It's been widely reported in the last month that by 2030, 47% of Irish people will be obese. I decided to look at the role restaurants have in shaping our weight, and what they can do to help.
During the glorious boom years we really started to learn all about the finer things in life and about eating out, in particular. From about 1998 onwards the restaurant scene exploded as we threw our new European currency at any restaurant who would take them; this usually meant pretty average French food for a ridiculous price. As long as you were washing down your fillet steak with a better Bordeaux than the people at the table beside you sure who gave a fuck? The good times were rolling, and you had a jacuzzi to get home and get into.
With the crash came so too did a change in mentality, and a horrendous few years for restaurants. Ironically, the crash was the best thing that ever happened to the Dublin restaurant scene - shite places quickly folded, and the true quality rose to the top like the head on a good pint of Guinness. Gone were the champagne mojitos and the foie gras, and in their place quirky pop-ups, cheaper cuts of meat and value for money appeared.
In the last few years it has been possible to eat out in lots of places for a tenner. You can get a good burger in Bunsen, tasty chicken in Crackbird or full meals in Green 19 for around €10. If you were willing to spend twenty quid, you could expect a two-course feast and a cocktail throw in. A three course meal in most high end restaurants came in at about €25 - and both the competition and quality soared as a result.
With absolutely no room to move on price for fear of losing what few customers that were out there, restaurants tried a new tactic: increasing portion size. Gone were dainty little 'fine dining' portions and in came huge slabs of meat and Desperate Dan style brunch portions such as the ones below..
Now I've purposely selected the dishes above because they are among some of the best in the capital, and some of them are my personal favourites. If you're a customer they offer insane value, and I've honestly now idea how these places make money serving this much food for such a low price.
What the portions show, however, is the Americanisation of food in Ireland. This wave of American-style cuisine coupled with the recession means we naturally demand bigger portions now. We have come to expect ludicrously big plates of food. Previously the waiting staff in 3Fe or Dillingers have looked worryingly at me as they came to clear my half-eaten plate, yet I had no complaints about the food - it was perfect, the portion was just way too big.
The thing about being overweight is that it mostly comes from eating too much food. I know we all look for miracle diets, but if you don't eat as much you'll actually lose weight, simple as. There are countless reasons as to why we are going to have 50% of the country suffering from obesity by 2030 - some of these include poor home cooking and lack of exercise, but we seriously need to rethink the restaurant serving sizes as they currently stand, too.
A good restaurant should be about licking the plate clean, savouring every last morsel and walking it off afterwards. It shouldn't be about staggering out with the meat sweats, feeling bloated and needing to have a nap for a couple of hours. Restaurants will have to take the lead on this, and have confidence to go back to smaller sizes because the customer is never going to ask for it. But the way I see it, if people want more food let them order a little side order and charge them for it.
Restaurants, take note! If you start cutting things back it could be the first step in the right direction to combat our obesity epidemic.