Restaurant Portion Control Guide

Portion control is essential in any restaurant. Without it, each cook can dish up wildly varying amounts of menu items without any regard to what their coworkers are doing. This not only makes managing inventory difficult, it will almost certainly be noticed by customers. They may not think it's a big deal when they receive more food than they are used to, but customers are sure to complain if portions shrink. Having the right tools in the kitchen can help guarantee your staff provides customers with the correct amount of food every time.

Benefits of Portion Control

Restaurants that use portion control can ensure customers receive the same amount every time they order, no matter who is working in the kitchen. Additionally, written plating instructions can help kitchen staff remember how much of each product to serve. Reliable portion amounts coming out of the kitchen is a matter of quality control, one that regular customers will notice. Portion control is especially important for restaurants that have multiple locations, so customers can have a similar experience at each location.

Another reason to put a focus on portion control is food costs: Regular, reliable portions can help steady fluctuating food costs, reduce loss, and make keeping inventory simple. Knowing how much food goes into each portion allows you to prevent over- or under-ordering, reduce spoilage, and ensure you always have what you need on hand. Portioning properly also prevents kitchen staff from overestimating how much food goes on a plate, essentially giving away food that wasn't paid for and driving the restaurant's margins down. While it may seem like only a small cost, serving more food than was initially intended when a dish was created can add up quickly.

For example, let's consider a restaurant sells a steak purchased at a cost of $10 per pound in an average of 10 servings per day, these are the losses that might occur over the course of a year:

Amount Over PortionAdded Costs in a Year
110 oz.$227.50
14 oz.$568.75
13 oz.$758.34
12 oz.$1,137.50
1 oz.$2,275

While steak is one of the more expensive menu items a restaurant is likely to serve, considering how many types of food most eateries offer, it's easy to see how fluctuating portions can quickly spin food costs out of control.

Portion Control Tools

There are several tools available to help make portion control simple. Decide which ones will work best in your kitchen based on the foods you serve, the labor required, and whether you will be portioning ahead of time or as orders come in.

By Weight:

One way to handle portion control is by weighing food. This method is most commonly used for proteins, such as steak, chicken, and fish. In many kitchens, proteins are weighed during prep, instead of as the food is ordered, with correctly portioned products then stored safely until needed. This method adds a bit more labor to prep time, but takes a step out of the cooking process during service, meaning customers receive their food faster.

Dial Scales

Dial scales for portion control have the benefit of not requiring batteries or a plug, so they can be used anywhere in the kitchen and moved around as needed. However, some dials can be difficult to read, though many models have the dial face tilted up to make that easier. This type of scale also tends to bounce a bit when a product is placed on the platform, causing the needle on the dial to take a moment to settle on the exact weight. Some models have a feature called a dashpot that lessens this bouncing to help streamline prep a bit. Most dial scales have flat platforms, but some are also available with bowls. Different models measure in increments as small as 18-ounce, and models are available that can handle as much as 200 pounds, though those are rarely needed for food portioning.

Digital Scales

Digital portion control scales do require a power source and often provide a choice between AC and battery power. Features vary by model, but most digital scales offer the ability to weigh in both ounces and grams. These scales generally have smaller capacities, topping out at 66 pounds, but large measurements are usually not needed in food portioning. The readout screen is most often in front of the platform, but can also be on a raised stand behind the platform or mounted on a wall nearby. Flat platforms are available in square, rectangular, and circular shapes, and bowls are also available. Digital scales also have tare buttons that allow users to weigh foods in the dishes they will be served in. Backlit screens are easy to read and give an instant weight, shaving seconds off each weighing during food prep or service.

By Volume:

Foods that are prepared in batches and dished out as needed are often easier to portion out by volume. This is most often accomplished by the item scooping the food out of the batch and onto the plate, but portion control can also be achieved by ensuring the food goes into a container of a specific size.

Portion Control Serving Spoons

Portion control serving spoons, also called spoodles, make it easy to dish out food in specific amounts. These tools can be solid or perforated, allowing you to scoop food with sauces or to drain liquid off fruits and vegetables as needed. These are available in metal and plastic, though metal spoodles generally have plastic handles that make them more comfortable to hold and cut heat transfer that can burn users’ hands. These handles come in many colors, which can help with organization and cross-contamination protocols. These are available to dish out volumes as small as 1 ounce to portions as large as 8 ounces.

Dishers

Dishers are similar to portion control serving spoons, but are designed to help serve thick and viscous foods. These tools have a metal piece that swipes through the bowl that is activated by a thumb-press or a squeeze handle, and because of this design there are no perforated dishers. These can dish out as little as 13 of an ounce to as much as 8 ounces. Like spoodles, these often have colored handles that can help with organization and preventing cross-contamination.

Portion Control Cups

Ramekins and sauce cups can serve as portion control cups. These are available in sizes as small as 114 ounces to ramekins that can hold as much as 15 ounces. These are made of metal, ceramic, porcelain, and melamine to fit in with a wide range of restaurant décor schemes and to provide the perfect serving vessel for your specific foods. The smaller cups are most often used for items like butter, dips, condiments, and salad dressings, while ramekins can also be used for desserts and side dishes.

Dispensers

For some high-volume products, it may make more sense to have automated means of portion control where possible. Condiment dispensers are available that dispense a set amount per pump of the handle, making it easy for servers to dispense the right amounts of ketchup, honey mustard, and salad dressing. Drink machines are also available with portion control settings, preventing cup overflow and managing costs in customer-facing dispensing.