Calorie Logic

(Photo: HD41117)

In a recent column in the New York Times, Jane Brody quotes a nutrition professor lamenting the fact that “restaurants have resisted her suggestion to serve half the amount of food for about a third the price.”  The professor might have thought more about economic behavior. (Even if she had suggested cutting the price to half for one-third the food, it still would not have been good economic analysis. The labor costs of preparing and serving half the food are probably nearly identical to those of serving the full amount.)  

In a competitive industry this means that her proposal would lower average cost per serving by less than half, making it impossible to cover costs if prices are cut by 2/3.  A profit-maximizing monopolist wouldn’t cut price by 2/3 either.  The nutrition professor’s only hope is that restaurants would cut prices this much out of altruism or to set examples for others. I wouldn’t bet on that — and the professor should not have been surprised.

Steven Gangstead

I would be fine with 1/2 food for 2/3 price. I can tell myself all day to just take half the food home, but when the plate is in front of me my instinct is to lick it clean.


I bet that's the case for most of us. Maybe an alternative would be that the restaurant offers to serve you half and automatically put the other half in a doggie bag? Obviously, you could technically just open the doggie bag and eat it then and there, but the mental compartmentalisation might help with the self-control issues.

Rich B

Or she should have focused her efforts on a regulation making the publishing of calorie counts or salt/fats/etc on menus compulsory.

That would make small portion size a potential asset for some restaurants, at least those who cater to a clientele who would suddenly care if they realised they were eating 1500 calories per extra-large burger.


Really, the whole article reads like a hack job. A lot of stuff has evident or logic, and some feels just plain made up.


I hope this is a mistake and she meant reducing meals by half their size, while reducing prices by only a third. That would give people an appropriately sized meal, for less money, while increasing the restaurant's profit margin. Win-win-win.

Some meals, of course, cannot be reduced to half sized portions. You can't make a half pork chop, or half a chicken breast, or half a New York Strip (you can find smaller versions of each, but that requires stocking extra items and increasing loss from waste).

But, where items are easily reduced to smaller portions, restaurants often make those small sizes an option. Half-sized salads, a cup of soup instead of a bowl, half a sandwich. And the pricing is typically what you might think. Portion reduced by 1/2, price reduced by 1/3.


It costs more to portion less of some things: if fish or meat has to be recut, that's labor and may generate some waste. The only incentive to restaurants is to offer small plates for relatively more money. That's what some places do.

Jen Z

At what point in time are those who think themselves educated, going to allow people to make their own choices in life?
“People who pay attention to calorie labels on menus are shocked, for example, to discover that a single cookie contains 700 calories,” Dr. Nestle said. “You may want that cookie, but then you can’t eat anything else. Cookies didn’t used to be this big.”
THEN DON'T EAT IT!! It's such a simple thing

People need to be held accountable for their actions. If you want to eat hot dogs everyday Great!! You want to eat a dozen Krispie Kremes in one sitting Go for it!!
But when you keel over from a heart attack, have diabetes or can't fit in one seat on the train you need to say that you made the choice of what you put in your mouth. Own it! And pay for your own health care expenses don't make mine go up because you choose to not care about yourself.

The government doesn't need to regulate anything we need to be able to do the right thing on our own.


Rich B

It's absolutely not about the government telling people what they can and can't eat, it's about letting people make an informed decision. That's what liberty is (and capitalism, come to think of it): making a decision that benefits you based on the best available information. If one side in a transaction has a lot more information than the other, that's not an efficient market. Or if there is an education gap where someone doesn't realise the health-implications of what they're doing, then regulating restaurants to supply that information is a no-brainer for consumers.


Why not charge $1 to have half of the meal put into a 'to-go' box immediately to be brought to the table at the end of the dinner, with the check. That way you're not tempted to eat it immediately, and you get two meals for the price of 1.

Jen Z

Why not just stop when you eat half of it?
Self-control is not an American trait.


The problem with Americans is they are given large portions and they eat it all. It's likely because as children, we were told to finish the plate. I don't really get this. I have rarely felt guilt about not finishing something. I also don't understand when I am leaving a food joint and someone says "Hold on, I am going to fill up my (soda) cup." Really? You just had 24 oz of Coke and now you are getting another 24 oz to go?

Les Johnson

Lets assume she meant a 1/3 price cut, for 1/2 the volume. Its not win-win-win.

A restaruant will, if its good and if its lucky, have labor and food costs at 30% each. Fixed costs (heat, power, rent) will be another 30%, leaving 10% net. This is a high profit margin, note.

So under the new regime, she reduces her costs 15% (1/2 of 30%). Her revenue is down 33%.

See the problem? She incurs a 12% net loss now. ( 0.67-0.15-0.3-0.3 = -0.08 cents. negative 0.08/.67=-11.9% )

Jane Brody should remain a nutrition professor. Or take economics classes at night.

Skip Montanaro

What are the odds that the average American doesn't know how many calories they should be ingesting? (Or how many calories they burn during exercise?) If 700 calories doesn't seem like a lot to many people, I suspect they are going to go ahead and eat that cookie.


I don't agree. It would make economic sense if the profits of restaurants was vastly greater than costs (not implausible with a significant portion of restaurants - admittedly not all - but particularly higher end ones), such that cutting prices came out of profits (rather than taking them into negative balance) and it opened them up to a new market. Given the popularity of dieting and the social pressure to live a healthy lifestyle in the current age, if a restaurant advertised this scheme successfully enough, they might in fact gain money. If a restaurant lost 2/3 of the profit of a meal (ignoring the gain in raw produce that would be saved in half portions), but gained a whole new group of customers, it may still be worth while. Indeed, if this group of customers was sufficiently large, they would profit. On top of that, if a new 'market' of healthy eating people start going to a restaurant, coupled with the publicity generated by such a controversial scheme, there may be new drive to go to such a restaurant, increasing the number of 'standard paying' customers.
I'll admit, still an uphill struggle though.


public enemy number 1- truth

I say- charge more for less, but give people what they really want. It goes a long way. Thanks Maureen for the tip.