Fewer Nuggets, Smaller Salads: Shrinkflation Hits US Restaurant Diners

Feeling a bit cheated when you look down at your plate? It’s not just a figment of your imagination — portions at US restaurants are indeed getting smaller. Call it shrinkflation: when sizes shrink, but you’re paying the same price, or sometimes even more, for the meal or product.

America’s restaurants are in the same boat as the rest of the country, battling the soaring food and fuel costs that recently helped send US inflation to a 40-year high. Eateries have hiked prices, too. Government data Wednesday showed costs for food away from home have climbed 7.2% over the past 12 months. But now, restaurant operators are starting to worry about how much more they can raise the tab before diners start to balk, especially for something that’s considered optional spending.

So companies are instead coming up with some behind-the-scenes strategies to crimp costs, hence the shrinking portions. At Subway Restaurants across the US, rotisserie chicken wraps and sandwiches have less meat. Domino’s Pizza Inc. has cut down orders of boneless wings from 10 pieces to eight, and diners at Burger King will see the same reduction for their nugget meals. The side cups of salsa are getting smaller at Salsarita’s Fresh Mexican Grill. And in Southport, North Carolina, the 1-pound salads at Gourmet to Go are now 2 ounces lighter.

“Yes, it’s inflation going on,” said Carolyn Gherardi, owner of Gourmet to Go, a small single-story shop with a front porch and a yellow door that offers customers grab-and-go “homestyle” meals. For now, she’s holding price steady on those salads at $6.95.

“We’re trying to keep the cost the same, but in essence it’s less value,” she said.

Restaurants are betting that consumers won’t mind a few fewer fries, or a little less filling on their sandwiches as much as they would grumble about seeing yet another price increase. It’s a strategy that tends to work because of how our brains compute — or don’t compute — the changes, said Nailya Ordabayeva, a marketing professor at Boston College.