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Tasting/Prix Fixe Menus - Why does the entire table have to order?

umami Jul 21, 2009 08:38 AM

Six friends and I recently went to a fine dining restaurant in Las Vegas for dinner. One of us had received an email about their $39 three-course Summer Menu and it seemed like a good deal so 7 of us decided to go. All of the selections on the Summer Menu were already on the regular menu but the overall savings was about $10 when ordering 3 courses. When we sat down and were presented menus, we did not see the summer menu so we asked our waiter if it was being offered that night. He said that, it was, however, it's was the chef's request that everyone at the table participate. One of our friends is a vegetarian and there were no vegetarian options on the Summer Menu so that mean that the other 6 of us could not order the menu that we had specifically come in for. Our waiter was firm that this was the chef's rule. We even joked that our vegetarian friend would sit at another table. Our waiter tried to reason that all of the items on the Summer Menu were available à la carte and that we could still eat the dishes we wanted to eat, it would just be a few dollars more. He tried to convince us that the Summer Menu was not such a great deal after all.

We finally gave up and just ordered off the regular menu, some of us ordering three courses, and some of us ordering only one or two. In the end, our food bill was less than if they had broken the chef's rule and let just six of us order the Summer Menu. Was this a classic bait and switch or it there a legitimate reason why restaurants impose the rule that everyone at the table must order a prix fixe or tasting menu? Does it have to do with production in the kitchen, division of labor, or timing of service?

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    estnet RE: umami Jul 21, 2009 09:43 AM

    I can understand for a tasting menu (lots of courses difficult to pair with other people who are not having so many courses), but if this had happened to me with a 3 course prix fixe I might have left the restaurant - just doesn't seem customer friendly at all.

    1 Reply
    1. re: estnet
      umami RE: estnet Jul 21, 2009 10:05 AM

      What angered and confused me most was the whole "Chef says" explanation. Does it really affect the kitchen all that much if it's a 7 top ordering the prix fixe versus a 6 top ordering prix fixe and a 1 top ordering à la carte? Maybe a chef can weigh in on this?

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      RGC1982 RE: umami Jul 21, 2009 10:26 AM

      It has nothing at all to do with the kitchen nor the chef's preference. I worked in a restaurant many years ago, and I believe that they want to be sure that your table does not "get away" with sharing a plate with someone who ordered a less expensive, single course. It reminds me of how places with AYCE options insist that the whole table orders that way.

      I'd consider this nickel-and-diming, and at the prices that you were paying, (versus the AYCE $9.99 buffets you can find all over the Strip), you are entitled to better service. At the very least, I would find it insulting. Besides, what's the big deal if you shared? Were you really beating the restaurant out of profits? Your example proves that they would have been better off letting you what you wanted to do in the first place.

      1. mtngirlnv RE: umami Jul 21, 2009 11:00 AM

        A misguided attempt on the restaurant's part, that is certain. And if I had been the waiter, I would have gone to the management, asked for an exception, and more than likely would have gotten a bigger tip for the extra effort.

        1 Reply
        1. re: mtngirlnv
          hotoynoodle RE: mtngirlnv Jul 26, 2009 05:11 PM

          especially with the vegetarian issue.

        2. r
          Rick RE: umami Jul 23, 2009 12:17 PM

          While I can't give you an answer, I'll just say that I've always been curious about this requirement myself. Seems especially foolish to say no to 6 out of 7 customers.

          1. im_nomad RE: umami Jul 23, 2009 02:03 PM

            this makes zero sense to me, except I guess in the sense that RGC1982 is saying, they want to make sure no one "gets away with anything", which I do suspect is what happened here. What if there'd been a child at the table, who didn't want a three course meal ?

            Perhaps they could have stood over your vegetarian friend while they ate, to make sure they weren't pulling a fast one and secretly eating pieces of the others steak *rollseyes*

            As someone who doesn't eat meat, i've eaten plenty of meals with people who ordered from a "specials" or prix fixe menus, while I ordered elsewhere. I've also ordered off menus in restaurants while the rest of the table ate from a buffet. No one's ever given me flack or watched over me to make sure I didn't get any freebies from the buffet or what not. Told my meal would be waiting longer perhaps, but no other problems. I could MAYBE understand this rule in a buffet type place, if one person at a table orders absolutely nothing at all.

            Even with a tasting menu, whats it matter if one person is sitting there eating a green salad while the rest of the table participates ?

            Me? I think I'd have walked out. Ridiculous rule. Looks like they shot themselves in the foot in any regard, and made less money from the group. Good business plan there.

            1. pikawicca RE: umami Jul 23, 2009 02:23 PM

              My favorite restaurant has this rule, and I believe it's a question of pacing the service. Seems strange not to have a vegetarian option, though. I would've asked the chef to come up with one.

              1. Karl S RE: umami Jul 23, 2009 04:07 PM

                me, I would have left.

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                  Harters RE: umami Jul 24, 2009 04:17 AM

                  For a multi-course tasting menu, it seems to make sense for reasons of pacing the meal.

                  I don't think I've ever seen it being a requirement for a whole table to order from an ordinary fixed price menu.

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                    akq RE: umami Jul 26, 2009 05:48 PM

                    I agree it has something to do wtih the resto not wanting the diners to "get away with" sharing the prix fixe...many large multi-course tasting menus have too much food for one person to really eat...if two people could just share one tasting menu the resto would be out serious $$.

                    I think it also has to do with pacing the meal. If some people at the table are having 6 courses, and others are only having an entree, those entree-only people are going to be sitting there with no food in front of them for several courses, which can be uncomfortable. The server would have to monitor not only the pace for the multi-course menu, but also monitor the people having fewer courses, which could be a pain.

                    The only other thought I had was that perhaps the portions on the prix fixe menu weren't as large and they don't want anyone to be able to compare the prix fixe dish to the ala carte dish side by side.

                    That said, your experience was ridiculous. Three courses is hardly enough to cause the kind of problems that might be caused with a larger multi course tasting menu.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: akq
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                      markabauman RE: akq Jul 26, 2009 05:54 PM

                      I've been in restaurants (maybe not Saturday night, prime time), where, say, I've wanted the tasting menu and my better half did not. She may have just wanted to order a la carte. We've been in places where the considerate chef/manager/server- whomever- served me the tasting menu (presumably more, smaller courses), but then asked when and with what plates should her food be brought out. This is great service; and no, it's not at any place they know us as a regular.

                      1. re: markabauman
                        hotoynoodle RE: markabauman Jul 26, 2009 07:00 PM

                        the op's experience was ridiculous -- this prix-fixe was an app, entree and dessert. a normal dinner.

                      2. re: akq
                        im_nomad RE: akq Jul 26, 2009 07:08 PM

                        but if people are willing to sit with no food in front of them, why should the restaurant care ? If i'm a light eater and the rest of my table orders appetizers and desserts, no one stops that.

                        Server just has to ask, IMHO. It's really no different than those times when people order an appetizer for a main, or a soup and salad as a main, usually they just ask, so would you like me to bring that right away, or with the meal ?

                        I mean I agree, that with tasting menus it wouldn't be the fluid experience for all, but again, if the customer is willing to give it a shot, why not.
                        (btw akq, i'm not disputing your post)

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                        adventuresinbaking RE: umami Jul 27, 2009 12:57 PM

                        I think it has to do with pacing and courses. If your friend orders fewer courses, is he or she supposed to sit there and wait while you eat?

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: adventuresinbaking
                          hotoynoodle RE: adventuresinbaking Jul 27, 2009 01:44 PM

                          it's a 3-course meal -- a normal meal. not everybody always gets 3 courses when eating a la carte, competent kitchens manage food timing just fine.

                          1. re: adventuresinbaking
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                            queencru RE: adventuresinbaking Jul 27, 2009 02:02 PM

                            I can see if the restaurant has a 7-course tasting menu since the portion sizes are probably smaller and the pacing is different. With a 3-course menu, it doesn't make any sense. Some people are going to have 4 courses, some will have 3- but either of those should be doable by the kitchen since that happens all the time if some people get apps/salads/soups and others don't.

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                            planetjess RE: umami Jul 27, 2009 03:01 PM

                            I see the policy at about 75% of places where a tasting menu is offered, but never on a three course prix fixe. I also think it's pretty ballsy to call a three course menu a "tasting menu", but anyway... The issue I have with what you describe isn't the policy, it's the lack of a vegetarian option. I eat a lot of tasting menus, as mentioned, at restaurants that require whole table participation--that's up to them, whether it's a pacing issue or whatever reason--but never have I had an experience where they wouldn't accommodate a vegetarian at the table.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: planetjess
                              Miss Needle RE: planetjess Jul 27, 2009 03:46 PM

                              The OP is actually the one who called it a "tasting menu." The restaurant called it a "Summer Menu."

                              I agree that the lack of a vegetarian option on their Summer Menu isn't the most prudent decision.

                              The only reason I could come up with for the lack of the chef accommodating the group is that the portions on the Summer menu are smaller than the regular a la carte. So if one member of the dinner party orders something a la carte, the other diners at the table would notice the discrepancy in size, and the Summer menu wouldn't seem like such a bargain after all.

                            2. mbfant RE: umami Jul 27, 2009 11:59 PM

                              My experience, mostly in Italy, is that tasting menus screw up the synchronization of the courses, so everything runs more smoothly if the whole table is dancing to the same beat, not that this is much of a problem with only three courses. No restaurant (also at high-end restaurants elsewhere) has ever refused to substitute a dish one diner doesn’t like. The case you describe smacks of inexperience and poor training (and instincts) in customer relations. Accommodating a vegetarian while selling six by-the-book menus seems like a no-brainer, so one has to conclude that chef and waiter had no brains.

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