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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 personally...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.

                1. Pretty common I think. Especially in a small place. A fixed menu means there will be no surprises, timings will be on, and price is there.
                  In fact, there is a restaurant in my home town that only takes reservations, and you get only what they prepare that day. One menu, no variations, for everyone. Its a small place, and it takes months to get into it. You just hope you like what is on the menu that day!
                  I suppose in the above example you kind of know this before you go. However, you also know that there will be a fixed menu, and if you'd rather have variety, either ask if individual ordering will be an option or make other arrangements I suppose.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: freia

                    Sounds exactly like Chez Panisse: one menu served in the evening, no choice. They make absolutely delicious, beautiful food and Ive never had a wrong turn there. You can also get in, which is nice, the day you reserve, more often than not.
                    I prefer the upstairs cafe. Much more casual, and offers many choices, many of which are on the restaurant menu anyway. Pristine food, knowledgeble servers, and I can sport good jeans at dinnertime. But I sure as hell wouldn't wear jeans to the restaurant, even though I'd get in.

                  2. Quite common, particularly in smaller places. Less common, but still happening quite often, is requiring the party to pre-order - which can be a real pain if it is, say, a business dinner where guests may not have your language as their first language.

                    1. It may be unusual, but it's certainly not offensive. There's nothing personal there. A restaurateur may offer whatever service suits him, and you can take it or leave it, in my opinion.

                      That being said, twelve does not seem particularly many to me. The places I am familiar with could handle a table of twelve in the normal way. But I know nothing about the restaurant in question. It's their business.

                      On one occasion years ago I hosted a large group (about 20, I think). I asked for a limited-choice unpriced menu and picked about six entrees. A chice between two does not seem reasonable to me. I would go elsewhere.

                      1. I'm not sure I'd be offended by it, but I may push back a little bit. Twelve is really not a huge number, but the size of the kitchen and staff may factor in as well.

                        Ask to see what the fixed menu would be. If they're only serving chicken breast, salmon and pasta primavera (Wedding Food!) then I'd decline and go elsewhere. Though I will say there are times when I welcome a prix fixe menu as long as it's not to restrictive. This way there's no awkward hesitations about "should I order an app? are we splitting apps? what about dessert? i don't want to be seen as the person over-ordering at a work dinner..."

                        Since you have a month you may want to negotiate a slightly longer menu if they're only going to offer 2 entrees.

                        1. If it bothers you that much -- I'd like it, myself -- go somewhere else, where you can get what you want.

                          1. Historically, I have found that many restaurants wish to do prix fixe, but then some do not care. It might depend on the size of the kitchen, the path that servers might need to traverse (at a London restaurant, where we were seated on the 4th floor, they wanted prx fixe, due to the distance from the kitchen, and our party of 12).

                            It just depends, and on many factors.

                            Enjoy,

                            Hunt

                            1. Like others have said, it's all about the size of the kitchen. 12 may not seem like much to many of you, but if the kitchen is on the smaller side, 12 can easily grind the kitchen to a halt. By offering a slightly more fixed menu, they can hopefully keep the kitchen going at a good enough pace to not affect the other diners. Otherwise, it could be all saute-all different dishes - a kitchens nightmare - and while your party may be forgiving of the slow pace, the other parties in the restaurant probably will not. hey are probably not so concerned with your party feeling put out, larger parties do tend to notice less when the food takes a while, but the deuce that gets fired right after the large party has been started - they won't be pleased.

                              1. 12 people is not a large party......If they will have trouble serving you then they are not a very good restaurant.

                                On the other hand, if the fixed menu offers you a savings, then the choice is yours to decide if it works for you.

                                Our group celebrates dinner twice a month....the tables can be up and over 20 guests with short notice on the final count. Never has a limited menu been suggested....once in a while they will run out of a special before we order. no big deal. We get two waiters and a two busboys assigned to the table. Service and food are always great and we order off the menu and the daily specials list. This restaurant has two separate dining rooms on both sides of an old house as well.

                                This situation is exactly why some restaurants are sometimes not a good option for a party or special event...they simply cannot handle larger numbers in preparing food, firing the plates and serving the dinners. my opinion is this restaurant cannot as well. Restaurants are good at serving small tables.....catering facilities can handle large number of guests because their kitchens are equipped to handle the load....Your party doesn't qualify for needing a catering hall, but maybe it does need a alternative restaurant better suited for your preferences and expectations. Why settle on this cheerful gathering.

                                Limitations on the restaurant can be a determining factor though. Without more details about the place, it's hard to say what is reasonable or not in defending the restaurant or understanding their position.....but as I read your OP, it's NOT a small place.

                                Quite frankly, I do not understand all the comments about it being common and etc. If your group walked in off the street, would they push you into, or insist you offer off a limited menu.....or even yet, would they turn you away because they could not accommodate your group. Rather than make a menu that favors the restaurant, maybe they should just accommodate the party and order more food and have extra staff scheduled to serve your party....since you were kind enough to think of them when making the reservation... I'm surprised they did not ask you for a deposit.

                                7 Replies
                                1. re: fourunder

                                  "12 people is not a large party......If they will have trouble serving you then they are not a very good restaurant."

                                  Surely that depends on the size of the restaurant. One of my favourite Michelin starred places has 18 covers. A party of 12 would completely overwhelm them. It *is* a very good restaurant.

                                  1. re: Harters

                                    Surely that depends on the size of the restaurant

                                    I would say that it surely depends on the restaurant, not the size of it . .....and there are always exceptions.

                                  2. re: fourunder

                                    "If your group walked in off the street, would they push you into, or insist you offer off a limited menu..."

                                    I think the answer here lies in the type of restaurant. Diners, chains and mom and pop places probably would not. But better restaurants with an emphasis on quality vs. quantity would indeed have you order from the fixed menu if that is their policy for group dining.

                                    1. re: ttoommyy

                                      tt,

                                      We are pretty much in the same area and I know some of the places you have been to. Exactly, which better restaurants have this policy in our area? BTW....I'm not doubting you and I realize this policy exists, so there's no confusion there.

                                      Some of the better restaurants I speak of where I have not encountered this policy are....The River Palm Terrace, Sorrento, Amanda's and LuNello. Also, the Steak Chain restaurants(Morton's, Capital Grille and etc.) do not require you to order off a limited menu. I will note that above 12 guests, then Amanda's will request you order off a pre-fixe menu.

                                      We may have to give a shout out to Ms Nunn @ Picnic to see what her policy is to get an owner's perspective on this topic. My argument is simply this. Not all better restaurants have this policy and the OP has options to take her gathering elsewhere.

                                      1. re: fourunder

                                        "I will note that above 12 guests, then Amanda's will request you order off a pre-fixe menu."

                                        Amanda's is one I was referring to in NJ. The OP did state his party consists of 12 people, so that is the number I was using as a reference. I've not been to any of the other restaurants you cite.

                                        I dine mostly in NYC and maybe that is where the difference of opinion is coming from.

                                    2. re: fourunder

                                      Well, a party of 12 might be small for restaurant A, but might be large for restaurant B. It all depends.

                                      Hunt

                                      1. re: fourunder

                                        "12 people is not a large party......If they will have trouble serving you then they are not a very good restaurant."

                                        I work in a 40 seat tasting menu only restaurant that has received a lot of national recognition, and a 12 top would be a huge ordeal to us! Different restaurants are different, some places arent set up to be high volume. Our sister restaurant bangs out 600 covers on a weekend night and could accomodate a 12 top as a walk in and not break a sweat. Same executive chef, different setup. It matters.

                                      2. Another big advantage is that is helps a lot with check splitting.

                                        I don't mind a prix fixe menu and IME with large parties it helps with pacing of the meal.

                                        I plan to host a dinner for my brother's birthday this summer and it likely will include 11-13 people and am hoping for a Prix Fixe offering for ease of service and for cost control on my end.

                                        1. Interesting that most of the responses don't think this is offense. I disagree, they may be suggesting the limited menu to make it easier for them but I definitely think you should ask to order off the full menu. Having a limited menu reminds me of ordering off a restaurant week menu...which usually ends up being not as good and results in paying more for things that you don't really want.

                                          1. It is neither weird no offensive.

                                            The restaurant was forward with you when you made the reservation, they say they'd preferred to have a limited fixed menu (with limited choices).

                                            You could have just asked just to have the regular menu; I would assume that would be ok for them. If not, then it is your right to go look somewhere else for your dinner.

                                            What would have been "mildly" offensive or annoying is that when you got to the restaurant and were "forced" a fixed menu, unannounced without prior knowledge when taking the reservation.

                                            11 Replies
                                            1. re: Maximilien

                                              Ha ha ha. I read this to my small, not stuffy kitchen staff and this is a quote from the chef, "Yes, they should cancel the reservation. I can tell from reading this that they will be a pain in the ass."

                                                    1. re: morla

                                                      I would argue if your chef thinks turning away 12 guests is acceptable.....then your kitchen is the definition of *stuffy*

                                                      1. re: fourunder

                                                        Fourunder, first......it was just funny (and very true:)......and if a restaurant has a choice between a 12 top that can't understand why it would be better for them and the restaurant to have pris fixe ON A FRIDAY NIGHT, OR having six deuces or three four tops who will spend more money and be way less hassle.........drum roll........the restaurant will always choose the second scenerio:)

                                                      2. re: morla

                                                        OP here... yes, we'll probably be a bit of a pain in the ass because we have a couple of vegetarians and one very picky eater who will almost certainly request something not on the menu. Believe me, this isn't how I am or how I like to eat, but it's the nature of the beast here. I guess I was just really disappointed since I did so much work and research to try to find a diverse menu that would appeal to everyone, and then had them tell us that we can't take advantage of that diversity. I'm sure, from the kitchen's perspective, we're a table from hell and they wouldn't be sorry to see us go.

                                                        1. re: monopod

                                                          < I guess I was just really disappointed since I did so much work and research to try to find a diverse menu that would appeal to everyone, and then had them tell us that we can't take advantage of that diversity. I'm sure, from the kitchen's perspective, we're a table from hell and they wouldn't be sorry to see us go.>

                                                          Did you tell them this and explain why you chose them? All you said in the OP that they "prefer to offer us a limited prix fixe menu". Not that they are requiring you to.

                                                          1. re: monopod

                                                            You seem to be trying very hard to please everyone, but perhaps you can think about putting the onus of other's happiness on them.
                                                            Adults should be able to cope with the fact that they can't custom order their dinner, and have to choose from a limited menu.
                                                            I mean, grow up, right?!
                                                            (I'm saying this in support of YOU, btw!)

                                                          2. re: morla

                                                            And, there may well be much truth in that sentiment.

                                                            Some seem to think that all restaurants are equal, and what one does, for a party of the same size, should be extended by all other restaurants.

                                                            Obviously, those folk have never looked "behind the curtain," to see that different restaurants have different kitchens.

                                                            Hunt

                                                        2. OK, some dishes take more time to prepare and present. Do you concur?

                                                          Some dishes come up faster, so will precede others, and maybe by quite a bit of time. Do you concur?

                                                          Some kitchens are geared more towards individual preparations, and not so geared to higher volume output. Do you concur?

                                                          Do you want sporadic service for your party, or do you want things coming out of the kitchen, at about the same time?

                                                          I host dinners all around the US, Europe and the UK, and it might be for a party of 6, or a party of 60. When beginning the process, I always start with a set menu (almost always), and then work down to a limited set of choices for my parties. In the last 20 years, I cannot recall any restaurant, that did not offer me several choices, though on a limited menu. Most restaurants want you, and your guests, to be happy, and will go to extremes to see that that happens.

                                                          I also work with the sommeliers, to provide wines to accompany each course, but within my group's budget.

                                                          Normally, it works perfectly.

                                                          Though, things can depend on the specific restaurant, the day of the week, and the size, and tastes of the party.

                                                          Good luck,

                                                          Hunt

                                                          4 Replies
                                                            1. re: fourunder

                                                              So, then you would rather have your guests served at totally different times?

                                                              Are you sure about that, or did you mean that you did not concur about other aspects. If so, which ones, please?

                                                              Thanks,

                                                              Hunt

                                                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                I agree with Bill. Like him I do this all the time. I get worried if a place thinks it can do ALC for a party. I am more confident when a restaurant works with me to construct a menu that works for the size of party and the occasion. I have recently attended a function which was ALC and it wasn't great: food arrived at different times and some had obviously stood under a warming lamp.

                                                                Sure lots of places can take big parties off the street, but are they really what you want in terms of style an ambiance? If so there's your decision. If not because it is a special occasion and you really want the best then I think you should work with the restaurant.

                                                                I have found going for a limited choice menu generally can be structured for broad tastes and can be inclusive for all. Tell the restaurant what the constraints are and trust their professionalism to get it right. You should agree the menu and discuss the pacing.

                                                                And do the same with wine. I per-order with the instruction to keep opening until I say stop. For most meals one interesting but not challenging red and one white. For more complex meals maybe a change as we head to mains. This again may limit choice but avoids delays and the awkward "empty glass" moments (or the guest who orders the most expensive wine, or who goes cheap because someone else is paying and they don't want offend).

                                                                Remember good restaurants stagger their service seating tables at 15 minute intervals so as not to swamp the kitchen. Even El Bulli did that and their ratios of chefs and diners was one to one (and a set menu). These places care about the quality of every dish that comes out of the kitchen so pacing is vital. So don't take it as a negative, assume it shows they care.

                                                              2. re: fourunder

                                                                having spent decades being a road warrior and hosting dinners all over the United States, i can tell you that everything that Bill Hunt and Moria have said is how most of restaurants that i encountered work.

                                                                this is not an issue of "how you would like the world to work?"
                                                                this is an issue of "what makes business sense for this particular restaurant?" and
                                                                "what does the restaurant feel they can COMPETENTLY do with a party of 12 on a friday night without negatively impacting the other diners?"

                                                            2. I've been part of a local group that meets about dinner time, and finding a restaurant with space is difficult to start with, then staff that don't interrupt the meetings while delivering food and bringing checks. We've tried many locations over the years.

                                                              One place had us order from the Senior menu, but was always happy to bring me my favorite soup that wasn't on that menu.

                                                              Another place treated our meetings in their separate space as a buffet, where we had to let them know a week ahead of time who wanted what. That was a serious pain to coordinate as we had to pay for everyone in the headcount, and people would cancel or bring friends at the last minute. It was a small buffet of salad, veggies, and a couple of pasta and meat choices.

                                                              1. I would have been thrilled that they value the quality of food and service enough to create a special menu just for my group. They want to be able to present their best work to you -- in a manner that everyone is served their respective meals at the same time.

                                                                Then I would have asked to sit down with them and a time and place amenable to both of us, to go through the options that would be on the prix fixe, so that the vegans, vegetarians, and pickies would have choices as well.

                                                                For the rehearsal dinner for my wedding, we were 12 and went to a local favorite, with reservations made well in advance, and no offer of a PF menu. It was a disaster. Four of us got our meals reasonably quickly, five more got their meals a while later -- stone-cold -- and three never actually got anything other than salad and breadsticks. The manager comped the whole mess.

                                                                1. My take: Central to this occasion is a group of 12 co-workers gathering to celebrate a couple of significant promotions. Shouldn't the food served (and restaurant chosen) take a distant second place to the reason for the occasion?

                                                                  1. I wonder what monopod decided to do since this dinner would have taken place about 6 months ago.

                                                                    1. Remember, it is not just your table that is affected by this large order in the kitchen. Every table's order that came in after this party is affected until the kitchen gets caught up. The service level can drop when the kitchen is taking more than it can chew. To other tables, it seams like the kitchen is backed up, and to you, its backed up because of your order, and that is fine for you, but the restaurant has to answer to everyone of their guest. So rather then the restaurant telling you that this restaurant is not the right venue to host your party, a limited menu is offered as a middle ground. Because they are ether turning your business away with the offer of a limited menu, or turning everyone else's away for seemingly bad service.

                                                                      1. The restaurant is trying to ensure good service, so why you would actually be offended is beyond me.
                                                                        Unless you're dining with the world's pickiest eaters, there should be something on the menu to satisfy everyone- why not have further talks with the chef to plan the menu so it offers some diversity?
                                                                        With your party size, there are constraints.

                                                                        1. I love the ida of prix fix for a larger group- take that whole headache away.
                                                                          But, I guess there's still booze, so...

                                                                          1. Just throwing this out there: OP has the restaurant's regular menu, doesn't want the limited prix-fixe. She's already made sure the regular menu can accommodate her vegetarian and vegan guests.

                                                                            Tell the restaurant your party of 12 really wants to dine there, and offer to pre-order a day or two in advance. Get menu choices from each guest, inform them that to accommodate the large party, they can't change. And no modifications. Allows the kitchen to supply and plan the service. Server only needs to verify who gets what. Everybody wins, right?

                                                                            1. I find it totally offensive. With the number of restaurants offering price fixe menus, why would anyone call a restaurant that (presumably) doesn't? I would keep shopping for a a place that offers and delivers diversity!

                                                                              5 Replies
                                                                              1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                I think I would find it a bit more offensive if the restaurant agreed to something they were not capable of pulling off to the same standard that I expect when I eat there as part of a two or four top. The restaurant is telling the op that they simply can not adequately serve 12 people to their high standards while everyone orders off the regular menu. This can be because of any one or combination of reasons mentioned.
                                                                                Maybe the op can say something like "I don't mind if the service sucks and we all get our food at different times, just let us order off the menu". Then, when the meal sucks, no one but the op is to blame. Remember to tip as though you enjoyed yourself.

                                                                                1. re: bobbert

                                                                                  To me, your argument makes no sense. Why can they handle it without a second thought when three tables of four order willy nilly whatever they want, but if they're all at the SAME table, it's a problem? Think about it! '-)

                                                                                  1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                    Three or four tables dont need to be served at exactly the same time...

                                                                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                      Because decent restaurants phase the orders, the chef would not be pleased if they were to get four orders together. It may seem that they take orders together but generally the table orders will hit the kitchen sequentially and they then get served sequentially.

                                                                                      Big chains and mass market places can do this but they are different. Some places attempt to do big tables but they either don't do a good job or they have simple menus.

                                                                                      1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                        Yeah, what others have said. Ever been told it will be a, say, 10 minute wait for a table and looked around the dining room at several empty tables and wondered why you can't be seated now?

                                                                                        Maybe they just sat a table of 6 next to an empty table but if they sat you as well at the same time, the server (assuming the same server) can't be at both tables at the same time so the seating is staggered or service suffers.

                                                                                        Let's seat the whole restaurant at once and you sink the kitchen and no ones food is good.

                                                                                        The point is that some restaurants are better set up to handle tables of 12 than others. Some can't adequately handle a table of 8 because of limitations of what they can do in the kitchen. No restaurant wants to restrict what you can order "just because". They want their customers to have an enjoyable meal. There may be limits on what they can do before the food/service suffers which no one wants to happen. So back to the original question posed by the op. No, it's not unusual for such limitations.