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A la carte menus - love 'em or hate 'em?

We had dinner last night at a BLT Steak and, as is typically the case in an upscale steak house, they had an a la carte menu. It occurred to me that I am not a fan of this type of menu. I prefer to have the chef create a meal for me (main w/ sides) rather than have to order a protein and then choose a side or two from a list. The sides are typically overpriced and the portions are too large and I hate getting my protein on a large plate - it looks so naked and lonely.

I suppose the menu is designed this way so that it has mass appeal. I'm just curious if I'm in the minority in not liking this type of menu.

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  1. It depends on the value actually. If money were not factored in, I actually prefer the a la carte option because there are accompanying dishes I love and some I don't. (Yes, I'm one of those who will often order a few appetizers in lieu of an entree.) However, it does annoy me a bit when the entree without any sides costs as much as many comparable restaurants locally serve *with* the sides. It certainly makes it feel like a bad value.

    1. I dont' think the design is for mass appeal, but for mass profits.

      1 Reply
      1. If I'm eating in a steak house, I would actually prefer to choose my own meal progression, starts to dessert, because I'm going there for a classic "steak experience."

        1. I'm not a steak lover so I NEVER order it in a restaurant but I suppose another entree would have the same outcome in relation to this question. I would prefer a choice of sides to be included in the price of the entree. When I say choice, I mean more than two choices of vegetables or starch. I don't mean potato OR rice. I mean choose two from several available.

          1. Actually, since so many steak houses seem fixated on creamed spinach, which I consider an abomination, I prefer the a la carte route, although paying $8 for a baked potato and then getting a 1 lb potato slathered with two types of animal fat seems like too much. I wish they had reasonably sized options instead (or at least, in addition).

            I'm of two minds on the chef designed menu. Sometimes, they are great, but many people in Toronto try to do too much, and you end up with something like "sweet potato gnocchi infused with pomegranate essence on a wild berry coulis" when I would have been happy with garlic mashed.

            And there is one chef in Toronto who takes this one step farther - she decides what she's serving that night, and that's what you get. No choices, no substitutions (I'm not sure if she makes allowances for allergies, but certainly there are no options offered if you're physically able to eat it.) She featured steaks two nights this week, and of course they were accompanied by creamed spinach. It's not on my list of places to go.

            4 Replies
            1. re: FrankD

              On the flip side, I TOTALLY agree with you about the over-inspired menus of some chefs. Too much is too much. There is a point where it crosses a line and creative ends up being schizophrenic.

              As for the a la carte menus, Peg S made a good point, too, about the lone protein costing as much as a full entree in comparable restaurants. That doesn't sit well with me either.

              1. re: FrankD

                Sounds like you're talking about Ruth's Chris. I was there Sat. for the 1st time ever. They were touting their "phenominal" creamed spinach and 1lb baked was on the menu.

                1. re: mucho gordo

                  Actually, no. I'm talking about high -end steak houses in general that I've been to - Morton's in Chicago, Peter Luger and Smith & Wollensky in NYC, some place whose name I can't recall in Dallas (ten years ago - sorry). I"ve been to a Ruth's, but it wasn't in Toronto (LA? Vegas?) All of them offered huge baked potatoes, and creamed spinach at very high prices, and nary a broccoli spear at any.

                  1. re: FrankD

                    Aside from the standard baked, It looks like creamed spinach is pretty much standard at most of these places. Had it at the Smoke House, too.

              2. When dining out with a group, it doesn't really bother me, but when with just my husband I'm not a fan. The sides are usually "for the table" so when we're with others, we'll order a bunch of sides to all share. But when it's two of us and we want different sides, an a la carte menu doesn't really pan out.

                1. For the most part I LOVE the a la carte menu. Althogh I am pretty easy to please, my dining companions are not. They are notorious food changers "not to spicy, this and that on the side...". I just like to mix things up, however, my pocket book usually is not as fond of the idea. I would love to see more mid priced restaunts give some side selections for the same lump price.

                  1. I prefer to have a choice of sides which is included in the price of the meal (like at outback or stewart andersons/black angus). I am so glad to know I am not the only one to think that creamed spinach is a cruel joke. On the other hand a good baked potato..... yeah, I'll eat the whole thing, skin and all.

                    1. "The sides are typically overpriced and the portions are too large and I hate getting my protein on a large plate - it looks so naked and lonely. "


                      1. Boy I can't come up with a definitive answer for this one.

                        We go occasionally to a restaurant where it is all a la carte dining. Seems way overpriced to me, for something like $42 you get a lobster tail, 2 jumbo shrimp, a few crab legs and some scallops, Then for $8 each you order things like a bowl of Quinoa, a steamed veggie choice, fingerling potatoes with some special kind of marinade, etc. The food is high quality no doubt, but it seems a waste for two diners to get that much food, and the plate looks awful without side dishes on it.

                        However, I have a gift card ($100) for a higher-end steakhouse that I received as a gift. They have a set menu that changes several times a year, I look online every so often and have yet to see anything that would make me go out of my way (over 30 miles) to have dinner there. Either the main (steak, chicken, etc.) is prepared in a way we wouldn't enjoy or the side dishes. For example, right now their chicken dish is: Pan Roasted Chicken Supreme with Sage And Onion Yorkshire Pudding Over A Bacon Cheddar Garlic Potato Pie, With Natural Pan Jus And Cranberry Relish - REALLY??? Sounds a bit too fancy for me. and it's $35, for a piece of chicken! So maybe if I could order different sides a la carte I would be more likely to go!