The Business of Food: Pleasure As a Substitute For Size

Portion control can make all of the difference in a restaurant's profitability. If you don’t keep portions in line with food costs, you'll lose money.

For restauranteurs, portion size is not merely a growing global health issue – it is essential to profitability,” according to The Caterer. “Careful control of the amount of food served to every customer – or portion control – is essential if you are to stick to your profit margins. Sound portion control can save a restaurant hundreds, or even thousands . . . every year.”

Meanwhile, customers benefit from portion control as well. According to Pierre Chandon, Director of the INSEAD Sorbonne University Behavioural Lab, our brains are very bad at judging portion sizes and that people neglect to take into account the role of pleasure when choosing between a large or a small portion. In other words, people get the relationship between pleasure and food size completely wrong.

“In my research experiments we have consistently shown that people expect to enjoy bigger portions more than smaller ones. But when it comes to actually eating, nudging people to eat a reasonable portion makes them more satisfied with their experience and willing to pay more, for less food.” We tested this with portions of a chocolate brownie. A group that was given a portion three times smaller than another group reported feeling a lot more satisfied.”


How profitable restaurants sell satisfaction

For those in the business of selling food, especially during holiday seasons, Professor Chandon’s research uncovered some surprising findings.


Photo: Lina Kivaka, Pexels
Photo: Lina Kivaka, YFS Magazine

“When customers are made to imagine vividly the taste, smell and texture of pleasurable foods before choosing a portion, they opt for smaller servings. So restaurants and food marketers can make people feel more satisfied and simultaneously make them more healthy. But how can they do this?

“In one study, “Pleasure as a substitute for size” in the Journal of Marketing Research, we showed participants six photos of chocolate cake. In a control condition, the cake was simply described as “chocolate cake”. But in the multi-sensory condition, we added the following description:


“The chocolate has a smell of roasted coffee, bitter-sweet balance taste, with natural aromas of honey and vanilla and a light aftertaste of blackberry.” This vivid description made hungry consumers choose a smaller portion and made them willing to pay a higher price for their small portion compared to the larger portion chosen in the control condition.”


Compared with a control condition, this “multi-sensory imagery” intervention led hungry and non-dieting people to choose smaller food portions, and they anticipated greater eating enjoyment and were willing to pay more for them.

This occurred because multi-sensory imagery prompted participants to evaluate portions on the basis of expected sensory pleasure, which peaks with smaller portions, rather than hunger. In contrast, health-based interventions led people to choose a smaller portion than the one they expected to enjoy most—a hedonic cost for them and an economic cost for food marketers.


Photo: Daria Shevtsova, Pexels
Photo: Daria Shevtsova, YFS Magazine

In a new study not yet published and conducted in a real restaurant, Chandon found that “epicurean menus,” (i.e., adapted to luxury or indulgence in sensual pleasures) with sensory descriptions of the food led to less eating and more savoring, increasing the perceived value of the restaurant meal.


Controlling profitability, quality and food costs

In the food services industry, entrepreneurs must understand that portion control measures are the key to profitability and consistent food quality by ensuring accurate ingredient measurements and controlling food costs. This principal applies to quick service, fine dining and everything in between.

Portion control can make all of the difference in a restaurant’s profitability. If you don’t keep your portions in line with your food costs, you’ll lose money. So, utilize inexpensive and easy to implement tools to ensure your operation is profitable and consistent. Meanwhile, customers like predictability and streamlining portion sizes is a key ingredient to customer satisfaction.


As one of the world’s leading and largest graduate business schools, INSEAD brings together people, cultures and ideas to develop responsible leaders who transform business and society. With campuses in Europe (France), Asia (Singapore) and the Middle East (Abu Dhabi), INSEAD’s business education and research spans three continents. The school’s 154 renowned Faculty members from 40 countries inspire more than 1,400 degree participants annually in its MBA, Executive MBA, Executive Master in Finance, Executive Master in Change and PhD programmes. In addition, more than 11,000 executives participate in INSEAD’s executive education programmes each year. Learn more at insead.edu.


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