Child-sized portions?

I’m very much hoping it was not an age thing but when on holiday recently I ordered two children’s meals on the same day – eating one at breakfast and the other at dinner. The child’s full English had been ordered by my son on the first morning of a two-night stay at The Bull Hotel in Olney and looked just the right size to me so I ordered it on the second morning.

Child’s play at The Bull in Olney

It suited my requirements perfectly – as it also allowed me to squeeze in some muesli and a croissant. The hotel also had no issues because the breakfast was included in the cost of our stay so the reduced cost of the child’s portion made no financial difference to them.

When it came to dinner that same day, at The Bell in Marston Moretaine, I was not as hungry as the rest of the family when they wanted to eat so I decided to order the scampi and chips off the kids’ menu.

We ordered it under the guise it was for my daughter whose actual preference was soup off the main menu. We swapped plates when they had been brought to our table in the garden. If we had been eating in the dining room under the watchful gaze of the staff then I probably would have ordered the adult portion and ended up leaving half of it. Again, the amount I was presented with was just what I wanted, and it also came in at half the price of the adult version.

This highlights my unease with openly ordering off the children’s menu. I have some uncertainty about whether the children’s dishes are to some extent loss-leaders because the real target for pubs and restaurants are the adults

That is clearly the case with those establishments that offer free children’s food with every adult meal ordered. So by my reckoning it must be the case there are many other places where the child’s meal is not a great earner for the pub or restaurant. The fact I frequently find the child portions exceptionally good value and often differ little from the adult version – apart from it being squeezed on to a smaller plate and maybe the swapping of a vegetable and garnish for some baked beans – makes it even more tempting to order but also more likely the profit is slim versus the adult version.

This portion-size puzzle was most notable when my family ate at the Mermaid Inn in Rye on Christmas Day last year. My children were served main courses of exactly the same size as my wife and I – at half the cost. Since this is often one of the bigger meals of the year, my eight-year-old son felt full just at the sight of the plateful in front of him. When he’d finished it looked like he hadn’t even started.


Christmas Dinner: the biggest meal of the year for everyone

It was obvious from this move the hotel had enough turkey and trimmings in the house to throw portion control completely out the window but such actions do generally add to the confusion about children versus adults portions and whether an adult can legitimately order the child’s options.

The fact is I personally would only do it in exceptional circumstances – during a more relaxed dining experience in a pub for instance, and when I know I’m giving them plenty of money from the beer and wine I’m ordering. It’s also rare I’m in a position when I need to be ordering small portions but I can see for some people the smaller sizes on the child’s menu would be the ideal option.

This is why many places – especially fish and chip shops it seems – offer OAP specials that involve smaller portions for a lesser cost. It not only ensures they can tap into this older audience but, as a side issue, it also leads to less food waste.

It is noticeable on a growing number of menus today the main courses are also available in starter-size portions. This is clearly done to enable the sharing of plates and for the ordering of a broader mix of dishes to satisfy today’s trend for grazing.

However, what it has also clearly done is to also please those people who all too often want to plunder the children’s menu but are too embarrassed to potentially be seen as a cheapskate or face being told to grow up and order an adult portion.

Glynn Davis, editor of Retail Insider

This piece was originally published on Propel Info where Glynn Davis writes a regular Friday opinion piece. Retail Insider would like to thank Propel for allowing the reproduction of this column.