Recently, I went to a restaurant and ordered the entrée of roasted lamb. When it came, it was just a few small pieces of meat with a blob of polenta and some artistic dabs of sauce. When you feel like the portions are stingy, is it OK to complain? I don't want to seem greedy, and I know a lot of restaurants are struggling to cut costs, but when I spend $26 on a dish, I expect it to fill me up enough so I don't have to polish off the previous night's takeout when I get home.
Dear Still Hungry,
Usually, when diners feel they're getting meager rations, it's the size of the meat or fish serving they're upset about—as in your case and the case of this Chowhound. Some restaurants skimp on the protein, since it's often the most expensive item on the plate. Sarah Quadri, a former server who worked at now-defunct San Francisco restaurants Aqua and Rubicon, says that when diners complained about getting kid-size portions, usually the dish in question involved a costly item "like duck, squab, or foie gras."
There's no need to feel shy about asking how big the portion will be, say the servers and chefs I talked to. "It happens all the time, especially if it's a couple and they want to split dishes," says Heather Lee Henry, chef at the Santa Ynez Inn.
If you complain about getting a measly portion, some servers will think you're greedy or overly concerned with getting value for your money. Patrick Maguire, a former server who has worked in the restaurant industry for 10 years, says diners who want bigger servings "are often bargain hunters who are used to eating at national chains and eating previously frozen food. … Some people aren't happy unless they are stuffed."
Nonetheless, the server's opinion about it doesn't really matter; if you think the portion is too small for the price, you should speak up. In a good restaurant, they will take your complaint seriously. Scott Stewart, general manager at Café Des Amis in San Francisco, says: "We examine the portion size; perhaps there was an error in the kitchen." Henry says, "I would just get another portion and double the size. You have to make customers happy."
Even if speaking up doesn't get you any more food, it's a courtesy to the restaurant to provide feedback before you skewer it online. The restaurant may adjust its menu. Recently Henry had a "croissant sandwich" on her breakfast menu that was fairly small since it was served with a side salad and there was also a full buffet of granola, fruit, and pastries. But people expected it to be heartier, and several complained. "Now I'm calling them sliders," she says.