Thank you, France. You are so lovely.
The prix fixe menu is one of the most iconic types of menu out there. All thanks to our liberty-loving sisters and brothers across the ocean.
200 years ago, in France, the first heavily-trafficked public dining establishments were different from our restaurants today. They certainly were not what we think of when we think of European restaurants and the word prix fixe. They were taverns, playhouses, and inns. And when people gathered there, it wasn’t practical to take their individual orders. Cooking operations weren’t so sophisticated yet.
The only way to feed a group was to feed them the same thing. That’s the birth of the fixed menu. Of course, then, it was just called “the menu.”
As time went on, supply chains became more robust. And a la carte menus grew in popularity. So the original menu was distinguished from newer menus. It became known as the prix fixe menu, and English speakers adopted that French term.
It’s still widely used today, so let’s look a little closer at prix fixe meaning.
What is a Prix Fixe Menu?
The meaning of prix fixe menu is a menu that offers a multi-course meal at a fixed total price. The number of courses can vary from 2 to over 10. And sometimes you may have options to choose from within each course. Though, commonly, a prix fixe 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.
What Does Prix Fixe Mean?
Prix fixe is French for fixed price. That’s the fundamental 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.
How to Pronounce Prix Fixe
The prix fixe pronunciation is pretty easy. You pronounce prix fixe “pree-fix.” You’ll sometimes see that pronunciation reflected in menus spelled prefix. That spelling reflects exactly how to pronounce prix fixe, so it’s understandable. But it should be spelled prix fixe.
Why Are Prix Fixe Menus Used?
Some restaurants only use prix fixe menus. And the restaurants that do that tend to be upscale concepts with higher price points. Though, of course, all sorts of restaurants can run a prix fixe menu.
Some roll them out for special occasions. Some use them to highlight seasonal items or themes. Some to drive value. They’re a useful tool for a restaurant—whether they’re paper menus or you utilize QR codes in restaurants.
Here are the five primary circumstances in which you’ll encounter one of these old world beauties.
Signaling Chef Expertise
There are two reasons upscale chef-driven concepts are more prone to using prix fixe menus.
First, prix fixe menus tend to 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 these types of restaurants are typically prepared to shell out for it. So laying down a bunch of money on a prix fixe menu is within their expectations.
Second, a prix fixe menu is basically the guest saying to the chef and the restaurant, “you do you.” Prix fixe menus are meant to 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. And people are willing to pay a lot of money for it. You let the experts choose, create, and serve the food. You just eat it. It’s like any other guided tour.
Like we said, the total cost of a prix fixe menu is often a bit shocking. But it’s usually a better deal than ordering every one of those items a la carte. That’s why prix fixe 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 prix fixe 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 prix fixe 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 the prix fixe menu. It’s an experience. A culinary guided tour, like we touched on. 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.
Chefs are often inspired by unique seasonal ingredients. And 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 prix fixe menu or a prix fixe 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 a prix fixe menu should be worth the price of admission.
The Benefits of Prix Fixe Menus
The above circumstances in which prix fixe menus are used communicate a lot of their benefits, but let’s zero-in on them. They:
- 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
- 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 menus like digital wine lists, for example, enhance greatly
Prix Fixe Menu Example PDF
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.
Prix Fixe Menu: The Experiential Menu
Prix fixe 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. Digital menus can be created quickly by inexpensive, reliable restaurant technology.
A great example of that is the current trend of touchless menus for restaurants. 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.
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.