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Restaurant Menus: The Complete Guide 2020

Ever heard of menu engineering? It’s an entire field of study dedicated to strategically structuring restaurant menus to increase their profitability. To successfully make profitable restaurant menus, it’s necessary to do.

But to get there, you should have a solid understanding of the different kinds of menus out there. That’s why we put this guide together.

We’re going to go over some of the most common and popular menu types. Along with touching on what we feel the future of bar and restaurant menus are. The digital menu.

Menu Basics

The very basics first. A menu is a list of items available for purchase or that will be provided. Applied to hospitality, those items are food and drinks.

Though the word menu has many applications. Think of a cable provider with a menu of channels, for example.

The Five Primary Restaurant Menus

There are five primary types of menu. We’ll cover them briefly here. For the more important menus, we have links out to more specific articles that go more in depth.

Static Menu

Static menus are large, permanent menus divided into categories. They’re probably the most common menu around today. And they’re what you think of when you think of bar and restaurant menus.

They tend to be most popular with guests because they have the most amount of options, they don’t change, and they’re easy to navigate.

Think of McDonald’s menu, for example. That’s a static menu. Or think of the thick, plastic-coated bound menus you get when you go out to a diner with lots of breakfast and lunch options. A static menu shows everything that a restaurant offers in categories. Like appetizers, salads, entrees, etc. And for drinks that’s usually shorts, beer, wine, etc. it may be shots, cocktails, beer, and wine.

Cycle Menu

Cycle menus offer menu items on the same time of day or day of the week, repeatedly. Think of a pizza parlor that offers a certain type of pizza on Monday, another on Tuesday, and so on. If they repeat those same pizza types on those same days the following week, it’s a cycle menu.

Cycle menus are useful in two ways. First, they accommodate small cooking operations that don’t have the resources to cook food to order. And second, they can act as a rotating set of promotions on top of a static menu.

Du Jour Menu

Du jour is French for “of the day.”A du jour menu changes every day. It all depends on what the chef has available or has prepared. change daily, depending on what’s available or what the chef prepared. So, “soup du jour” means the soup that’s available today. The next day, the soup is likely to change. And the soup du jour on the same day next week will likely not be the same as it was this week. That, of course, would be a cycle menu.

A La Carte

A la carte dishes are ordered separately. They aren’t part of a multi-course meal. Typically, if you order roast chicken a la carte, you get the chicken and that’s it.

The defining feature of the a la carte menu isn’t so much that the chicken served is on its lonesome (though it usually is). Because sometimes it may come with a small side or a garnish.  The real defining feature is that the chicken served is plated differently than the way the dish is on the full menu. It’s a scaled-down version. And 99% of the time that means it’s served by itself.

A la carte menu items are usually a touch more expensive, pound-for-pound, than their equivalents on the regular menu. That’s usually because you’re not paying for high-margin side dishes, so the restaurant needs to make that up. A menu made up entirely of a la carte dishes is an a la carte menu. 

Fixed Menus

A fixed menu has only a few options (if any choices at all) and is a set total price. There are two primary types of fixed menus in restaurants. Table d’hote menus and prix fixe menus. Let’s look at each.

Table d’Hote Menu

Table d’hote menus offer multi-courses meals (with choices for each course) at a set total price. Table d’hote means “table of the host” and pronounced as “tabluh-doht.”

Basically, the host, or the chef, or the restaurant is offering you a relatively specific and structured meal. You don’t have the same freedom as a static or a la carte menu, but that’s good. That’s be design. The chef has determined that the offerings on the table d’hote menu are ideal combinations. They put it all together for you. All you gotta do is choose one of a few appetizers, one of a few entrees, and one of a few desserts. It’s an incredibly ideal setup for a diner. 

Prix Fixe Menu

Prix fixe is pronounced “pre-fix” and is French for fixed price. It’s a fairly generic name that can apply to any fixed menu, really. And a prix fixe menu is a lot like its fixed menu sibling, the table d’hote menu. But with one shining difference. A prix fixe menu typically doesn’t offer any choices. Prix fixes menus offer multiple courses—from 2 to over 10—but each course has one menu item listed. That’s what you get. And, because it’s a fixed menu, it’s all offered at a set total price.

There are multiple reasons why restaurants roll out prix fixe menus. They:

  • Signal to guests and potential guests that you’re a chef-driven concept that offers curated culinary experiences
  • Drive traffic during slow meal times because they’re usually cheaper than ordering all the same items a la carte
  • Are perfect for special occasions or any other dining experience that strives to go beyond the utilitarian act of eating food
  • Allow chefs to create seasonal and themed menus based on ingredient and dish commonalities

Other Types of Restaurant Menus

Digital Menus

The National Restaurant Association now suggests that paper restaurant menus be discarded after a single use. It’s understandable. Good Morning America found that restaurant menus are the single dirtiest thing on a restaurant table. Almost 16 times dirtier than the next dirtiest item, pepper shakers.

So, using a digital menu is a good bet. Because it’s an entirely contactless menu experience. But there are two primary kinds. Menu apps and menus that use QR codes. Let’s look into each.

Menu Apps

A menu app is a downloadable application—a piece of software—that exists solely to show you a bar or restaurant’s menu. They’re mostly designed for mobile devices, so they’re mobile apps.

Menu apps provide a rich, detailed experience, easy navigation, and the ability to send customers push notifications. But they’re coded from the ground up. That costs a lot of money, a lot of time, and an ongoing commitment to technical maintenance. They also aren’t published on the web, so new customers can’t discover your menu via search engines.

Leveraging QR Codes in Restaurants: Menus

QR stands for “quick response.” A QR code is a scannable barcode that encodes all sorts of information. Images, text, a URL, payment information, you name it. 

Virtually every major cell phone can now scan a QR code with its camera app. Learning how to scan a QR code is almost laughably easy.

Here’s how it works. You create a menu and publish it online. Then you associate that URL with a QR code. When a customer scans the QR code, the URL pops up on your device and you’re taken to the website. There you view the menu. 

The benefits are numerous:

  • It’s a completely touchless menu experience. Never has it been more important to drive a germ-free experience in your bar or restaurant. And a menu that uses QR codes does just that.
  • It’s much cheaper than printing new menus after every use, and it’s much cheaper than coding a menu app from the ground up.
  • It allows you to update your menu almost instantly from anywhere
  • It’s accessible. You can promote your QR code anywhere, and guests can access it wherever they see it as long as they have their smart device.

QR codes aren’t just useful for menus, though. There is a whole slew of QR code marketing that bars and restaurants can take advantage of.

One excellent usage of QR code digital restaurant menus is the digital wine list.

Digital Wine Lists

One thing that makes digital wine lists remarkable is that they’re shown to boost sales. They’re one of the easiest to implement and most profitable restaurant technologies out there. That’s because they leverage familiar technology to make a high-end experience more accessible. They provide valuable context around wine and make the decision-making process fun and easy. 

They also fast-track server training and improve tableside upselling. The longer your staff spends with a clean, easy-to-navigate digital wine list, the more they’ll become the expert on it. And that will give them the ability to confidently make pairing suggestions and talk about wines like they’re old friends. A firmly delivered, confident pairing suggestion is 85% of upselling drinks.  

Beverage Menus

A beverage menu is a separate menu or portion of a menu that sells alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. They can be cycle menus, status menus, du jour menus, or any combination of those. They’re not typically a la carte menus. We’ll touch on two lesser-studied types here, cocktail menus and food and wine pairing menus. 

Cocktail Menus

A cocktail menu is a type of beverage menu that has a good mix of base liquors, glassware employed, and flavor profiles. By glassware we mean the use of a snifter, say, for brandy-based drinks, and old fashioned glasses for an old fashioned. Don’t discount variance in glassware on the customer experience. Much like beverage menus in general, a cocktail menu can be static, cycle, or du jour and is typically not a la carte.

Food and Wine Pairing Menus

A food and wine pairing menu is a menu that encourages the enjoyment of a certain type of good with a certain type of wine, together. This can happen in multiple ways.

The menu can pair a specific wine with a specific dish. Either for a fixed total price or as a suggestion to purchase them separately but consume them together.

A food and wine pairing menu can also suggest multiple wine pairings with one specific dish. Beneath a menu item are a few potential wine pairings. Again, the wine and the food can be offered at a fixed total price or the menu can simply be making recommendations.

And, finally, a food and wine pairing menu can take a wide-angle approach. Instead of recommending one or numerous pairings, the menu provides general pairing guidelines. Something along the lines of saying a menu item “pairs well with light-bodied, dry whites” could be enough.

Dessert Menus

Dessert menus show up at the end of a meal. It’s the separate menu or section of a menu that lists only the desserts. It can be a la carte, static, du jour, or cycle, or be part of a fixed menu.

Industry Menus

A menu tailored to other members of the hospitality industry is called an industry menu. That may mean the offering of certain food or drink items that aren’t available publicly, or that regular menu items are discounted. These types of industry menus go hand-in-hand with what are called “industry nights.” Specific nights when the industry menu is available to hospitality folks. Hey, that sounds like a cycle menu, doesn’t it?

Restaurant Menus, They’re Wonderful

Menus are the cornerstone of hospitality. But they’re changing rapidly, and for good reason. For today’s bar- and restaurant-goers, cleanliness is top of mind. Because cleanliness is safety.

The best way to work toward a germ-free dining experience and align yourself with the public’s new expectations is to embrace digital menus. No matter the type of menu your business offers.

They’re cheaper, easier to update, easier to market, and exponentially cleaner than physical menus. There’s no reason not to make the switch. And BinWise can help you do it. Get in touch, and we’ll show you just how easy it is.