Should restaurants charge for entrée sharing?

We've all seen it before. A group of people come into your restaurant, sit down and then order just one plate of food that's split between the group. They take up a lot of space but the bill is tiny in comparison. Just another case of entrée sharing and it's a touchy subject for for both the diner, the servers, and restaurant operators.

Entrée sharing isn't anything new and it's grown more common as plates have grown larger over the year. It got a popularity boost when the recession hit and diners were left balancing their budget with their appetites. Up in Toronto, some restaurants are fighting back against entrée sharing by charging extra for parties splitting a plate (usually to the tune of $5 extra).

The question is: Should restaurants charge for entrée sharing?

The answer: There is no simple answer.

Ethically speaking, restaurants are well within their rights to charge for entrée sharing, though doing so gets diners riled up who are looking to have a nice meal on the town while remaining financially frugal. It's a perfectly understandable predicament for guests that operators can appreciate.

Alas, many times guests have a harder time understanding a restaurant's predicament and why something so innocent looking as entrée sharing can be such a big deal. Profits are typically thin in the restaurant industry, and selling one plate to a party of five instead of five plates is going to add up pretty quickly.

But diners don't typically see it that way. Just look at any thread started by diners and answered by diners on this very question and you'll go red in ire.

Three ways to combat entrée sharing

If you're finding that entrée sharing is an issue at your restaurant, fear not. There are a few ways of dealing with it.

Offer smaller, value portions. The biggest complaint from diners who entrée-share is that plates are too big and there's usually leftover food that goes to waste. A legit concern and, as the saying goes, give the people what they want. By shrinking down the size of a plate, the restaurants can deduct the food cost from the full size price to make the meal cheaper for guests but still not negatively affect your profit margin.

Create a tapas menu. Tapas-style restaurants are popping up all over the US. Their popularity is rooted in smaller portions and the ability for guests to order a multiple of different cuisines that they can share and enjoy with friends. It's a great alternative for restaurants looking to really play up the communal feel among diners. 

Charge an entrée sharing "surcharge." If all else fails, restaurants can go the route of tacking on an extra few bucks to the bill total. Operators should expect some side-glances and potential grumblings from guests if this isn't a known policy, however.

What do you think about entrée sharing? How does your restaurant deal with the issue? Let us know in the comments or by emailing us.