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Sarah Ward

Types of Menu: 5 Types of Menus to Use In Your Restaurant

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There’s a whole field of study around optimizing your food and drink menus known as menu engineering. But the types of menu are often overlooked. Although any bar, restaurant, brunch spot, lounge, or country club uses menus, it's easy to forget how integral the types of menus are to your business and to customer satisfaction.

Most people may not even know how many types of menus there are. That’s why we’re going to explain the basic types of menu, then we’ll touch on drink menus and dessert menus for good measure. From a static menu, to a fixed menu, to a du jour menu, the menu types are all something you should know if you work in the hotel industry, country clubs, guest retention, restaurant tech resources, or if your job involves hosting brunch (see also: brunch menu).

If you want to dive even deeper in restaurant lingo, you can check out the article we have on the topic. From 86 meaning to free pour and everything in between, you will become a real pro at understanding the specific terms.

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What Is a Menu? A Menu Definition

Let’s get the very basics out of the way first, for the uninitiated. Those basics boil down to the question of what is menu meaning for different restaurants and meals. The traditional menu definition is a list of food or drink items available for purchase, or a list of food or drink items that will be served. That can be a seasonal menu, a fixed menu, or something in between. While the majority of the time the meaning of menu is applied to food and beverages, that’s not always the case.

The word menu is also used frequently in the context of electronic devices and computer programs. There it usually refers to a navigable list of options a user can interact with.

That goes to show, the different types of menu you can work with are vast and varied. That said, types of menu, in this context, are all about food and beverage menus.

And, of course, the meaning of menu can be applied in virtually any context where a list of services or options is presented to a customer or user. Think of a dog groomer with a menu of services.

How Many Types of Menus Are There?

There are five primary types of menu. Below is some information about them along with some more specific types of menus that aren’t considered primary menu types. Knowing the difference will help you know how to price a menu.

What Are The Five Types of Menus?

The five types of menus most commonly used are a la carte menus, static menus, du jour menus, cycle menus, and fixed menus.

What Is an a La Carte Menu?

An a la carte menu lists the prices for each item separately, like in a drinks menu. While the prices tend to be higher, a la carte menus have more flexibility. Customers can choose individual items and combine them any way they want. They can even make up their own lamb wine pairing.

Where Does a La Carte Come from?

A la carte is a French phrase that translates literally as “by the card” and roughly as “according to the menu.” It began being used in the early 19th century and is not exclusive to food. For example, a subscription to a cable provider can have a la carte channel selection. That means customers choose which channels they want individually instead of having a set channel package. It's one of the preferred types of menu.

What’s Another Word for a La Carte?

Phrases like “from the menu” and “individually priced” communicate that a menu or section of a menu is a la carte. It all boils down to items being priced separately, as add-ons to your meal. This can happen with sides or very specific dishes. It's what you can expect from a drink menu, too.

What Is a Du Jour Menu?

Du jour menus change daily, depending on what’s available or what the chef prepared. So, “chicken du jour” means the chicken that’s available today. Likewise, “soup du jour” is the soup that’s available today. It can be a drink menu if you serve different iced teas or homemade lemonades each day, for example.

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What Does Du Jour Mean?

Du jour is a French phrase that means “of the day.” It often applies to menus because the du jour menu items are only available for a limited time. This can be a daily special. It can, also, however, be something that is available for a short time period, but longer than a day, before it is taken off the menu.

What Is a Cycle Menu?

A cycle menu is a menu or part of a menu that has repeated options over a specific period of time. The cycle menu definition is fairly intuitive given its name.

Think of a sandwich shop that offers a certain sandwich on Monday. Then another sandwich on Tuesday. And so on for the rest of the week. If they stick to those sandwiches on those days and repeat that week after week, it’s a cycle menu.

Cycle menus are often used for two reasons. One is that the cooking operation is relatively small and doesn’t have the resources to cook-to-order items off a larger menu. The second is for daily specials, like a happy hour menu.

A bar or restaurant may have a static menu that anchors its offerings, but a cycle menu on top of it. That cycle menu showcases the same collection of special offers on the same days throughout the week.

What Is a Static Menu?

A static menu is a larger menu, typically divided into categories, that doesn’t change very often. It’s the most widely used menu today, and it’s what you likely think of when you think of menus.

That’s because the majority of fine dining restaurants and bars out there utilize a static menu. They typically provide the best customer experience because of the amount of options they provide, their consistency, and their easy navigation. It's customer satisfaction in restaurant industry 101.

The fact that a static menu doesn’t change very often means the customer experience is consistent. But the fact that static menus are large makes that consistent experience full of possibility. A static menu typically presents everything a bar or restaurant offers. Depending on whatever restaurant technology is being employed, it can be on digital display boards, or paper food and drink menus. You can even leverage a restaurant menu bar code. It may contain some a la carte ordering options, some meal options, some du jour options, and some cyclical options.

And, as we mentioned, food and beverage in a static menu are usually categorized into different groups. For food this may be appetizers, salads, entrees, etc. For drinks it may be shots, cocktails, beer, and wine. This makes static menus particularly easy to navigate. It also provides good strategies for boosting restaurant SEO when you can increase your online visibility around consistent menu offerings.

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What Is a Fixed Menu?

A fixed menu is a menu with few options and a fixed total price. It can be confused with static menus because the words, outside of the context of menu names, are similar. But the fixed menu definition is far different from that of the static menu.

A fixed menu is also commonly called a set menu, and there are two common types. The table d’hote menu and the prix fixe menu.

What Is a Table d’Hote Menu?

A table d’hote menu is a menu that offers a choice of appetizer, entree, and dessert all at a fixed total price. It’s the set menu that provides the most freedom.

A common table d’hote setup has a diner choosing one appetizer from two options, one entree from two or three options, and one dessert from two options. And the total price doesn’t change. The fact that there are few options and a set total price make it a fixed menu, but with some variability.

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What Is a Prix Fixe Menu?

A prix fixe menu is a fixed menu with little to no variability for a fixed total price. It typically includes an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert. While guests can usually modify these based on dietary restrictions or preferences, there is only one option to choose from per course. Wine pairing menus that include things like a wine pairing with salmon or a turkey wine pairing are often prix fixe menus. 

Unless, of course, you choose a prix fixe menu at a different price point. There may be an option with one appetizer for $30 total, and another option with a different appetizer for $35 total. So, while there may be different options to choose from for each course, they are not all tied to the same fixed total price.

A prix fixe menu is similar to a table d’hote menu, just without the choices. In that sense, it’s less a selection of choices and more a list of what will be served. Prix fixe menus may seem rigid, but they’re excellent choices for chef-driven restaurants that want food items served as the kitchen intends.

"Key Takeaway: The traditional menu definition is a list of food or drink items available for purchase, or a list of food or drink items that will be served."

Frequently Asked Questions About Other Types of Menu

What Is a Beverage Menu?

A beverage menu is any menu or section of a menu that sells alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. It can be a static, du jour, or cycle menu. Drink menus are typically not a la carte menus. A digital wine list is a good example of the various menus out there.

What Is a Cocktail Menu?

A cocktail menu is a specific type of beverage menu or section of a drink menu. A good cocktail menu has a mix of base liquors, glassware, and flavors. It should also have one or two seasonal cocktails. Like beverage menus, it can be a static, du jour, or cycle menu and not a la carte.

What Is a Dessert Menu?

Typically viewed at the end of a meal (like a 5-course meal), a dessert menu is a menu or section of a menu that lists only the desserts. It can be an a la carte, static, du jour, or cycle menu.

What Is an Industry Menu?

An industry menu is a bar or restaurant menu that is specifically tailored to other members of the hospitality industry. While that may mean special food and drink items not available publicly, it most often means regular menu items at a discounted price.

Often industry menus go hand-in-hand with industry nights. Those are specific nights when the industry menu is available to folks who work in food and beverage.

What Is Digital Menu?

A digital menu is a restaurant, bar, or hotel menu that displays its content digitally—via screen—instead of printed on paper. There are two primary types of digital menus: menu apps and QR code menus.

A big benefit for either is that, if you partner with the right technology company, your digital menu will be ADA compliant out of the box. That saves you a lot of money on ADA remediation and potential legal fees.

They're also quite good for restaurant SEO.

What are Menu Apps?

Menu apps are touchless menus, though they require download for use. They also require a business to build something to download: a standalone app from the ground up. It takes a lot of effort, money, and know-how to code an app from scratch. The alternative, a static or dynamic QR code, is a much more elegant solution.

What are QR Code-Based Menus?

A QR code based menu leverages the ease and convenience of the now-ubiquitous QR code. Once you create a QR code PDF or HTML file (which is easy to do with QR code generators, though there are some QR code risks with free online services), you're almost done. Just print it out and put it on a QR code template. And it may also help to include some information about how to scan a QR code on iPhone or Android and solutions for anyone unable to scan a QR code.

Beyond menus, QR code uses are quite numerous. Here's some more info about QR code strategy and statistics on QR codes.

What Is a Family-Style Menu?

A family-style menu involves serving dishes in large portions to be shared among everyone at the table. It helps create a communal dining experience and is often seen in Italian, Chinese, or other family-oriented cuisines.

What Is a Tasting Menu?

A tasting menu is a curated selection of smaller portions of a restaurant's signature dishes. It offers guests a chance to experience a variety of flavors and cooking techniques in a single sitting. There could also be a tasting menu of the wine list.

What Is a Hybrid Menu?

A hybrid menu combines elements of different menu styles. Common combination is of à la carte and prix fixe types of menu. It provides people with a range of choices to suit their preferences.

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Now You Know the Different Types of Menu

Like we said, these are the most commonly used menu names in the food and beverage industries. There are a lot of options when it comes to designing and laying out menus. They're a great way to boost your restaurant or bar’s profitability and doesn’t require a big investment, it's the same for a wine food pairing menu. Just use some creativity. Custom QR code menus are a great example of that.

And if you want to boost your profit margin, think seriously about using a bar inventory system like BinWise for your beverage program. It speeds the entire inventory process up and gives you all the data you need to make profitable decisions. Book a demo and let us show you exactly how BinWise will help.

You should also make sure all your bartenders know the answer to "what does one part mean?" Heck, you should learn it too! Anything that gives you a greater understanding around how to get a liquor license is important to learn.

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