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Jan 31, 2012 11:12 AM

Restaurant offering limited menu - is this weird? [moved from General Topics]

I'm organizing a celebratory dinner for some folks at work. The idea is to go to a nice restaurant with about 12 people total, to congratulate a couple of folks on their promotions.

There's a restaurant that I think would be great - it's nice and relatively high-end, but not stuffy. It's located in an old house that's been converted, so not huge but not tiny either.

Here's the thing: when I called to reserve a table for 12 on a Friday in about a month, the person answering said that with a table our size, they'd prefer to offer us a limited prix fixe menu, with a couple of entree options, one or two salad options, etc.

I found this totally offensive. We have a group with diverse tastes, and we're bringing good business to their restaurant - why should we NOT be allowed to choose from the entire menu? I understand that the courses might take a little longer, and that's fine, but limiting our choices just to make life easier for the kitchen seems inappropriate.

Is this more common than I realize? Ever heard of this happening? I've done a lot of eating out, and never (even in big groups) had this proposed. Frankly, I'm inclined to cancel and take my business elsewhere except I really like the food at this place.

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  1. I've come to realize this is quite common for parties of 10 or more. There are a few reasons for it. One being that it is easier for the kitchen to prepare food from a select menu so it all arrives at the table at the same time. Another is that it is easier on the wait staff; they don't have to take 12 different orders with 12 different sets of substitutions and all the questions that can arise. The bottom line is that it is the restaurant's way of making it easier for everyone so that you can enjoy fresh, well prepared food in a timely manner and ultimately enjoy your evening. I like this idea for larger parties. It takes the stress out of everyone having to read long menus and make decisions and gives diners more time to chat, catch up and enjoy themselves.

    4 Replies
    1. re: ttoommyy

      Thanks for the honest feedback. I understand the rationale; it's just that one of the reasons I chose this place was that I thought it would appeal to the diverse tastes in our group (which, incidentally, include two vegetarians, one vegan, and one person who is just an incredibly picky eater in general). I vetted the menu to be sure that it would have at least one choice that would appeal to all of the diners, so it's frustrating that that's apparently not going to be an option.

      But I guess I'll stop being offended and just accept that's the price you pay for going to a smaller place with 12 people. Thanks!

      1. re: monopod

        You should be able to work with the restaurant to decide which options your group gets to choose from. Unless they have a variety of vegan choices to begin with, chances are good the vegan will have the one vegan offering anyway, so you may be able to essentially exclude the vegan from the choices and work out your entrees choices as 2 meat, 1 fish, 1 ovo-lacto veg option available to the 11 less restrictive diners, and the vegan will have whatever vegan thing the restaurant offers.

        When we do limited menus for very large parties, it is usually 3 starters, 4 entrees, and 3 dessert options. You still need a little variety :) Another option you may want to discuss with the restaurant is doing a variety of pre-ordered family-style apps to get things started, instead of ordering individual plated apps. Of course it depends on the event and how formal you want it, but it can be nice to have food appear while everyone is settling in and socializing over their first glass of wine, and to eliminate one round of decisions to be made.

        1. re: monopod

          for a "regular" restaurant (i.e. one that doesn't have banquet service capability) turning out all the food for a large party AT THE SAME TIME so that people can eat together, is MUCH more difficult than turning out the same amount of food on a staggered basis.

          limiting the menu options goes a long way to counteract this difficulty so that the entire table can be served at approximately the same time,

          this is why normally, the larger the party size, the more the restaurant wants to reduce the menu options.

        2. re: ttoommyy

          Exactly. To my mind, when a restaurant does this, it's much more likely to be an enjoyable dinner. It's not uncommon, even though it's not common.

        3. Because that's what they prefer. Better yet call them back and tell them you want to go with the menu. See what they say, don't be offended.

          1. Pretty standard response as Ttoommyy confirmed. Groups larger than eight, ten or twelve are often only given prix fixe options.

            You can hunt around to find a restaurant that will accommodate you ordering off the menu, but it might be harder than you imagine.

            1. Extremely common, and even more understanding given it's a small place. Don't take it's not about you.

              1. Very very common, that a resto should prefer you have a banquet or Prix Fixe menu. Just make sure they offer choices to suit everyone's lifestyle choice and taste. They're not trying to be offensive; they're trying to offer you the best food they can, and if you all order all over the map, it makes it difficult. Not to say it's never been done, but I understand the whys and wherefores of a limited menu offering as opposed to freestyle.