RICHARD SNEAD came up through the restaurant industry when bigger was better.
He earned his managerial stripes in the fast-food industry as Burger King, McDonald’s and Wendy’s waged war over who could offer bigger burgers, more fries and larger cups of soda. Few questioned the strategy, not even after casual dining restaurants embarked on their own supersizing battle in the 1990s.
Now Mr. Snead is breaking ranks. As chief executive of Carlson Restaurants Worldwide he has chopped portion sizes at T.G.I. Friday’s, Carlson’s chain known for calorie-rich items like deep-fried potato skins stuffed with Cheddar cheese, bacon and sour cream. In a closely watched experiment, Friday’s will see whether diners will order what it calls “Right Size” portions that, on average, are about two-thirds the size of the usual serving.
“I firmly believe that the consumer is demanding a change,” said Mr. Snead, who is 55 and has a runner’s trim build. Many consumers are tired of huge portions, especially on weeknights or at lunch when they do not want to indulge, he says. The time has come, he says, to think smaller. But, he added, “I’ll be honest with you, it’s scary.”
Mr. Snead has good reason to be concerned.
The strategy of serving consumers smaller servings has a lamentably unprofitable history. Many restaurateurs remember far too well what happened to the Ruby Tuesday chain in 2004 after it trimmed some portions and started printing nutritional information on the menu of calorie-packed burgers, steaks and ribs. Consumers complained about the changes, and after about five months, Ruby Tuesday plumped the portions and provided nutritional information only when asked.