Small Portions – Big Idea

Small portions are very big these days.

Many 2013 trend predictions determined that small plates and snacking are expected to be popular among chefs and restaurant operators this year. While diners are still eating during the traditional meal times—breakfast, lunch, and dinner—they are eating less at those times, opting instead to have five or more smaller meals a day.

“Quick service is naturally conducive to consumers who are saying to themselves, ‘This is how hungry I am now, and I want to eat something good right away,’” says Julia Gallo-Torres, foodservice category manager for global marketing firm Mintel. Many fast feeders are offering a growing variety of entrées and other menu items at different portion sizes and price points, she says.

Eating outside the three regular meals a day is often dubbed snacking, but that term can mean much more than potato chips, popcorn, and candy, Gallo-Torres says. “Snacking is really a variety of food options,” she says. “It can be smaller portions as a meal, or it can be small plates to share with friends.” Money is typically a huge driver of snacking, “and the food should be fast and not fill them up.”

According to a study by market research company The NPD Group, more American consumers are eating during the three normal meal times than five years earlier, but these dining occasions are increasingly composed of more mini meals. The “Snacking in America 2012” report found that the average diner consumes fewer food and beverage items at traditional meals than in the past, while more than half of Americans are snacking two or three times a day.

A quick serve with a diverse menu gives customers a better opportunity to plan their meals, says Kazia Jankowski, associate culinary director at Sterling-Rice Group, a Boulder, Colorado, branding agency.

“If you build a menu that has different flavors and portions, it gives the consumer the ability to not only shape a particular meal, but also to shape how they will be eating during their entire day,” she says.

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