How many times have you declined dessert at a restaurant because you were either too full from the meal's generous portions or just put off by the $4 to $6 cost?
The solution: dessert shooters.
These mini portions of a restaurant's most popular desserts are served in shot glasses with a price tag about one-third of the full price.
They are the latest evidence of a trend toward downsized portions offered by the dining industry to meet the demand of nutritionally savvy, calorie-conscious consumers.
"Mini desserts are just a little taste of something sweet after the meal without really being an indulgence," said Miguel Morales, manager of Carrabba's Italian Grill at Hamilton Place.
Carrabba's is one of several family dining chains helping patrons control portion sizes by offering entrees, appetizers or desserts in small and regular options.
"It has been very well received by patrons. A lot of the smaller-portion items are now our bigger sellers," said Morales.
"Feedback from guests was the reason we started offering smaller portions, and I think it's the way the trend is going as well," he said. "Food Network, nutritional charts and diets with good nutritional programs are all making diners understand the way they are supposed to be eating."
Carrabba's offers size options on four appetizers, 10 entrees and its Dessert Rosa (a Mini Rosa is $2.25). The difference in cost is about $2 between a small or regular entree. The smaller entree is prepared just like the larger; there is no shortage on flavor.
Morales explained the size difference in a chicken entree is 5 ounces instead of 8; in a salmon dish, the smaller serving will be 6 ounces instead of 8.
"I think this is a good trend because moderation in portion sizes is always going to be a good way to approach restaurant dining," said Cindy Pare, a Weight Watchers instructor for four years.
Anyone who has weighed in at Weight Watchers knows one of the first weight-loss tips taught deals with portion control when dining out: Ask for a to-go box, then cut your meal in half when it is served. Box half to take home for tomorrow's lunch, eat the half remaining on your plate.
Pare said she still recommends splitting regular portions, but she said the new small portions offer Weight Watchers more options on how they want to use their points allotment for the week.
"If you research the restaurant's menu ahead of time and find you can eat the whole entree for less points, then there is some kind of visual satisfaction with being able to eat everything on your plate," she said.
"The benefit of the mini dessert is that you get to eat the whole dessert by yourself and have an indulgence in moderation without spending a lot of PointsPlus for it. When you share a dessert, you are tempted to eat more than you should," the instructor explained.
TGI Friday's restaurants was one of the first to offer portion options in 2007 with its Right Portion, Right Price menu. It was a bold move that the industry watched to see whether consumers would bite.
Four years later, Right Portion remains a popular choice at Friday's.
"It's about a 30 percent reduction in portion size," said Brian Doyle, manager of Friday's on Broad Street, about the entrees.
Doyle said there are 12 entrees on the Right Portion menu with a price difference of anywhere from $2 to $5 less than the regular-portion entree.
Here's a sampling of how other local restaurants are positioning themselves on portion control:
-- Applebee's: Long endorsed by Weight Watchers for its Under 550 Calories menu, the restaurant now offers dessert shooters for $1.99.
-- Olive Garden: General Manager Deborah Pruett said the restaurant offers diners the option of selecting smaller portions from the lunch menu at dinner. It is up to diners to request the lunch menu, but they will be accommodated.
-- Outback Steakhouse: Portion options are offered on two appetizers and six steak entrees. The Sweet Adventure Dessert Sampler Trio includes three dessert shooters for $8.29 or one sample for $3.29.
-- P.F. Chang's: Manager Brandi McBryar said small portions are offered on the Dim Sum Menu during happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. Diners may choose dumplings, which come three to an order instead of six, but they can only get them steamed; two small tacos or two spring rolls. The restaurant also offers a variety of dessert minis in shot glasses.
TRY IT AT HOME
Try serving the trendy shot-glass desserts at your next party. They offer limitless combinations - from low-cal parfaits of sugar-free Jell-O layered with fresh fruit and sugar-free reduced-fat Cool Whip to a rich cheesecake, such as the recipe that follows.
Cheesecake Shot-Glass Desserts
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon coffee-flavored liqueur or 1 teaspoon chocolate extract
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
4 tablespoons chocolate cookie crumbs
Chocolate-covered coffee beans or grated chocolate
4 tablespoons graham cracker crumbs
Blueberries or raspberries
In large bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar with electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Divide mixture in half; place in separate bowls. Stir coffee liqueur (or chocolate extract) into half; stir lemon peel into remaining half.
Spoon 2 teaspoons chocolate cookie crumbs into bottoms of six 2-ounce shot glasses. Top with 2 tablespoons coffee liqueur/cream cheese mixture. Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons cookie crumbs and another 2 tablespoons coffee liqueur/cream cheese mixture. Top each with coffee bean or grated chocolate.
Spoon 2 teaspoons of graham cracker crumbs into bottoms of six 2-ounce shot glasses. Top with 2 tablespoons lemon/cream cheese mixture. Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons graham cracker crumbs and another 2 tablespoons lemon/cream cheese mixture. Garnish each with blueberries, raspberries or fruit of your choice.
Refrigerate desserts at least 30 minutes before serving.
Note: This makes 12 shot-glass desserts. Recipe may be cut to make just six desserts in either of the two flavors.
The PointsPlus count for a full-size Great Wall of Chocolate at P.F. Chang's is 10; the PointsPlus count for a Great Wall mini served in a shot glass is 5.