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gulfporter

Requesting Half Portions

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How do restaurateurs (and their customers) feel about asking for a half-portion, when they aren’t offered on the menu?

 

We eat out a lot; 5 to 7 times a week.  And we also travel a lot.

 

While doggie bags are sometimes an option, not all foods reheat well (eggs benedict comes to mind).  And often we’re heading out somewhere else (not home) after lunch and storing leftovers in the car for a few hours in our summer heat (Florida) isn’t a good idea. Bringing home leftovers that need reheating when we’re on the road and staying at a hotel isn’t feasible.  Then there’s the calorie count….yeah I know I can order the salmon, but sometimes I want fettuccine alfredo, simply not that big a serving.  And I'm not going to leave half my meal uneaten on the plate...that's just too wasteful.  

 

I don’t want to bog down any restaurant kitchen; it’s a pet peeve when other diners want the chef to change every component of their dish, as if the kitchen is full of personal chefs at their disposal.  

 

We tend to frequent tapas and small plate eateries; at other restaurants I often order appetizers, but at a lot of eateries the appys are often fried (so they come out quickly) and I’m not a fan of fried foods.    

 

I found this article about half portions and can see both sides of this issue.  http://nypost.com/2015/04/27/nycs-most-annoying-new-dining-trend-ordering-half-entrees/


I've never asked a server about getting a half portion because I don't know if that's 'fair' to the kitchen so I'm curious what other customers do and what restaurant owners think of this request.

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It seems rude to the kitchen to me, since usually things are pre-portioned and if you just want half it messes up the system.

 

There are some places around here that have HUGE portion sizes, and I do sometimes just ask for half to be wrapped up right away, which usually they have no problem with - the full dish comes to the table so you can see it and make sure it is right, then gets packed up.

 

That said, there are also places that do have smaller portions as an option regularly - they aren't usually the finest dining, but most of them are good food. Often they are located where elderly people eat frequently (one place that has since closed was on the ground floor of an apartment building with a lot of well off but older tenants, and some of them ate there nearly every night) and have the smaller meal options to cater to those needs. Also having size options for certain kinds of steak or similar seems to be relatively common around here in general.

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I did half-portions on request and simply set aside the other half as a staff portion for me or one of my servers. It wasn't that big a deal in my instance, since my dining room was small: I had a maximum capacity of 28 to 30, and in practice learned never to seat more than 12-14 in any given one-hour stretch since that was the most I could deal with (it was a very limited kitchen, and I ran it single-handed most nights). 


"The only questions that really matter are the ones you ask yourself."

Ursula K. Le Guin

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

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20 minutes ago, chromedome said:

I did half-portions on request and simply set aside the other half as a staff portion for me or one of my servers. It wasn't that big a deal in my instance, since my dining room was small: I had a maximum capacity of 28 to 30, and in practice learned never to seat more than 12-14 in any given one-hour stretch since that was the most I could deal with (it was a very limited kitchen, and I ran it single-handed most nights). 

 

'Does it depend at all time of day when stuff is likely to be used versus end up being tossed? Or type of food item?

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17 minutes ago, quiet1 said:

'Does it depend at all time of day when stuff is likely to be used versus end up being tossed? Or type of food item?

 

I would think the impact of preparing half portions would depend very much on the type of dish.  As John Gibson, one of the chefs interviewed for that article stated:

Quote

“If someone wants a half-size of the chicken, that doesn’t work, because we serve a leg and a breast,” he explains. “But salads and pastas, those don’t have to be compromised.”

 

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2 hours ago, gulfporter said:

And often we’re heading out somewhere else (not home) after lunch and storing leftovers in the car for a few hours in our summer heat (Florida) isn’t a good idea.

Two different thoughts for when half-portions aren't feasible.

 

1) You could carry a small cooler loaded with reusable ice blocks, and when the food makes it feasible, put the leftovers in the cooler.

 

2) My DW had bariactric surgery in 2009. I told her up front that I understood that she wouldn't be able to finish restaurant-sized portions and when we needed to leave the uneaten food behind, it was ok. She does order off of the apps menu if there is something specific that interests her.

 

These thoughts may or may not be useful, I am just passing them on to you.


Edited by Porthos (log)
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Porthos Potwatcher
The Once and Future Cook

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19 minutes ago, quiet1 said:

 

'Does it depend at all time of day when stuff is likely to be used versus end up being tossed? Or type of food item?


I'd say it has to depend on type of food item. Other factors may be taken into consideration as well, but definitely that one. One place I worked built the lasagna in individual serving dishes during prep so we could just top it with cheese and toss it in the oven to order during the rush. A half-portion wasn't going to happen. I understand sometimes a person just wants a certain thing but expecting the restaurant to deal with the waste generated by dividing something that doesn't readily allow for the remaining portion to be sold to someone else so that the customer doesn't have to deal with that waste doesn't sound like a reasonable expectation to me.

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It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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7 minutes ago, Tri2Cook said:


I'd say it has to depend on type of food item. Other factors may be taken into consideration as well, but definitely that one. One place I worked built the lasagna in individual serving dishes during prep so we could just top it with cheese and toss it in the oven to order during the rush. A half-portion wasn't going to happen. I understand sometimes a person just wants a certain thing but expecting the restaurant to deal with the waste generated by dividing something that doesn't readily allow for the remaining portion to be sold to someone else so that the customer doesn't have to deal with that waste doesn't sound like a reasonable expectation to me.

 

Yes, I'm hoping for input from people with back of house experience like yourself, as sometimes the way things are done in a restaurant kitchen is not how I'd expect based on home kitchen experience, in terms of portioning and cooking order and so on.

 

Usually when we go out if we do want to do a partial portion (because we won't be able to take leftovers home, for example) we try very hard to find something to split between diners at our table so all parts of the full dish are accounted for. For example when my housemate (who is a bottomless pit and never gains weight) goes out with his son and my mom (who both have smaller appetites) then sometimes his son and my mom both have half portions and he gets half of each of theirs, unless his son and my mom agree on something to split between themselves. But that does require people being flexible about what they eat.

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@Tri2Cook summed it up well.  Many items are pre-portioned during prep time for speed and efficiency during service, even pasta.  And what are they supposed to do with the other half?

 

That said, I don't think it is offensive or inappropriate to ask as long as you are prepared to take no for an answer.  Some items are pretty easy to halve or split, or the chef may have an odd size piece of fish from the end of the filet that s/he'd be happy to move.   Otherwise, tapas and apps are a good strategy. 

 

 

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13 minutes ago, pastrygirl said:

 

That said, I don't think it is offensive or inappropriate to ask as long as you are prepared to take no for an answer.  Some items are pretty easy to halve or split, or the chef may have an odd size piece of fish from the end of the filet that s/he'd be happy to move.   Otherwise, tapas and apps are a good strategy. 
 


Absolutely, ask away. I don't mind making customers happy as long as they understand that it probably won't be an option with everything. The problem I run into is that there are a significant number of restaurant customers that don't have that understanding. Not the majority, but enough. So you send out a half portion of something to the person that requested it and the person sitting at the next table sees this. Then they ask for a half portion of what they want and throw a fit when told that item can't be divided. Those are the people that make me want to just toss a big "no" blanket over any and all special requests... but so far, I haven't allowed myself to go down that road.

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It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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Were I in the business, and it became a problem, I think I'd offer certain half plates on the menu and let it go at that.

 

You want a 1/2 Beef Wellington?   Nope.

 

 

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Appreciate the input, especially from chefs.  

 

Still wondering if anyone on this board has actually asked for a half portion?  What was the response??  I don't know that I'll work up the nerve to ask; I started the thread because I was curious if these request are common/expected in restaurants.  Apparently they aren't.    

 

 

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1 hour ago, gulfporter said:

Appreciate the input, especially from chefs.  

 

Still wondering if anyone on this board has actually asked for a half portion?  What was the response??  I don't know that I'll work up the nerve to ask; I started the thread because I was curious if these request are common/expected in restaurants.  Apparently they aren't.    

 

 


It's not a common request at all where I work. We get the occasional customers that want to share something. I happily divide whatever it is between two plates rather than send out the plate with an accompanying empty plate because I'm nice like that ( :P actually, I just think it looks nicer that way and is more convenient for the customers... it's entirely possible they would prefer I didn't) but we don't get many requests for half-portions. I would say don't worry over it. If you want to ask about half-portions, ask. There is zero harm in asking, they won't chase you out or throw a spotlight on you or whisk you to the kitchen to make you the base for the next day's soup. They'll just say yes or no and maybe, if no, suggest things that are smaller or that are available as half-portions. There's no bad etiquette or anything involved with asking.

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It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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I don't think we've ever ordered actual half portions - the closest is probably my mom will sometimes ask for a side to be left off entirely if she feels it will be too much food. (She is also on a low sodium diet, though, and while a piece of meat it fish can usually easily be cooked without much salt added and sauce served on the side, many of the things you get as an accompaniment are pre-seasoned during the preparation process so the kitchen can't do anything about it. Leaving off the offending item solves two problems at once.)

 

We do occasionally have trouble with that request, but usually once they understand it is an actual health issue they are usually more cooperative, and suggest alternatives if they can't do what my mom wants.

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In South Florida, the request is common enough that some places print on the menu "Sharing Charge $x.00" usually 3 or 4 dollars.


"There is nothing like a good tomato sandwich now and then."

-Harriet M. Welsch

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1 minute ago, munchymom said:

In South Florida, the request is common enough that some places print on the menu "Sharing Charge $x.00" usually 3 or 4 dollars.


Yeah, I've seen that before. It's not really the same as asking for a half portion with nobody taking the other half but I can see their point. I think the logic there is probably, you're getting all of the service and filling the seating for two people but only spending the money for one person. I can see it being a problem if that's a normal occurrence for a location.

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It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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Hmm, I don't usually eat a lot at one sitting.  But I don't eat out often either.  Sometimes I will ask for a doggie bag but if a meal is particularly good I will just sit and eat it.  The servers may become a little miffed that this takes a couple hours.

 

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1 hour ago, JoNorvelleWalker said:

Hmm, I don't usually eat a lot at one sitting.  But I don't eat out often either.  Sometimes I will ask for a doggie bag but if a meal is particularly good I will just sit and eat it.  The servers may become a little miffed that this takes a couple hours.

 

 

My housemate takes FOREVER to eat and we have friends where one is an even slower eater (I did not realize it was possible) so places we go regularly just seem to have figured it out by now. We do tip well, which may help, plus while I'm stuck sitting there I'm more likely to get extras. (Usually a dessert, but it depends on time of day and so on. Often some kind of drink also.) But I've stopped feeling bad about it because what can I do if I'm out with either of them? Can't make them eat faster. Good places never make them feel rushed.

 

(Actually a couple of times we've had to explicitly ask for the next course or dessert menu or what have you, because the polite thing for the waitstaff is to wait until everyone is done but that doesn't always work out timing-wise, especially when out with people who have somewhere to be after the meal. Luckily the two slow eaters in question do not feel rushed or bothered if other people at the table have moved to a different course.)

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My mom, second wife and current GF are all painfully slow eaters. My father -- who grew up in a hardscrabble fishing village with several brothers and sisters -- learned in childhood to eat in a hot rush, with his elbows well up to protect his food from older siblings. Watching my parents eat is definitely a study in contrasts. My dad sets out my mom's plate (he does the cooking) then goes back into the kitchen for beverages and to get dessert ready. Then he makes up his own plate, sits and eats, goes back (usually) for seconds, makes the post-dinner coffee for each of them, watches the news, patrols the garden for critters, harvests anything that's ripe, washes and packs it into the fridge, tops up my mom's water glass, reads half a book...and *then* rejoins my mother at the table for dessert. :P

 

They don't eat out much. 

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"The only questions that really matter are the ones you ask yourself."

Ursula K. Le Guin

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

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In one place that I worked, we had a $10 daily special.

it was the same portion as always, say a schnitzel at 300gm with all the sides (salad, chips, sauce etc), just that the boss thought that a daily $10 special would work.  And it did.

what ground the chefs gears would be when customers ordered the daily $10 special and asked for it to be cut in two and shared.

i never got him to agree to do it, and in many ways, I agree with his call.

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The older I get, the less I eat at a sitting.  There is a place we go to when we want a hamburger.  They let me order the kiddie burger which is enough for me.  I can't get through a 6 ounce burger and I don't like wasting food.  Another time, another restaurant, I asked for a kiddie portion.  They said no.  I explained that I could not eat a full portion and that is why I wanted the kiddie size.  They said no.  I said I would happily pay the full adult price, it was simply a matter of not being able to eat it all and I didn't want to waste it.  They still said no.  We left without eating.  We never went back and the restaurant itself closed some months later.

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Elsie,

Did the manager make that call or was it the server?

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I'd never ask for a half portion of a dish. I think it's rude. No one is stopping you from taking half the meal home. It also puts an added stress on the kitchen and the waitstaff. If you want a half portion would you only tip half, or would you tip full price and then some for the inconvenience of your special request?

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I agree @MetsFan5. There are restaurants I like to go like Torero's where I know for sure I won't be able to eat the dinner portion, or perhaps even the lunch portion. I usually am not a fan of leftovers, but I always look forward to Torero's leftovers. They are a high value inexpensive restaurant, anyway, so why would one even contemplate this half portions thing?

 

At more expensive restaurants, the portions are so pitifully small, that why would anyone consider this? A Chinese soup spoon for a course anyone?

 

There are restaurants that do freely offer half portions though, and always at elevated prices. I would learn to love leftovers and order the right thing where I would enjoy them. I always explore the restaurant's website and menu and Yelp photos and reports before visiting a new restaurant these days.

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> ^ . . ^ <

 

 

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