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Thursday, September 9, 2010

DeRushaEats: What's the Story With Three Appetizer Portions?

I've had some amazing meals lately, but I'm not going to talk about them.

Why bore you with the incredible, life-changing pork belly I had at The Strip Club Meats & Fish in St. Paul? Or the fact that James Beard Award nominee Michelle Geyer's The Salty Tart is supplying their dessert now? Or the crazy beautiful hugeness of Heartland in St. Paul and the most delicious head cheese I've had in years? I could also put you to sleep with Lenny Russo coming up to me and saying, "Hey Jason. I noticed you canceled your reservation last month." Ouch.

That's boring. This is important.

Most of the time when I'm dining, I'm out with just my wife (a party of two) or with another couple (a party of four). So why do restaurants insist on providing appetizer portions with three pieces?

It happens all the time. Three little appetizer samples, four hungry people. If a server came back and said, "Our normal portion is three pieces, but because there are four of you, I had the kitchen prepare one more" I'd be a customer for life!

If it's about cost, I'd be more than willing to pay for an extra portion, so we could all have our own taste. Why not give the option?

This drives me insane. And the fix seems so easy.

Are you with me on this? Can you help me understand? Please talk me off the ledge, Dara & Co. readers!

Posted on Thursday, September 9, 2010 in Permalink

Comments may be edited for length, clarity, or appropriateness.

Old to new | New to old
Sep 9, 2010 01:55 pm
 Posted by  Amy P.

For design principles, I think an odd number is perceived as more dynamic and exciting; e.g. in landscape design, it's recommended to put 3 or 5 items instead of 2 or 4. Maybe it's the same in restaurants?

If it's not that, then who knows? You're right, that's difficult to split among 4. Have you tried directly asking about waiters about changing the amount? If so, what do they say?

Sep 9, 2010 02:48 pm
 Posted by  Jason DeRusha

Amy, don't take all the fun out of blogging! Asking the staff? Crazy talk!

My assumption is that it's a combination of the cost (trying to keep appetizers/small plates around $8) and the aesthetic of an odd number.

Sep 9, 2010 07:51 pm
 Posted by  Amy P.

Or, it could be that restaurants just like messing with you! :)

Sep 10, 2010 08:40 am
 Posted by  ms pink

Maybe they're just being good Samaritans and trying to teach you about sharing ;P

Sep 10, 2010 02:51 pm
 Posted by  Troy

To my knowledge, the main reason for this is numerical superstition. Particularily in the Japanese culture, the numbers 4, 9 and 13 are said to be unlucky. You may notice in hospitals and hotels that many avoid naming floors or rooms with these numbers. The St. Paul Hotel for example has 13 floors, but you will not see "13" on the elevator buttons, it is called the penthouse instead. In maternity wards you will usually not see room 43 either as it literally translates to still birth. I've been in the hotel food and beverage industry for 15 years and have had many international guests request that portions do not equal these numbers. I do agree however that if a table of four is sat, a more appropriate appetizer portion would be 5 rather than 3. Let them fight over the last piece!

Sep 13, 2010 12:28 am
 Posted by  Zimmern

The answer is easy Jason...the restaurant doesnt know what its doing, what good service or marketing of their own product is all about. if a server sees that you intend to share a course with your tabelmates, and in fairness to them thats not always the case, they should indicate it to the kitchen and it should be plated appropriately.
That being said, unless you are talking about canapes you need to name the dish and the restaurant...c'mon, fess up...????

Sep 18, 2010 07:25 pm
 Posted by  JimmyD

You are ordering an appetizer designed for two. The extra piece is to show generosity and abundance.

If my login was Zimmern, I'd make sure I didn't misspell table.

Sep 28, 2010 02:47 am
 Posted by  sarika05

This week it was Haute Dish (below), where they call their platter the Char-Cuts (Yar!). For $13 you get one of the most creative, magnificant platters of meat I've ever enjoyed. The white jar is rabbit rillette, juicy and delicious, and the white-colored stuff on top is a mustard. Amazing. There's a really flavorful mortadella with pistachios and dehydrated red onions, a lamb terrine with eggplant, a chicken liver pate with brandied cherries, and a country pork pate had really spicy mustard. It was spectacular.
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