We love prix fixe menus. That’s because they’re an exciting, stress-free guided tour of a chef’s passions. Of the best a restaurant has to offer.
Here are some analogies we came up with that seem similar:
- Attending a wine tasting with a certified sommelier
- Visiting a planetarium with Neil deGrasse Tyson
- Sitting shotgun as Jeremy Clarkson drives you along a scenic stretch of highway
Dining off a chef-driven set menu is probably like these. You are deferring to an expert. It’s at once relaxing and stimulating. There is much to be discovered and appreciated.
Using a prix fixe menu has a whole host of benefits for bars and restaurants, too. So let’s look into what, exactly, these menus are, why they’re great, and how to make one.
What Is a Prix Fixe Menu?
A prix fixe menu offers a multi-course meal at a fixed total price. The number of courses can vary from 2 to over 10. Sometimes you may have options to choose from within each course. Though, commonly, the menu does not provide choices within courses.
A table d’hote menu typically does offer those choices. It’s another type of fixed menu. But, in general, the phrase prix fixe refers to a set menu at a fixed price.
Prix Fixe Meaning
Prix fixe is French for fixed price. That’s the basic prix fixe definition. It’s sometimes incorrectly spelled prixe fixe, so watch out for that. Applied to a menu, it means diners get a collection of menu items for a set total price. It is the exact opposite of an a la carte menu.
Prix Fixe Pronunciation
Prix fixe is pronounced “pree-fix.” You’ll sometimes see that pronunciation reflected in menus spelled prefix. That spelling reflects exactly how to pronounce it, so it’s understandable. But it should be spelled prix fixe.
Prix Fixe Menus in Restaurants: A Brief History
Around 200 years ago, in France, the first heavily-trafficked public dining establishments weren’t solely restaurants. They were taverns, playhouses, and inns. On any given visit, people spent a fair amount of time at places like these. So it made sense to offer food. But it wasn’t practical to take their individual orders. Supply chains and cooking operations weren’t that sophisticated yet. The only way to realistically feed a group was to feed them the same thing. The birth of the set menu wasn’t to deliver curated experiences. It was to cost-effectively serve groups.
As time went on, food distribution became more robust, and a la carte menus grew in popularity. Over the years, these old world beauties became as much or more about chef-driven experiences than they did about making life easier for restaurants. So why use one today?
Why Have a Prix Fixe Menu?
There are a bunch of compelling reasons to use a fixed price menu in a modern restaurant. There are also a lot of benefits.
Signal Fine Dining
There are many fine dining restaurants that run only prix fixe menus. Many diners associate set price menus with old world sophistication, owing to the menu’s history. For 100 years, the hospitality industry has leveraged that association to good effect.
Prix fixe menus can cause a bit of sticker shock. Committing to the total price of a meal beforehand is psychologically different than ordering individual items piecemeal. But the folks who go to fine dining restaurants are typically prepared to shell out for it. So laying down a bunch of money on a fixed price menu is within their expectations.
If you want to communicate that your business provides an upscale experience, a fixed price menu is a powerful signal.
Signal Chef Expertise
A prix fixe menu is basically the guest saying to the chef and the restaurant, “you do you.” They’re menus that showcase the chef’s talent, the restaurant’s expertise, and the concept’s approach to dining. The restaurant takes the wheel and the guests go along for the ride. This is obviously great for people who deeply appreciate talented chefs and thoughtful menus. The experts choose the food. You just eat it. It’s a guided tour.
Like we said, the total cost of a prix fixe menu can be shocking. But it’s usually a better deal than ordering every one of those items a la carte. That’s why set price menus are often used as high-value promotions to drive traffic.
They’re especially useful to drive traffic during slow periods. Lunch, for example, is a challenging time of day for a lot of bars and restaurants. Especially if they’re not located near walking traffic in business districts.
It’s the same logic as ordering an extra value meal from a fast food restaurant. If you order in bulk, you’ll get a discount.
Whether or not your set price menu is communicating chef-driven value or money-saving value largely depends on your reputation. And how you present and market your prix fixe menu.
Prix fixe menus are most common in the U.S. during holidays and other special occasions. Thanksgiving is a prime example of why set menus are convenient for restaurants. Everyone expects and is satisfied with similar food on Thanksgiving. So a restaurant runs little risk in making large batches of a few menu items.
It’s similar for Christmas and Valentine’s Day. While specific types of food aren’t as associated with these days as Thanksgiving, diners are still foremost after a dining experience.
And that’s the beauty of this type of menu. It’s an experience. A culinary guided tour, like we’ve been repeating maybe too frequently. And sharing that experience with friends and family on significant days makes both the meal and the holiday even better.
Seasons and Themes
Lots of chef-driven concepts have dynamic menus because the menus are the evolving creative expression of the chef. And chefs are often inspired by unique seasonal ingredients or other contextual threads they can weave throughout their menu.
A great way to showcase seasonal ingredients is with a prix fixe menu. The majority of wild mushrooms, for example, only appear in the fall. So let’s say a chef has a good line on fresh wild mushrooms from a trusted vendor. They’ll acquire them and need to use them quickly. A prix fixe menu would be a great vehicle to experience wild mushrooms and autumnal flavors.
Beyond that, a restaurant can have a thematic menu unrelated to seasonal ingredients. Think of a 3-course seafood-only menu or a set price menu that’s an homage to Canadian cuisine on July 1st, Canada Day. There are limitless themes out there. What connects them all is that they become culinary experiences by using a prix fixe menu.
Just make sure it’s not a bald play for sales. Any food you put on this type of menu should be genuinely inspiring to your chef and worth the price of admission.
Benefits of a Prix Fixe Menu
The above reasons for using a fixed price menu touch on many of their benefits. But let’s zero in on them. Set price menus:
- Allow for much more accurate forecasting of food items needed and price per head
- Make menu engineering easier because there are less variables to test
- Signal to guests that you’re offering an experience, not just food
- Are reliable drivers of traffic if positioned as something similar to value meals
- Showcase your chef’s talent and creativity
- Communicate to your back of house staff that you believe in their choices and talent
- Make life easier for your front of house staff, because decisions and coursing are streamlined
- Drive word-of-mouth marketing because they’re relatively unique and easy to communicate
- There is less printing and paper costs with such a simple menu. A benefit that digital restaurant menus like digital wine lists, for example, enhance greatly
How to Create a Prix Fixe Menu
Given that a set menu is a culinary itinerary, it requires a lot of thought. You’re not just offering options to guests. You’re dictating their entire dining experience. Let’s look into some design tips, then touch on commonly understood do’s and don’t for creating set price menus.
Prix Fixe Menu Design Tips
Choose a Theme
A theme is the easiest hook into your menu. If you provide context and narrative around the menu options, they’ll have meaning. That instantly makes them more meaningful to guests. A great way to land on a theme is talking to your chef. They’ll know what ingredients are fresh when. And they’ll also be able to provide the creative direction. Because if there is no creative energy behind the dishes, your themed menu will struggle. An excited, inspired chef is the key.
Include Pairing Suggestions
You can include wine, liquor, or beer pairings in each course of your fixed price menu. Or you can include recommendations for a la carte pairings for each course. Either way, providing a food and wine pairing menu gives guests some direction for rounding out their culinary journey. You’ll sell more alcohol and substantially enhance the dining experience.
Think About the End-to-End Flavor Experience
While you’ll be working within a theme, don’t let that constrict you. Let’s use the wild mushrooms as an example again. You’re putting together a fall flavors set price menu inspired by fresh wild mushrooms. Don’t lean so heavily into one flavor profile (mushrooms) that the menu becomes monotonous. On the other hand, don’t use such contrasting flavors that they end up clashing. Think about the dining experience as a story. You’re guiding your guests from the beginning to the end. Every course should naturally lead to the next course, like a chapter in a book. Make the course progression at once logical and at once surprising. It’s not easy, but hey, that’s why chefs are chefs.
Use QR Code Digital Menus
The image of a set price menu with ornate lettering embossed on high-quality cardstock is enduring. But paper menus are the wrong answer. Not just for fixed price menus, but for all menus. Create your set price menu with a restaurant menu bar code and you’ll be creating a convenient, touchless, germ-free experience. Touchless menus are the single most effective way to safely reopen restaurants right now. Here's why they're a great solution for both businesses and guests.
- How many people use QR codes is growing exponentially. With customer expectations firmly on the side of spotless in the wake of COVID-19, it will only keep trending that direction.
- They're easy to make. If you want to make a QR code for a PDF menu or a menu you've published on a website, it's simple. You just upload a file and click a button. Beware, though, that there are a lot of QR code risks if you're going to use a free online QR code generator website.
- They're easy to use. Take one look at how to scan a QR code or how to deal with being unable to scan a QR code and you'll see that, from a customer perspective, operation is simple.
- They're versatile. How QR codes are used depends on you, because the possibilities are almost limitless. You can use a simple static QR code or a dynamic QR code. You can engage in QR code marketing, contactless ordering, or touchless payments.
- They're far cheaper and easier to maintain than menu apps. Any time you have to code something from the ground up, like a menu app, it's going to cost you enormous amounts of time, effort, and expertise. A QR menu doesn't require any of that.
Prix Fixe Menu: Do’s and Don’ts
After years of working with bar and restaurant management to optimize operations, we’ve collected a handy list of do’s and don’ts for rolling out fixed price menus.
- Do use during restaurant week. Restaurant week is a great opportunity to roll out and test a fixed price menu. People expect these types of menus during restaurant week.
- Do use on special occasions and holidays. Guests are also not surprised when they encounter set menus on special occasions and holidays. Take advantage of these days to leverage all the benefits a fixed price menu offers.
- Do use for quick lunches. Dipping in and out of a restaurant for lunch is a lot easier with a set menu. Offer a quick, set lunch for the working crowd.
- Do combine with a la carte options. It never hurts to have some a la carte options on the bottom or off to the side of your set price menu. You can even recommend them in the dish’s actual description. It’s a tried-and-true way to upsell.
- Don’t make it overly complicated. If you have all of everything, you may as well have nothing. Lean more toward “less is more” when you’re creating your menu, and let the combination of dishes tell the story.
- Don’t prepare everything to order. This will slow your kitchen down massively. A great benefit of a set menu is that you know what you’ll need. Take advantage of this by prepping everything you can before service begins.
- Don’t stick rigidly to a theme. Some contrast is good. To the point that it starts to clash is bad. Find creative and surprising ways to work within your theme.
- Don’t have a no substitutions rule. Some kitchens prep everything in advance, to the point where substitutions are impossible. Try to avoid that, given individual health and allergy issues.
Don’t have over 6 courses. If you want to have 10 courses, you can. Just know that having 10 courses for the sake of having 10 courses isn’t wise. If you legitimately have enough inspiration and material to create and deliver 10 high-quality courses, go for it. But for most establishments, the sweet spot is around 3-6 courses.
Sample Prix Fixe Menu
Here's an example of a prix fixe menu from a restaurant we made up! Hopefully it gives you a good idea of how prix fixe menus are typically structured.
The Experiential Menu
Fixed price menus are relatively easy to roll out, useful ways to communicate a chef-driven approach, and often signal value.
Menus are ultra important for restaurants, obviously. But creating lots of different kinds of menus can incur mountains of printing and paper costs. Oh, they’re also the single dirtiest item on a restaurant table. And with a dining public that’s more conscious than ever before of germs, they’re a bit of a risk.
Thankfully, those two problems have a simple solution. Custom QR code-based digital menus can be created quickly by inexpensive, reliable restaurant technology. They’re a totally touchless and agile solution that can accommodate every type of menu. A cocktail menu, a wine list, a table d’hote menu. And, yes, a prix fixe menu. Using digital menus is an easy way to create and deploy fixed price menus on the cheap.
If you haven’t looked into digitizing your menus yet, you should. It’ll allow you to quickly and cheaply utilize as many types of menu as you want. And you’ll do your part to guarantee a germ-free dining experience for your guests.