A Downsizing at T.G.I. Friday's

T.G.I. Friday's is advertising a new menu with smaller portions for lower prices. Friday's is the first chain restaurant to do this, but will customers embrace the "less is more" concept when it comes to food?

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

The chain restaurant T.G.I.Friday's is putting a new list of entrées on its menu. The ingredients are the same but the portions are smaller and therefore meant to be easier on the waistline. T.G.I.Friday's says it is the first restaurant of its kind to do this.

NPR's Nihar Patel has more.

(Soundbite of T.G.I.Friday's television ad)

Unidentified Man: Friday's introduces Crispy Green Bean Fries, Fried Mac & Cheese, and Potato Skinny Dippers.

NIHAR PATEL: This old TV commercial really puts the fry in Friday's. But there's a new message being sent to customers now.

(Soundbite of T.G.I.Friday's television ad)

Unidentified Man: Smaller portions and prices so I can rock it any day I want.

PATEL: Richard Snead is CEO of Carlson Restaurants, the company that owns T.G.I.Friday's.

Mr. RICHARD SNEAD (CEO, Carlson Restaurants): The sizes are about 30 percent smaller and the prices are about a third less.

PATEL: CEO Snead saw that half of people surveyed felt portion sizes in restaurants were just too big. Something customer Snead had already been feeling in his gut.

Mr. SNEAD: If you give me a portion size as large as my head, you know, you've sort of determined how I eat. I don't want to have an appetizer now because I know I can't finish my entrée. And today I'm not interested in taking food home in a plastic bag, putting it in my refrigerator and throwing it out three days later. I don't want to pay for food I'm not going to eat.

PATEL: Introducing smaller portions is actually a big risk. The problem is that customer Snead is still paying for all that food he isn't going to eat. So even if smaller portions are a hit, customers will get used to spending less, and that could mean smaller revenue for the company and possibly no more CEO Snead. And if half of those surveyed said portions were too big, there's also the other half who say give me large portions or give me death. How will they react?

I went to a T.G.I.Friday's in Los Angeles to find out, but before heading out, what's the dish I should I should get?

Mr. SNEAD: Well, I'll tell you, try the Jack Daniels chicken Alfredo because I think you're going to say you know something, I really didn't need any more than that.

Unidentified Woman: Welcome to Friday's. Don't forget about our right portion, right price menu.

PATEL: Over by the window sat an elderly man contemplating his menu options.

Mr. JACK SIMPSON: Jack, our last name is Simpson, like O.J., and I think that the right price, right portion's a good idea. I eat out all the time, and most restaurants serve too much food.

PATEL: Server Gabriel Sapeta(ph) says many customers are still having trouble embracing the concept.

Mr. GABRIEL SAPETA: You got to kind of let them know that that's a reduced portion, if that's okay.

PATEL: You're a little worried that somebody's going to get their plate and go where's my food?

Mr. SAPETA: I've had that happen. You've got to let them know, give them a heads-up.

PATEL: I soon found exactly the type of customer Gabriel was referring to.

What's your name?

Mr. RAY ALVARADO: Ray Alvarado. I like big portions, but yeah, I can't do these little tiny meals.

PATEL: You're afraid that if you get one, you're going to look at it…

Mr. ALVARADO: More. I'm going to want more, obviously.

PATEL: You may get two…

Mr. ALVARADO: Order two.

PATEL: In Ray Alvarado's party, there were two people out of five who ordered small. Across the room, Anita Riddick(ph) revealed her friend Claire Dickens(ph) was at least tempted by a smaller portion.

Ms. ANITA RIDDICK: She was going to order something from it today. She was going to order the salmon dish.

PATEL: But Claire was forced to admit she surrendered to her appetite.

Ms. CLAIRE DICKENS: It was a smaller portion. Thank you, Anita. So I didn't order it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PATEL: Anita believes smaller portions could find a niche. But, for her, eating is a matter of personal responsibility.

Ms. RIDDICK: I think that the people who may go for this menu is people who are concerned about control, like I can't eat half of anything, so I'm just going to let someone else make that decision for me. But I think that's not really the American way to allow other people to make decisions for them.

PATEL: Anita's daughter, Francesca(ph), also viewed portion control as an assault on her unalienable right to eat as much as she wants.

Ms. FRANCESCA RIDDICK: It's a free country.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PATEL: Yes, Francesca, it is. But studies show people eat what's put in front of them, and they eat more if larger portions are the only option. So all that remained now was the final test: lunch.

Mr. SNEAD: Try the Jack Daniels chicken Alfredo, chicken Alfredo, Alfredo.

PATEL: I think I'm going to get the smaller portion.

As it turned out, it didn't feel like it was too much food or too little. I just paid my check, got back on the road, and this being America, began pondering my dinner options.

Nihar Patel, NPR News.

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