Menus are presentations of food and beverage offerings of a restaurant. They can be table d’hote (set or prix fixe), or in form of a list.
Menus go back to the Song Dynasty in China and have evolved over time.
In some restaurants servers, transmit the menu orally, guests choose what they want. In such establishments, only a few specialties are served.
In a few rural and small restaurants in Europe, the chef comes to the table and discusses what he can create according to the wishes of guests and availability of foodstuffs.
These days, many fast food eateries display their menus on a black board; some have electronic versions that allow managers to change items or prices from their office electronically.
White cloth restaurant menus are the most complex and must be researched well before beginning to compile.
Such mauls can be short or long. Short menus are more practical and allow guests to order quickly, require fewer inventories in the kitchen, and servers can be trained with ease to advise clients. Short menus should be created every three or four months with additions and eliminations of poorly selling dishes, and adjusting prices according to inflation and market fluctuations.
The location, the clientele, average disposable income of the clientele, availability of foodstuffs and taste preferences must be researched before starting to write the menu.
The theme or ethnicity of the restaurant must be considered. An Italian restaurant offering Chinese food would generate little interest, and confidence. Similarly, a steak house featuring seafood dishes creates suspicions, but there days some North American restaurants offer, at least one vegetarian dish.
Table d’hote menus consist simply of an appetizer, main course, salad, dessert and coffee or tea. Such menus can be expanded to: a cold appetizer followed by a hot one, then a soup, entremet, sorbet, main course, salad, cheese selection, dessert, petit fours, coffee or tea. Needless to say, portions are very small.
Regular menus should offer appetizers (hot and cold), soups (including a soup of the day), main courses, salads, desserts, and beverages.
The language must be clear and uniform (i.e English words only, or French, or German, but never two languages in one sentence)
In restaurant catering to an international clientele (mostly metropolitan hotels) menus should be written in two or three popular languages i.e English, French, or German. If the establishment is catering to Russians, and Chinese or Japanese either one should be included for ease in ordering.
Some restaurants use numbers in front of each listing to facilitate ordering.
On some menus each dish is briefly explained (for example Chicken Marechal (breaded, pan-fried chicken breast, sautéed asparagus, tomato, and roasted potatoes).
A few decades ago, and even today small restaurant chefs used to compose the menu daily according to availability of fresh foodstuffs purchased in the morning. Such menus can be written on blackboards, or calligraphed on refined, thick paper, or simply created on a computer and printed.
Some very modern establishments give clients a tablet containing the menu and the beverage list. Young and computer savvy guests love to play with such gadgets before deciding their order.
Servers take orders on their hand-held computers, and send it immediately to the kitchen with all required details.
By the time the server arrives in the kitchen, the appetizer may be ready for pick up.
Menus must be written in large enough fonts fro all to read comfortably, especially if the clientele is old or elderly.
Portion sizes, if and when applicable, must be on the menu especially if the same dish is offered in different weights, i.e steaks or filets, or roast rib of beef.
All menus must include applicable taxes, gratuity policies of the establishment, and required preparation times (a soufflé requires at least one hour or more, chateaubriand 30 – 45 minutes according to doneness desired), and whether or not foreign currencies are accepted.
A few Far eastern restaurants display menus created in wax and guests simply point to the dish. In others, each item is accompanied by a colour picture to make it easy to order.
In all cases menus must be truthful, i.e if an item is offered from a region famous for its seafood, it must originate there.
While in Europe inspectors drop in unannounced and ask the owner/chef to provide proof of such claims, in North America no such practice exists and often fraudulent restaurateurs claim food with pedigree and charge accordingly, but deliver fakes that lack authentic flavour.
Pricing of menus must commensurate with the level of food quality, presentation, service, accoutrements, and environment.
A satisfied guest is the best advertising for a restaurant, but an utterly disappointed guest creates enough negative advertising that could in the long run bankrupt the establishment.