Cheesecake Factory is slimming down

/ Source: CNBC

Cheesecake Factory, a restaurant chain that built its fortune on generous portions, is slimming down a bit. And it’s listening to changing consumer tastes.

In a new menu being tested first in Los Angeles, customers of Cheesecake Factory will now be able to ask for smaller portions of a dozen popular dishes (and don’t worry — you can still get full-sized portions if you prefer them).

“This menu change for us is by far the most creative and the most aggressive that we have attempted to do in well over a decade,” said Bob Okura, Cheesecake Factory’s head of culinary development.

The change is being tested as the Food and Drug Administration encourages restaurants to offer smaller portions. But the move is not just to fight off the fat police. Smaller dishes carry smaller price tags, and that’s important when customers have $3 gasoline on their minds, notes Okura.

Indeed, sales have softened across the restaurant industry of late, and Cheesecake Factory has watched its stock tumble 25 percent since February.

Another health-conscious change being tested in Los Angeles restaurants: Completely trans fat-free food menus. Okura and his team went through 20 different trans fat-free products in order to find one that maintained good flavor, and with the clock ticking toward today one last menu item was giving him trouble: The sweet corn tamales.

In a blind taste test, Okura sampled three versions of the dish: One with a trans fat-free product, followed by the current version, which has trans fats. And finally he tasted one with butter that ironically does not have trans fats.

Butter won out in the end, even though it’s more expensive. What’s the difference? It’s creamier explains Okura.

The trans fat experiment, if it works, will be rolled out nationwide in two months. But some things at Cheesecake Factory won’t be changing — the cheesecakes. After all, you don’t mess with success. But you can tinker with everything else.