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Ordering several appetizers instead of a main course

Zeitgeist sucker that I am, I'm developing some kind of small-plates chauvinism. Or maybe I just don't get excited by a big hunk of protein. Either way, I'm rarely wowed by the main courses at restaurants, especially at higher end places.

From a restauranteur or servers standpoint, is it bothersome when a customer orders only starters and first courses? I'm not talking about taking up a table and ordering one appetizer, I'm referring to ordering a full meals worth of food.

Is it disrespectful to turn a 3 course place into a tapas restaurant, and in the same way as asking the chef to customize dishes to meet your picky eating habits? Or to the contrary, does the markup happen more for starters, and do restaurants benefit from this type or ordering? Should the tip be adjusted?

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  1. I've yet to meet a restaurant owner that cares. They're happy to fill the seats. Why would you adjust the tip?

    1. There are a large number of small plate places in London so this isn't that much of a problem.
      I did try this in a gastro pub ordering 4 starters rather than 2 starters and mains for two of us. This caused a fair bit of consternation and the waitress said it would cause an issue for the chef in terms of timing and orders. I said just imagine we're a table of four who have all ordered starters and just bring all four starters out at once.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Paprikaboy

        We have also seen more "small plate" restaurants in London, beyond the normal "Tapas" locations. Glad to see it.

        In the US, there is still a big push for "small plates," as though they just discovered them. Good move.


      2. I always order what I want, if the apps offer more choice and are more to my liking, I'll order 2 or 3 depending on how hungry I am. As for the tip, I calculate from what ever the bottom line is, doesn't matter whether it was all apps or an entree.

        1. My family has been doing this for many years and never encountered any problem whatsoever and, for us, the tipping routine is unchanged.

          1. In the Middle East it's called "Mezze" and it is a great way to have a meal and experience many flavors.
            Best done with a group!!

            1 Reply
            1. re: Motosport

              <<Many flavors>>

              My sentiments exactly.


            2. My friends and I do this often, just drinks and apps. Never had a problem, and we tip the same as if we ordered a meal. If you let the server know what you want and when to bring it out, there shouldn't be any issue.

              1. I don't see why they would care. Ordering 3 appetizers could end up being in the $25-$35 range, and that's not a lot different from ordering a single app and a main. I often prefer ordering a couple of apps vs. a single main plate - more flavors, you get a chance to try different things on the restaurant's menu.

                And you tip on the total cost, regardless.

                1. It's never been an issue for me. Once or twice they have asked when we want which dishes, but I'm usually clear in my order by saying " I'd like to start with ABC and I'll have XYZ as my entree.

                  1. Also, with our group of 4 to 6, it's easy to slip in a tempting entree and turn it into a few small plates.

                    1. More often than not, this is exactly what I do. I've never had a problem and the total price is essentially the same. I am not a sweet eater and have ordered an appetizer when others have ordered dessert. Funniest ( and "kindest" ) comment by waitstaff was " oh, people do that all the time."

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Sinicle

                        My fiancé has ordered an appetizer as dessert or ordered a second of something he already had during the meal because it was so good. Two occasions stick out: a sausage appetizer at Char's Bellamundo in Harrisburg, and the wild boar sloppy joe at Quinn's in Seattle which was actually mentioned on Layover with Anthony Bourdain last night.

                      2. We do this all the time, because the starters are usually a lot more interesting than the big slabs of protein. It never even occurred to me that someone might not like this, especially since ordering several small plates can add up to more than a single main course.

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: Isolda

                          We agree. There is often more "innovation," in the aps., than in the mains. That seems to happen often.


                          1. re: Isolda

                            We were regulars at a small, family-owned Indian restaurant. Then I took a work colleague there at lunch, and I wanted her to taste lots of the wonderful apps. (at home, we often make a giant plateful of samosas as a main, not a measly 2-samosa per person app.). The owner refused our order of "only" 5 apps. in lieu of apps and a main. Never went back.

                            1. re: pine time

                              I have been to restaurants that state on the menu that the minimum per person order is 2 apps or one main dish. The inebI remember offhand is Akdeniz, a Turkish restaurant in NYC which is very small. I. Think they need to ensure they can get enough revenue from each seating to stay in business.

                              1. re: melpy

                                I get that they need revenue to stay in business, but our 5 apps. would have actually cost more than 2 mains (their lunch prices were cheap). A nary a cautionary word on the menu. Lost our business.

                                1. re: melpy

                                  I eat out a lot and it's a rare place that has ordering rules on the menu (which immediately flags it as a place I won't return to).

                                  1. re: ferret

                                    Generally I see plate sharing costs more often than the situation I described above. Extremely small business have a minimum order in $ (although more often this is for using a credit card, but not always).

                                    If it would be equal or greater amount of money I don't see too much of an issue, especially when noted in advance. I would hate to find out about a plate splitting charge or minimum when the bill comes.

                            2. Very interesting--- Chowhounds, at least those of us who are on the customer side of things, seem to agree that this is totally okay to do.

                              Thanks for feedback! My days of ordering from the "secondi" section of the menu at Italian restaurants are numbered ...

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: hyperbowler

                                Sometimes I will order a second antipasto while my fiancé eats his primo and then I have a primo during his secondo.

                              2. REALLY good restaurants not only find this wise, they have large selection of half bottles of wine so as to facilitate the practice, then no adjustment of tip is necessary.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: law_doc89

                                  I second the cry for half-bottles! Even if we do a few 0.75's, or a "Sommelier's Pairing," I complement any restaurant, that has a good half-bottle selection.


                                2. three appetizers and a glass of wine is the norm for me.
                                  most often the tab is a little higher than it would have been if i'd just ordered an entree, but the food is far more interesting so it's worth it.
                                  the servers seem to be totally fine with it.

                                  1. IMO two apps=one main, three apps=one app+one main. No prob when I am a
                                    in that mood. Remember, the server is there to serve *you*.

                                    1. We do this often.

                                      In a few cases, we might "split" a main.

                                      We love tastes, and often do "Chef's Tasting Menus," for that purpose. A bit of this, a bit of that. Works for us.


                                      1. I too don't get excited by a "big hunk of protein" whether at home or out--starters for me if they're interesting and never a problem because we order enough food and drink to make it work out fine.

                                        1. I usually get an appetizer or salad and one or two vegetable sides. It seems a lot of restaurants have stopped preparing vegetarian entrees so I been steered to make those choices. One local resto offers three vegetable sides at a fixed price, which I appreciate.

                                          1. I think that ordering multiple appetizers instead of one large main course is like going back to multi-course meals. There is nothing "wrong" with it, either on the consumer side or the restaurant side. It probably won't really bother the waiter unless one is annoying in other ways (eg one wants to substitute things from every dish, especially key components that the dish can't be made without), but then that person would probably be annoying regardless if they ordered one dish vs many...

                                            1. Came across this article today titled the backlash against entrees. I am posting from phone, hope the link works!


                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: foodieX2

                                                Thanks for the link! It looks like I made the OP at the same time that article was posted-- I said "zeitgeist", but had no idea this had been a hot topic as of late!

                                              2. I started doing this about twenty years ago at a place in DC called Cashion's Eat Place. Most of their entrees were meat, and I'd much rather have seafood, pasta, veg, cheese--anything but meat. I'm not a vegetarian, I just find meat boring compared to all the other things there are to eat in the world.

                                                But they did everything just as well as they did their meat dishes, so it was always a treat to order 3 apps and a drink, maybe a salad. I usually went there en group, and they always seemed happy to see us, so I'm guessing they didn't mind our ordering method.

                                                Then they went on to open Johnny's Half Shell -- seafood only -- and we went there instead. I went back to ordering an entree and an app usually. But sometimes, I'd just order lots of oysters. They also had the best Lemon Chess Pie, so I always saved room for dessert.

                                                1. I do this often when I am dining alone, usually when traveling on business. I tell my server that I'd like to design my own four-course "tasting menu" if that's okay, then choose three appetizers (and wait until later to choose dessert) and set it up in a logical progression, with their assistance. I find two things make this a smooth and pleasant transaction. First, I say right off the bat that I would like four courses, last being dessert. This assures them that I'm not running a "ladies who lunch" kind of tab. Then I discuss with the server the progression, so they have a clear understanding of my expectations, and they can work with the kitchen to make it happen. I've never had a server who wasn't willing to work with me, and they are usually delighted to assist with drink/wine recommendations. If I present it in a way that conveys that I really want to enjoy my meal, rather than, I'm picky and going to cause a lot of extra work, I don't believe anyone will feel disrespected. I don't adjust the tip because it's not necessary, as my bill is usually at least the same as it would have been had I ordered the "traditional" courses.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: lisavf

                                                    Great plan.

                                                    For me, a multi-course menu is great. I usually stop with a Cheese-course, in lieu of any dessert, but that is just me.


                                                    1. re: lisavf

                                                      That's exactly what I do. I've never had a problem and if anything am given a thumbs up for cleverness, as though it's somehow revolutionary. The kitchen doesn't know who is ordering what, and the server is making the same number of trips (and may not have to deal with a doggie bag, depending how large the entre is). Now, if I order lots of different appetizers, they do make more trips, but also get a bigger tip on a higher bill. So, no worries.

                                                    2. I've never had a problem doing that, been discouraged for doing that, or sensed any disapproval of any kind. There have been some favorite places over the years where I seldom had anything but appetizers; I think the first was a resto/bar in Nashville that had a very nice house paté plate and a cold artichoke with lemon mayonnaise, a perfect late night supper. Now that Mrs. O has stopped eating animals she does that more often than not, especially if she's avoiding too much pasta, since so many restaurants have only a pasta dish or two as their veggie entrées. But she can't get too much of those beet salads, cliché or no.

                                                      As for the tip, it's always 20% pretax minimum, no matter what we ate, plus a bit more if the service was extra good. Don't see any reason to do otherwise; it's really no extra work to bring out three or four small plates, and plenty of diners require that many trips even if they do have the slab-o-meat entrée.

                                                      1. As a family we do this all the time. We love small plates, appetizers and "tastes" and when we're a group of six it's even more fun! A few glasses of wine; 3 desserts with six forks and we're ready for the rest of the evening to begin. We tip no differently.

                                                        1. The OP poses several questions:

                                                          "Is it bothersome" - as a diner I neither know nor care. If it was bothersome, I assume the restaurant would decline to serve in that way. It's not something I've ever done outside of tapas or mezze places

                                                          "Is it disrespectful" - No. It may be bothersome (see previous response)

                                                          "Asking chef to customise dishes" - No, it's not disrespectful. Although I imagine most kitchens find catering to a picky eater to be a complete pain in the arse - which is why some will not adapt their dishes. Good for them - the customer is not always right.

                                                          "Does the mark-up happen more for starters" - Probably not. I have a sense that some menu items at every course will have better profit margins than others. But the general rule of thumb in most catering set-ups is the rule of thirds - one third of menu price pays for ingredients, one third for wages; one third gross profit for the owner. America's peculiar attitude towards "minimum wage" for servers may well skew this - but elsewhere in the western world, the rule will generally apply.

                                                          "Does the restaurant benefit from this type of ordering" - Probably not, otherwise more places would market themselves s being in the "starter business"

                                                          "Should the tip be adjusted" - No. In most countries where tipping is the cultural norm, it is also the norm that the tip is based on sale price, not the type of food ordered.

                                                          1. In an attempt to control my portions, this is the only logical alternative. Presumably, a restaurant makes money on any sold item. I don't see how it would not be profitable, albeit smaller than others, perhaps. It may be seen as unusual, or perhaps, even disrespectful at a 3 course place as that is how the meals are designed by the executive chef. But, I might take my chances. When in doubt, I'd pull the waiter aside and ask discreetly.

                                                            1. I like doing this, many of my friends do not. They want that one big mountain of food right in front of them. I'm perfectly happy with a lot of small hills to choose from. Usually it ends up costing more, and usually we end up eating more food, but also more variety. I don't have a problem with the price, they still need a plate, the waiter has to serve it etc. If you are tipping by percent of the tab (whatever percent of the pre or post tax tip) then its usually not a problem for the waiters because your tab is going to be higher anyhow.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                                We are similar. I would strongly prefer many tastes, many textures, and much lower quantity. Of course, there are a few times, when I wished that dish #4 was a bit larger, and #3 and #5 were smaller, but that is life.

                                                                Just did a really mixed up set of apps. and first courses, with one main, split. Had the Chef's Tasting been something interesting, we'd have done that. I seldom count the costs, and just try to go with what looks/sounds good.

                                                                I am very big on the concepts of "small plates," and "chef's tastings," as I love variety.


                                                              2. From a restauranteur or servers standpoint, is it bothersome when a customer orders only starters and first courses?

                                                                Is it disrespectful to turn a 3 course place into a tapas restaurant,

                                                                does the markup happen more for starters

                                                                do restaurants benefit from this type or ordering?


                                                                as a patron, NONE of these things should concern you. you're the paying guest, order as you like. you're ordering off the menu, not asking for custom-made imaginary dishes crafted by unicorns.

                                                                if you want the dishes paced as 3 courses, simply tell your server that.

                                                                most entrees are too big for me, so i will often get 2 apps instead. i tip on the bill, not some projected theory about what another guest may have ordered.

                                                                1. I order multiple appetizers all the time, and it drives some of my fellow diners nuts. So I try to be sensitive. I will have one app at the same time AS everybody else. Then two or three to coincide with their main. Salad may be a salad or veggies. And my dessert will more likely be chicken satay , candied pork belly, or cheese, as opposed to the multi layer chocolate molten fudge bomb that the local reviewer has gushed that it is TO DIE FOR!!!

                                                                  And I tip according to service and the amount on the bill. Sometimes up to 40 or 50% at buffets. And less than 1% at Tour d'Argent in Paris.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                                                    At a restaurant where timing is an issue, that is an option. Or you can ask the waiter what to do. I will often do 2-3 apps for a meal at a fine restaurant because I tend to be more intrigued by the appetizers and have never had issues with the restaurant.

                                                                    Two recent examples.

                                                                    At Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles, I wanted a particular appetizer but could not decide between two pasta dishes (they are sized as appetizer sizes). So I had my appetizer at the same time as everyone else and had them bring both pastas with the entree. One of the pastas was a cold pasta that we had placed in the center of the table for everyone to share.

                                                                    Last week at Sage in Las Vegas, I wanted three appetizers again, but my friends were each doing appetizer/entree. One of those appetizers was one that one of my friends also wanted to try, so we had our individual appetizers brought first, had the appetizer we both wanted to be brought as a second course to be shared among us at the table, and then I had my third appetizer when my friends had their entrees. We all agreed that the appetizers were superior to the entrees.

                                                                  2. I'll eat nearly anything, but what I order doesn't usually reflect this. So, when I'm with others, I usually give them free rein. It works best when I can't read the menu anyway, so if I like a plate, I'll be able to remember the name for subsequent meals.

                                                                    Additionally, this is how many Padang restaurants in Indonesia roll. Unhygienic sure, but the crux is the waitstaff brings you an array of small dishes, could be 15-20. Whatever you (seemingly) haven't stuck your fork into, you won't be charged for. So, if you have a great photographic memory, this cuisine is for you...


                                                                    1. I think restaurants count on people doing this. I usually order two apps and lo and behold it is in the same price range as one main course. I usually don't order a main and an app so they are getting the same amount of money from me.

                                                                      1. this is somthing i tried this before. it saves alot of money and can keep you full too. :)

                                                                        1. I do this all of the time. I usually never order an entrée because it is too heavy. Thus, I would NEVER order an appetizer and entrée. So, I usually order a starter salad, which is not enough alone, and an appetizer to come with everyone else's mains. Typically the cost ends up the same or more than if I were to order an entrée alone. I tip on the total of my whole bill.

                                                                          I've never been ill treated for this nor have I read too much into what the restaurant thinks about this practice.

                                                                          1. One tips on the amount of the bill, not the sort of dish ordered.
                                                                            I often make a meal of an appetizer, which is usually intended to be shared among several diners, simply because I like the food. No need for an entrée, after that.

                                                                            1. I order several apps as my main and it doesn't bother me at all. However, being that I work at a restaurant, I do not believe that servers have any qualms about this. On the other hand, customizing a dish can become a bit irksome, when it is "overdone" so to speak. I mean if you are going to order a shrimp salad, with the shrimp on the side, tomatoes on the side , add in a bunch of other stuff and get four dressings on the side, why even order it?! I understand that you are paying for it but some things are just too excessive!