Crab Cake at Grand Geneva Chophouse, photo David Hammond

Sheeplike, we usually follow the “coursed” dinner presentation of appetizer/entrée/dessert. Some cultures elaborate upon that basic three-step model – in Italy there’s antipasti, primi, secondi, dolce, etc. – but basically, it’s a three-step progression.

Though perhaps a bold assertion, I propose having only appetizers for dinner. Granted, it takes steely discipline to allow your eyes roam no further than the first menu section, but for the brave, the truly heroic, it’s a dinner of *only* appetizers.

Recently, we went up to Wisconsin to stay at the Grand Geneva and catch an eyeful of autumn colors. After an afternoon riding e-bikes (my favorite form of simulated exercise), we’d worked up an appetite and went to Grand Geneva’s ChopHouse, but not with chops on the mind: I only had eyes for appetizers.

Oysters Rockefeller from the Grand Geneva Chop House Credit David Hammond

I’m very fond of Oysters Rockefeller, a common starter I don’t usually order because with the creamy spinach and cheese, I fear I’d be full before entrées arrive. At ChopHouse, I fearlessly dove into the very good Oysters Rockefeller, enjoying every one. The crab cake was also exceptionally good, and I devoured it with gusto as I didn’t feel compelled to “save room” for lots more. I did want a little more, however, and a tartare of luscious wagyu beef was pretty much all I had room to consume.

There are many reasons why it makes sense to have only appetizers for dinner.

Appetizers are appetizing. And isn’t that what all good food should be? Because they’re designed to be visually exciting and super-tasty, appetizers are, in a way, perfect food.

Portion control is important, and with appetizers, you order a few, and if you’re still hungry, order another. Dealing with smaller quantities of food makes it’s easier to regulate food intake.

Physiologically, “feeling full is a result of your brain reacting to chemicals released when you put food or drink in your stomach. Your brain takes around 20 minutes to register these chemicals.” If you gobble without pause, like Joey Chestnut housing Nathan’s hot dogs on Labor Day, you can slam vast quantities before realizing you’re full to bursting. If you start with appetizers, however, you can pause, then order more as needed.

We love a big, juicy steak, but about half-way through, we slow down, and it becomes laborious just to finish the darn, though delicious, thing. It gets boring. Appetizers are never boring.

Recently, we had dinner of tapas at Mercat a la Planxa in the Blackstone Hotel, and had some delicious sea bass, baby kale salad and other Spanish small plates. Eating a tapas dinner is a lot like eating only appetizers for dinner. The tapas “trend” in the US, which started sometime in the 80s, shows no signs of letting up. The people have spoken they want small plates (appetizers) for dinner.

The quantities of restaurant food destined for the dumpster could feed a small village. By ordering only appetizers, you finish more of what you’ve ordered and thereby limit the scandalous waste. You will, in effect, be making a better world…and that’s what heroes do.

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David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...