On The Plate, Menu and Buffet

Monday, August 20, 2018

One of the challenges of right-sizing portions is meeting the expectations of guests and not compromising on their perceived value equation. Try these clever techniques from chefs and researchers to help support a mission of moderation.


10 Plating Tips

  • Experiment with plate size to create a perception of visual abundance.1
  • Make use of wide rims to frame the dish.1
  • Slice protein and fan pieces across plate.
  • Choose elongated, thinner cuts which may make items appear larger.2
  • Use sauces to create visual value around the edges of the plate, or pour sauce into a small ramekin to emphasize its presence and value.
  • Create visual interest with dark or bright sauces on white plates.
  • Arrange leafy vegetables to take up space on the plate.
  • Instead of one large piece of protein, offer two or more smaller pieces. Multiple items tend to increase the perceived amount of food more than overall size.3
  • Decrease the proportion of energy-dense items (e.g. meat, heavy sauces, starches) and increase the proportion of vegetables.
  • Use firmer textures, since the more time food spends in the mouth (“oral exposure”) the more it increases satiety and satisfaction4. For example, cook vegetables such as broccoli and carrots for shorter time periods to give a firmer texture.


Plating to Create Visual Value


Mastering the menu

Simple ways to offer portion size guidance to guests.

While guests inevitably make their own choice of what to eat and drink, what they order is heavily influenced by the layout of the menu. The menu can be constructed to inform, guide and encourage diners toward smaller portion sizes and more nutritious options. Here are a few ideas to try:

  • Offer choices: smaller portions, half portions, children's portions, and alternative side dishes.
  • Promote sampling, sharing and/or tapas menus for the whole table to enjoy.
  • Inform guests by providing simple and transparent nutritional information on the menu.
  • Promote healthier items such as vegetable sides or salad by highlighting certain menu items: Chef’s recommended pairing, Chef’s choice, Signature item, etc.

A sense of connection

The idea of sharing plays into something else diners crave while eating out: a social connection. 49% of UK consumers stated that the last time they ate out was just for a social occasion5. Small plates, samplers, and sharable items can enhance this social interaction while serving up smaller portion sizes.
A culinary experience

These days, some diners are more interested in exploring the menu than filling their stomachs. One study in the US showed that 70% of customers order shareable meals so they can try more than one item on the menu6. Offering smaller portion sizes allows diners to indulge without overeating. To meet evolving expectations, some restaurants are offering alternative portion sizes, including “bites,” samplers, and small plates.
At your service

To promote quality of food over quantity, train service staff to highlight key attributes of each meal. For example, ask them to call attention to specific flavours and textures, or the provenance of special ingredients—whether local or exotic.


8 tips on the line

Having “eyes bigger than your belly” is a common affliction at self-service buffets, which may lead to over-indulgence and food waste. However, there are some buffet line tactics that can help mitigate waste and guide guests towards a balanced plate.


  1. Offer a variety of plate sizes to give guests options.
  2. Place vegetables and lighter salads at the beginning of the line so customers will fill their plates with healthier options first.
  3. Use smaller serving spoons and tongs.
  4. Place sauces and other condiments in pre-portioned ramekins (which also enhances a premium perception).
  5. Don’t pre-sauce salads and other items.
  6. Serve vegetables in larger, julienne cuts.
  7. Present meat in smaller pieces.
  8. Serve pre-portioned desserts.


Tip.Take a stance on sustainability! A responsible buffet reminds people not to overindulge or be wasteful


The Delboeuf Illusion

The Delboeuf Illusion illustrates how our ability to perceive relative size is easily skewed. Note how the two dark circles, which are exactly the same size, appear different because of the circles framing them7. This may explain why similar portions look larger on small plates and why people tend to overserve themselves on large plates.


  1. McClain, van den Bos, Matheson, Desai, McClure and Robinson, 2013
  2. Ordabayeva & Chandon, 2013
  3. David Benton, 2015, Geier et al, 2006
  4. Forde et al 2013
  5. Paddock, Warde and Whillans, 2015
  6. Technomic, 2012
  7. Delboeuf, 1865