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Does menu size matter?

I've always appreciated a small well executed menu. I don't like to be overwhelmed with too many mediocre options. I think 15 items including salads, apps and entrees is a good number. That being said I know plenty of people that like to have dozens of options. So how many items are too many?

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  1. If a restaurant is going to figure into my regular rotation, it had better have a pretty voluminous menu. There's no way I'll regularly go to a restaurant if it only has a couple of dishes that I really like. Variety uber alles.

    43 Replies
      1. re: BanjoMan1

        Typically, I want to see probably close to 10 apps, three soups and around 30 entrees on a menu. Five or six dessert options is usually sufficient.

          1. re: Ray2

            The only thing that is guaranteed is variety. I've been to many places whose menu dimensions are as I've described and they turn out excellent dishes. Variety does not ensure poor execution. And at any rate, I'm fairly particular about what I eat. If there are only a handful of menu options, it is entirely possible I'll see nothing that strikes my fancy. And I certainly won't see enough to make me want to return again and again. The same dish, not matter how good, over and over again, does little for me.

            1. re: Perilagu Khan

              Of all the truly memorable meals I've had (many as my wife and I live a life of cooking and eating, worldwide), I can think of none that came off an extensive menu. Anything that's not memorable is mediocre, otherwise I would remember it.

              I don't want to eat at a restaurant whose management believes they have to offer something for everyone. The chef's hate this as well. The "standards" have been made enough times that they've been cost reduced and the preparation streamlined (that means prepared in advance). Those items are where the margin is made. The specials, the meals left to the chef and is an expression of his culinary objectives, are high labor and ingredients cost loss leaders to appeal to those customers that rebel at a stale menu.

              So we have a situation where most of the menu has likely been prepared in advance and the chef couldn't care less about, versus a few items that were likely prepared that day and the chef considers them an expression if his culinary talent. You can make whatever choice you want but I know I'd go with the short menu that changes often. Better yet, restaurants that stick to a short menus and don't bother catering to those who have to have their New York strip and baked potatoes with Disney Land toppings.

              I like a menu that's short, focused and risky. The restaurants that do that tend to have very short menus and highly motivated cooks. Give me that short menu and a white pages of wine and I love it.

              For the record, I know and food travel with chefs who cook in up to 4 star Michelin restaurants, restaurant owners up to Slow Food recognized, several private chefs of very wealthy people and several noted authors of recognized cook books. Had they responded it would the same as I just noted. That's where I learned this from.

                1. re: Ray2

                  Err, doesn't michelin top out at 3 stars?

                    1. re: Bkeats

                      Restaurants do, and hotels/resorts go up to 5.

                      In the US, at least, there are other rating services, that award 5 ____ s for restaurants, but not Michelin - even in the US.

                      Hunt

                    2. re: Ray2

                      Which I suppose is fine if you're eating in restaurants that have or aspire to have Michelin stars, but I am much more likely to eat in a restaurant that serves more mainstream American food to a working class clientele.

                      1. re: Ray2

                        Sometimes, a wide-ranging menu is a great thing. Here, I think of Chef Mavro's in Honolulu, HI, USA. He offers a 19-course tasting menu, with about everything on his menu. Usually very good, to excellent.

                        Dined at a restaurant in the UK, that had four mains:

                        Crispy Squab Feet
                        Smothered Capon Feet
                        Fried Duck Feet
                        Pickled Pheasant Feet

                        Oh, they also did a medley of various Fowl (I termed it "foul") Feet.

                        Let's just say that I would have liked at least one more main course offering. Sometimes 19 offerings is just right, and sometimes 4.5 is too few.

                        Hunt

                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                          Bill - gotta ask which restaurant?

                          1. re: Harters

                            Good question.

                            In the spirit of Jeff Foxworthy's old schtick, you know you're an unrepentant old 'hound when you read what Bill posted and your first thought is, "Thank God they offer a sampler platter!"

                            1. re: Harters

                              Will need to look back in the e-mails. It was a fairly new one, going back two years now, and was in a refurbished home in Soho. Will add the name in a bit.

                              Hunt

                              1. re: Harters

                                I found some of the e-mails, but even the wine list did not have the name. Have e-mailed my good friend, on the board in the UK, and have asked her to fill me in on the restaurant name. Should have done that, when I posted.

                                More to come.

                                Hunt

                                1. re: Harters

                                  Wow, it took me forever to figure out which thread, this question was part of.

                                  Well, the restaurant was HIX, but they were not in Soho, instead Belgravia. Guess that a cab ride, on a rainy, windy night, can turn a "daft Yank" around a bit.

                                  The main course came on three (?) multi-tiered serving trays, with the fowl feet on each level.

                                  The "welcome Champagne" had been shipped over, just before our guests' arrival, and was not chilled. A server tried one bottle, and it looked like the finish line at an F1 race - spraying all over the area. They did manage to find some chilled Champagne, that was in the general price-point of our choice.

                                  Sorry for the Soho reference - both memory, and not having walked there, plus a few years, confused me.

                                  Hunt

                            2. re: Perilagu Khan

                              You're right, there's no guarantee, but I believe there is a correlation. It's more likely for a restaurant to be able to do 3 dishes well than 30 dishes. Or let's say if a restaurant does 5 dishes well, you're more likely to pick one of them out of a list of 10 items than out of a list of 50 items. So in that sense I suppose that favoring a smaller menu increases your probability of eating well. But I would never rule a restaurant in or out solely based on this theoretical consideration. In fact, it probably carries less weight with me than just about any other information I would normally have about the restaurant.

                              1. re: DeppityDawg

                                You're probably right. And I think your chances of being right increase when talking about fine dining establishments. But, frankly, such restaurants usually don't appeal to me. I'm more interested in enjoying a great and unaffected meal than I am in sampling the innermost artistic expressions of a renowned chef. Perhaps that's my loss, but those sorts of fussy, ego-driven dining experiences are just not my bag.

                                1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                  I'm certainly not talking about "fine dining" at all nor any "fussy, ego-driven dining experiences." I'm sorry that's been your experience. I think you've missed a lot because of that.

                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    Then what ARE you talking about? Brief, focused menus almost invariably correlate with soi dissant fine dining. Conversely, rare is the ethnic or workaday resto that offers less then 10 entrees and fewer than five apps.

                                    1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                      I'm saying that my restaurants don't have the 'attitude' that you seem to find where you dine. Also I don't consider ten entrees and five apps to be "voluminous." Sorry I didn't understand what you meant.

                                      1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                        Hi, Perliagu Khan: "Then what ARE you talking about?"

                                        Good Luck with that one.

                                        Aloha,
                                        Kaleo

                              2. re: Ray2

                                I agree. The mere notion that a restaurant could do a stellar job on THIRTY entrees is simply beyond comprehension.

                                1. re: c oliver

                                  Sometimes the number of entrees may not really indicate how many different dishes the restaurant is making.
                                  If I am at a particularly good area steak house they may list under steak entrees:
                                  PorterHouse
                                  T-Bone
                                  Delmonico
                                  NY Strip
                                  DemiLoin
                                  Rib Steak
                                  Rib Eye
                                  Filet Mignon
                                  BUT if all of these are merely being grilled to order and may be ordered with assorted sauces, I wouldn't count them as 7 different entrees.
                                  Just as a Chinese Restaurant offering:
                                  Plain Egg Foo Yung
                                  Roast Pork Egg Foo Yung
                                  Shrimp Egg Foo Yung
                                  Beef Egg Foo Young
                                  Chicken Egg Foo Yung
                                  Lobster Egg Foo Young
                                  Six different entree listings, but really only one entree available with 5 mix ins.
                                  The same goes for pizza..............
                                  Pick a crust: Neapolitan, Sicilian, Pan--three entrees
                                  White/Red-two sauces
                                  20+ toppings. They may show up as 12 different combinations on the menu, or simply as small, medium, large and available toppings and sauce............

                                  1. re: bagelman01

                                    Good point. Although I like an Italian, not pizza, place to have a certain limited number of pizzas and maybe one special. And be flexible if you ask to add or subtract A particular ingredient.

                                    1. re: c oliver

                                      Being from New Haven, I'm very spoiled, I go to an Apizza place (Sally's, Pepe's) for Apizza. They don't make any other food, although Pepe's will serve a salad). and I go to Italian restaurants for Italian or Italo-American Food and they generally don't make/serve apizza.

                                      The exceptions are the very few decent places such as Julian Brick Oven that make both great apizza and also hot grinders/subs.

                                      In this neck of the woods, Italian restaurants know better than to try to compete with pizzarias. The few Italian restaurants with both pizza and full meals tend to do both poorly.
                                      I do understand that outside the apizza belt economics may be such that a restaurant has to serve both pizza and Italian food to survive, but thank god I don't live there.

                                      1. re: bagelman01

                                        I think that outside that area they perhaps understand that it's a diverse cuisine that can serve many masters. To me, any place whose fame is based on clam pizza leaves a lot to be desired. Sorry, just one person's opinion.

                                        1. re: c oliver

                                          Not defending Pepe's, as I am a staunch Sally's customer...
                                          But Pepe's fame was not for it's white clam apizza. That's something that became trendy in the last 20-30 years. It's fame was for its traditional coal fired, brick oven, extremely thin crust New Haven apizza: Dough, sauce and grated Romano cheese (mozzarella is an additional topping in traditional New Haven apizza).
                                          I love New Haven Apizza and in almost 60 years have eaten hundreds of them, but I do not eat white pies, I don't consider them apizza.

                                          1. re: bagelman01

                                            B, thanks soooooo much for sharing this. I guess that trend is all I'd heard about.

                                            1. re: c oliver

                                              Pepe's sells any type of pie you may want. Their white clam pie was on my bucket list this summer because there is nowhere else in America that does it so well. I might have been the only person eating one when I went for lunch with bagelman. Sally's is not open for lunch. Another popular New Haven spot is Modern, which makes a clam pie with red sauce and I don't think they shuck their own fresh clams.

                                              1. re: Veggo

                                                Zuppardi's in West Haven makes a better clam pie. They use freshly shucked whole little necks instead of chopped clams. No cheese unless you ask for it and they will then tell you don't do it. Just my two cents.

                                                1. re: Bkeats

                                                  I've tried Zuppardi's numerous times over the years, don't like their crust, too thick for me

                                                2. re: Veggo

                                                  You are correct, Modern does not shuck their own clams. And while I don't eat/like white pies. A traditional New Haven style red apizza with clams and bacon can be heavenly.

                                                  1. re: Veggo

                                                    Amen, brother. I love a red sauce pie, but Pepe's white pie w/fresh clams and bacon is probably the best I've ever had.

                                      2. re: c oliver

                                        I'm sorry that's been your experience. I think you've missed a lot because of that.

                                        1. re: c oliver

                                          Hey, how about those restaurants that bill themselves as being Italian, American, Croatian , Mexican, Pho? [Grin]

                                          Hunt

                                        1. re: drongo

                                          Not a joke to me...a large menu is a real turnoff. If I see 30 entrees on a menu, my first thought (based on past experience) is that probably none of the dishes are executed with any real care or finesse.

                                    2. re: Perilagu Khan

                                      If it's a restaurant that specializes in a particular thing (barbeque, pizza, fresh seafood, fried chicken, etc.) one page should do it. My favorite Cuban restaurant in Hialeah has only a chalk board menu, which changes every day.

                                      A decent diner, Chinese or Asian restaurant should have a huge menu. A good steak house should have one page of food and fifteen pages of wine and whiskey.

                                      1. re: flavrmeistr

                                        I'd pretty much go along with that.

                                        But I also think Italian restaurants should have an extensive menu. Same for Indian and Mexican (loosely defined). And it just so happens that Italian, Indian and Mexican are my favorite cuisines.

                                        1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                          Agreed. Any "cuisine" worth it's salt needs a lot of dishes represented.

                                      2. re: Perilagu Khan

                                        i'm your opposite.
                                        if a restaurant has 4 really stellar options, that is enough for it to get onto my regular rotation.

                                        it's not unusual for me to stop trying new dishes at a restaurant once i've found 4 dishes that i love--i just stick with the ones i love.

                                        1. re: westsidegal

                                          Four really stellar options is good enough to make my regular rotation. But it is rare, practically unheard of, for any restaurant I've encountered to have four standouts from five total options. If, on the other hand, a restaurant has 20 entrée options, I am much more likely to find four beauts.

                                      3. That's one of my benchmarks for projecting how bad the food will be...the size of the menu. Both literally and in number of items. Also, a laminated menu is always bad. And pictures of the food? Forget it.

                                        8 Replies
                                        1. re: dulcie54

                                          Agreed so that being said what is your ideal number?

                                          1. re: dulcie54

                                            Laminated with pictures is almost invariably found in places like IHOP and similar family diners not good restaurants..

                                            1. re: mucho gordo

                                              That depends. Most of the best Jewish delis have laminated menus and some have pictures too.

                                              1. re: BubblyOne

                                                I was including delis under the "IHOP and similar eateries" category. I didn't think to consider them separately.

                                                1. re: mucho gordo

                                                  Mucho, mixing jewish delis with IHOP? Oy vey iz mir...:)

                                                  1. re: Veggo

                                                    That's odd..........you don't look Jewish

                                                    1. re: mucho gordo

                                                      Too hot to wear my good kitty yarmulke in Mexico....

                                            2. re: dulcie54

                                              I was hoping someone would mention lamination :)

                                            3. One of my favorite places has only 2 choices on any given day in each of the following categories: appetizer, salad, fish, entrée, dessert. But the choices change frequently.

                                              I suppose there only has to be 1 in each category if it's 1 I like!

                                              For a small restaurant, I think a small number of things done well with good fresh ingredients is better than a large number.

                                              I'd say about 5 choices in each category is about optimal for me as a general rule.

                                              1. Absolutely - there is usually a correlation between quality and number of menu items. As the menu grows the quality goes down and down.

                                                1. To paraphrase a saying about something else, ahem, and size, its not the size of the menu, its the magic in it.

                                                  1. For me it depends on the type of restaurant. If it's a place that is mid-range, just a notch or two nicer than a fast-casual chain, then I expect them to have a somewhat larger menu- generally these places will have a section with burgers and sandwiches, a section with entree-sized salads and a section with actual hot entrees, plus apps/soups and desserts, and I'm fine with this sort of menu having maybe 50-60 total items.

                                                    If we're talking more upscale, I expect less options and a more focused menu, unless it's a specific cuisine that doesn't lend itself to a classic 3-course approach (i.e., tapas, sushi, etc.). At a 3-course type of place, though, I would say 5-6 options in each category is plenty.

                                                    1. I usually go to specific places for specific dishes. Expecting everything on a menu to be stellar is just too much to ask, in my opinion. My favorite place ever, back in college days was run by an old Navy cook and World traveler.
                                                      One entree and sides each day. Never knew what it was going to be, but always knew it would be tasty.

                                                      1. Menus should be like a resume. One page is ideal, with front and back being okay if they also list drinks and desserts. Anything else where you have to start flipping through pages just detracts from the experience and slows things down, and, you start to wonder about frequency of turnover of whatever item you pick.

                                                        4 Replies
                                                        1. re: Bunson

                                                          Turnover is not necessarily an issue: Stuff lasts a long time in the freezer. Just hope they've invested in some high quality microwaves.

                                                          1. re: Bunson

                                                            I was going to mention page turning :) Our favorite place has food on the front and drinks on the back. And a sheet for their daily specials (one of each).

                                                            1. re: Bunson

                                                              "Menus should be like a resume. One page is ideal"

                                                              You are hiring people based upon a one page resume these days?!?!? Are you talking about fast food applicants?

                                                            2. As I said in the locked duplicate thread:

                                                              There are some restaurants that should have small menus and some restaurants that should have big menus. Different restaurants serve different purposes. Sometimes, you need a restaurant which is good for a party of ten who will probably each order a different item. Sometimes, you want a restaurant that really specializes in one dish.

                                                              I'd really like to see someone run a Chinese or Italian restaurant aimed at the masses with a limited menu.

                                                              3 Replies
                                                              1. re: FoodPopulist

                                                                A focused menu aimed at the masses? Seems like an oxymoron.

                                                                1. re: Bkeats

                                                                  I think it can be done. A Chinese restaurant with a narrow focus and a regular menu of 15 entrees instead a huge book would make sense to me. For example, perhaps there are places that would support a restaurant that specializes in Chinese noodle dishes. Or maybe a Chinese chicken restaurant.

                                                                  1. re: FoodPopulist

                                                                    See poster raytamsgv's posts below. His menu issues are the standard in reputable Chinese restaurants.

                                                              2. Every now and then I come across a restaurant serving only one dish- nasi kuning in Manado, or galbi in Akasaka, Tokyo- and that's ok.

                                                                Generally though, I'd like a bit of variety. No need for Cheesecake Factory, diners or Chinese take-out excess, but a few choices under broad categories will suffice.

                                                                Jonathan
                                                                http://buildingmybento.com
                                                                http://collaterallettuce.com

                                                                1. IMO, the larger the menu the less fresh the ingredients.

                                                                  1. I favor short menus that change frequently and take advantage of what is currently fresh and local.

                                                                    5 Replies
                                                                    1. re: Veggo

                                                                      A short menu that changes frequently is fine. Or a short menu with several frequently rotating specials. This leavens a brief, static roster with some variety and newness.

                                                                      1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                        It sounds like you eat out every night?

                                                                        1. re: BanjoMan1

                                                                          Far from it. It's rare that I eat out more than once a week. But I do have a handful of restaurants that are my standbys.

                                                                        2. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                          Above you required a "voluminous" menu. No?

                                                                          1. re: c oliver

                                                                            In the vast majority of instances, that has been the case.

                                                                      2. It depends. In general, I side with the others who have concerns about a giant catch-all menu that makes me suspect, "Jack of all trades, master at none."

                                                                        Some have already mentioned the laminated menus as a sign of staleness but some retort that delis can be the exception to this. I find that like other eateries with large menus (usually laminated), delis do have a handful of winners (that they are usually known for) and are often featured in the menu. The rest of the items are usually for filling space (just my opinion). Some points for parole are given if the eatery adds a sheet with "Today's Specials," or "What's Fresh This Week," or "What's in Season" to show that some effort is being made that Sysco isn't their sole provider.

                                                                        Chinese and Thai restaurants often fall in the "Book of Menus" category. Jitlada, a sweetheart to many on the L.A. Board has one of those menu books. Like mentioned about the laminated menu issue and the Deli comparison, Jitlada is one of those places where pseudo-Thai standards can be found (albeit executed somewhat better than most) but many just flip all the way back to the "Southern Thai" menu, which is the restaurant's pedigree.

                                                                        http://losangeles.menupages.com/resta... restaurant/menu

                                                                        So yes, they do try to catch all, yet they do have Chow cred via their "special" menu.

                                                                        Those familiar with the Chinese food scene on the L.A. board know that the level of Chinese cuisine can be serious business. The San Gabriel Valley has one of the largest (if not the largest) Chinese communities outside of Chinese Asia. This fares well for those who wish to pursue traditional examples of the various regional cuisines. And a large laminated menu in this case is not a bad thing - pictures included.

                                                                        Dim sum is probably the most popular food experience in terms of numbers of eaters, as well as numbers of non-Chinese eaters. The norm for dim sum flows down two paths.

                                                                        The standard is where several carts are wheeled by the tables, each offering from one to several types of dishes to the diners. This makes menus somewhat irrelevant.

                                                                        This leads us down the second path - menu-driven dim sum service. This model has gained popularity because the level of quality, freshness and choices are typically better at such places. The same carts circling around the often-massive dining rooms can lead to many dim sum dishes losing their edge no matter how well-prepared. And when it comes to freshness, the Chinese palate can be very discriminating. So ordering what one wants - as opposed to leaving it to chance via the cart method - is the optimal choice.

                                                                        Because a fair number of non-Chinese patrons regularly dine at dim sum, and because so many choices are offered on these menu-driven dim sum houses, and because these choices are pretty standard through most of the year, laminated photo-driven menu books are becoming standard at these better Cantonese restaurants. The menu will usually list the various dishes in Chinese characters, English and a photo of the respective dishes. Here's a photo of one of the menu pages at Sea Harbour Seafood Restaurant in Rosemead, Ca.

                                                                        http://www.yelp.com/biz_photos/sea-ha...

                                                                        I would not hesitate to visit a laminated photo-driven menu book place like this.

                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                        1. re: bulavinaka

                                                                          I'd like to add that pictures on the menus of Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley are also very useful to Chinese patrons. Many restaurants serve highly specialized regional dishes that are often unfamiliar or downright foreign to Chinese patrons from other regions.

                                                                          The menu items can have poetic names (e.g. "Phoenix Claws", "Buddha Jumps Over a Wall", "8 Treasures Noodles"). You don't know what it is unless you are from the region.

                                                                          Finally, restaurants from different regions may have menu items with the same, but they could be prepared in very different ways.

                                                                          1. re: raytamsgv

                                                                            That's for sure. My wife who reads Chinese was cracking up while reading one menu item name printed in Chinese at Elite. I think the nice little pastries we later ordered and enjoyed roughly translated into English as, "chicken butt buns."

                                                                        2. Small is good by way of menu size. For most places, it means fresh preparation of stuff that the kitchen can really concentrate on. The larger the menu, the more likely stuff will have been bought in from the catering wholesaler.

                                                                          Six or so items at each course is about what I'm looking for. Less and the choice may be too limited (fixed price, no choice tasting menus exempted, of course).

                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                          1. re: Harters

                                                                            Harters, how does a small menu equate to fresh? If I have a seafood restaurant that has trout on the small menu and no one has ordered it for days that means it is fresh because the menu is small?

                                                                              1. re: Harters

                                                                                No it is not a rhetorical question, Harters. Your own post above leads one to believe you seem to be under the impression a small menu means fresh. This is what you stated...

                                                                                "Small is good by way of menu size. For most places, it means fresh preparation of stuff "

                                                                          2. I'm fine with no menus at all if the food is good. Just serve me what you've made. I don't need choices or control just fine tastin' grub. Best of all is maybe three or four choices on a blackboard that changes every night.

                                                                            On the other hand, more than two pages of menu and I start to wonder if it's not a "jack of all trades" issue. Like the Irish pubs that serve sushi or the Chinese restaurants that offer pizza.

                                                                            6 Replies
                                                                            1. re: MGZ

                                                                              I'm in the same boat as you brother. I don't really care how many offerings they have as long as they are good that's all that concerns me. Good example is Jimmy's in Asbury Park has a pretty extensive menu, 30+ entrees if I had to guess. Well guess what, I LOVE their chicken scarp, and that's all I ever order.

                                                                              I leave the variety to the Mrs. but well over 15 years of dining there chicken scarp is all I have ever ordered.

                                                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                                                  Full name "chicken scarpariello", from a Southern Italian word meaning "shoemaker". There are many different recipes (hey, shoemakers appreciate a varied menu, too…)

                                                                                  I'll let jrvedivici describe Jimmy's version: "chunks of chicken and sausage in a balsamic and white wine reduction" :)

                                                                                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8853...

                                                                                  1. re: DeppityDawg

                                                                                    Geeze, I thought you were actually going to let me describe it, not just copy paste my old description. Perhaps my vocabulary has expanded since that post, perhaps I had better more enticing adjectives to lure you into the deliciousness of Jimmy's Chicken Scarp!?!?! Now the world will never know.

                                                                                2. re: jrvedivici

                                                                                  The scallops there are GREAT. Jimmy's!

                                                                                  1. re: Meltlady

                                                                                    Everything is great at Jimmy's 15+- years dining there and never recall sending a dish back or being disappointed.

                                                                              1. It depends on the restaurant. Real Chinese restaurants in my area, typically between 50 and 150 items. If the kitchen can't make that many dishes, then I would seriously question their skill level.

                                                                                4 Replies
                                                                                1. re: raytamsgv

                                                                                  Excellent point. A broad spectrum of offerings could, in some cases, be an indicator of still in the kitchen.

                                                                                  1. re: raytamsgv

                                                                                    Do you think in Chinese places the fact that so many of the vegetables go in a lot of dishes can allow quality in a huge menu? Never thought about it before.

                                                                                    1. re: c oliver

                                                                                      A good Chinese cook can combine ingredients in different ways and with different cooking techniques: braising, stir-frying, deep-frying, steaming, boiling, roasting, etc. It's not about learning to cook a fixed number of dishes. It's about mastering techniques.

                                                                                      A well-stocked Chinese restaurant will typically have far more raw ingredients than the average Western-style restaurant. Knowledgeable Chinese patrons can determine the available ingredients by looking at a menu and then ordering a custom-made dish.

                                                                                      As a test, for more than a year, I ordered tomato beef curry chow mein at a number of Cantonese restaurants to see how good the cooks were. It's an unusual dish that's not found on menus, but any decent Cantonese cook should be able to make it. If they couldn't make that dish well, the cooks also weren't that good with the standard dishes on the menu.

                                                                                      1. re: raytamsgv

                                                                                        Just to add - with regard to freshness, many serious Cantonese places would stock a large selection of live fish and other seafood in tanks. In contrast, I don't know of that many places with a small menu that are set up to handle live ingredients. More doesn't imply less fresh.

                                                                                        Separately, good sushi places often have a large selection of fish and seafood as well, certainly more than just a handful.

                                                                                        Also worth noting that freshness isn't everything -- proper ageing is important for certain varieties of fish to attain certain flavours and textures. Tuna is one example, as are marinated mackerel, but I'm sure more knowledgable chowhounds could provide more examples and more details. Beef aficionados will also mention aged beef.

                                                                                        At the end of the day, it's more accurate to judge a place by how the food tastes, rather than by the size of the menu. Menu size isn't going to be that useful as a surrogate.

                                                                                  2. This brings up something I've always wondered about. How on Earth do diners have ALL those choices available? It never ceases to amaze me that when I sit down in a diner, I can basically have ANYTHING I want to eat. I realize that I'm taking my chances with some of those menu choices, but still...to be able to serve all of that within a reasonable amount of time boggles my mind!

                                                                                    1. some find it fancy to have a long list of choices and then order something not on the menu or make several substitutions to something ordered from a 20+ page menu.

                                                                                      growing up I had one choice for dinner. it was what mom made. and it was delicious. and much more high class than any restaurant could ever achieve...

                                                                                      3 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: Gastronomos

                                                                                        You're fortunate. My mother was a lousy cook - although nowhere near as bad as the mother-in-law.

                                                                                        1. re: Harters

                                                                                          very fortunate I've come to know.

                                                                                          breakfast, lunch and dinner, snacks etc. never a choice, always took care of us like no restaurant could. but I've been to restaurants where I was 'taken care of', and the menu was pre-set. everyone in the place ate the same thing. this was back in the mid 1980's. I still remember them telling everyone to sit and enjoy. I left there floating on a cloud.

                                                                                          1. re: Harters

                                                                                            Harters,

                                                                                            My mom was similar. Adequate, and tried, but just not her thing. I married a young lady, who could have been a chef, but chose a different career path. No one in her family, even a nephew who has been a sous chef in some of the best restaurants in New Orleans, can compare to her. My good fortune - so long as she cooks HER recipes, and does not listen to other family members.

                                                                                            Still, the size of the menu can vary, and pretty greatly, and still represent a restaurant with great food.

                                                                                            Hunt

                                                                                        2. I generally lose interest (and patience) in a menu that exceeds four pages. One page for soups and appetizers, 1/2 page salads, 2 pages for entrees and 1/2 page for desserts/beverages.

                                                                                          That said, I understand that some popular priced restaurants have lengthier menus as they include, breakfast, lunh and dinner menus. BUT if you're not a 24 hour diner offering all meals at anytime, please give me a menu appropriatet o the meal period. I don't want to turn through 4 pages of egss/pancakes/waffles to get to lunch sandwiches.

                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                          1. IMHO the items are too many if the taste of the food suffers. If everything tastes great, I don't care how many pages they have. It's the chef's place. If he/she can execute it he can do whatever he/she wants.

                                                                                            Or as I like to say: Size doesn't matter. It's how you use it.

                                                                                            1. I'd say that in some cases size DOES matter, and that bigger isn't necessarily better. My impression, rightly or wrongly, is that when a menu is a tome like those often found at New Jersey diners -- pages and pages of anything your heart desires, from any ethnicity or culture, from corned beef to cornish hens to cassoulet -- chances are slim that that food has not been pre-cooked by some mega foodservice, frozen and shipped to said restaurant, where it is nuked and presented as homemade.

                                                                                              1. For me, it depends on the options. I have seen menus that were small and tight, but with great dishes for every course.

                                                                                                However, I have seen multi-page menus, that had zero that I really wanted to eat, and I am an adventurous diner.

                                                                                                Having about 4 apps, 4 salads and/or soups, then 4 - 6 mains, usually works well - but again, it depends.

                                                                                                Also, I give extra points for any restaurant, that allows me to do an interesting cheese course, to share with my wife, instead of forcing dessert on both diners.

                                                                                                Hunt

                                                                                                1. I figure if you exceed about one entree choice for every ten seats in the restaurant, every additional choice is probably going to have to come out of a freezer. In a Chinese restaurant you can make more items because most dishes are the same thing with a different condiment, but if you go to a seafood restaurant with twenty entree choices and fifty seats, something is wrong. On the other hand, in Japan a lot of big restaurants only make one thing, and it's usually pretty good.

                                                                                                  1. How many options are too many? For me, it depends entirely on the "genetics" of the restaurant. If it's toward the classic "fine dining" style, Six to 8 main choices in a menu that changes often is good for me. Ethnic restaurants are good, even when they have a whooole lot more, with Indian often offering the second largest number of dishes, and some Chinese restaurants require a full day to read the entire menu, and then you're still not done because the chef takes requests! But overall, my experience has been that the more itens on the menu, the more mediocre the food will be. But I'm a happy camper when I find the exception that proves the rule! But it's been a long time since that happened. A VERY long time!

                                                                                                    1. Here's the menu from our favorite place. A few things in a number of different categories. Almost everything made inhouse. To me, it's the perfect size.

                                                                                                      http://www.camporeno.com/wp-content/u...

                                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                                      1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                        Here's a link to one of my favorite casual places. Its about 1/3 the size. Probably could use to be a bit longer. The thing that keeps me coming back is that it changes pretty much every month. Otherwise it would get quite dull. Problem though when a dish you love disappears. Guess that's why its seasonal.

                                                                                                        http://colonienyc.com/menu

                                                                                                        1. re: Bkeats

                                                                                                          It would be very easy to eat one's way through that menu. Quality over quantity.

                                                                                                      2. I don't mind a large menu, but it has been organized well. I have been to restaurants where they have two separate menu. Some of items are overlapped, and some aren't. Confusing.

                                                                                                        For a typical restaurant, I like to see about 20 to 40 items.

                                                                                                        1. "Does menu size matter"?

                                                                                                          It certainly does. I dislike a menu so large that I am unable to see my dining companion across the table.

                                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                                          1. re: John E.

                                                                                                            <It certainly does. I dislike a menu so large that I am unable to see my dining companion across the table.>

                                                                                                            Find a larger companion.

                                                                                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                              My dining companion is the perferct size. She will tell you that her dining companion could stand to drop a few lbs. and she would be correct.

                                                                                                          2. One of my favorite meals was at a bed-and-breakfast, where if you came down for breakfast, you got what you were served. In this case it was scrambled eggs with lobster.

                                                                                                            Did your mom have a large menu?

                                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                                            1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                                                              <<Did your mom have a large menu?>>
                                                                                                              Um-m, no, but she did not charge US $450/person for dinner either.

                                                                                                              Hunt

                                                                                                            2. Hmmm, this is an interesting question. And I find myself falling in line with the majority here. If it's an Asian joint, not meant for a fine dining experience, but good eats to gobble up or take home, I want a ton of options.
                                                                                                              Any fine dining, specialty (such as seafood), or more obscure ethnic (like Turkish or Afghan, etc...) I appreciate a small handful of options and expect it to be well prepared.

                                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                                              1. re: alliegator

                                                                                                                <specialty (such as seafood), or more obscure ethnic (like Turkish or Afghan, etc...) >

                                                                                                                I also like many options in Turkish and Afghan places. :(

                                                                                                                My definition of many is probably not as many as others, but I certainly want more than 15 items, unless it is a specialized store.

                                                                                                              2. I remember a restaurant where we would occasionally dine back in the 90s. It was nice place, but not quite white tablecloths nice. They specialized in a tableside salad preparation (not really caesar) and they had a 'prime rib loft' where you could eat all-you-can-eat prime rib (I never did eat up there).

                                                                                                                Anyway, they had a HUGE menu. I bet there were 75 entrees listed. I don't remember all that much about the food except that the shrimp scampi was not made with real butter. That's a dealbreaker for me. I am sure that at least 80% of their menu was from Sysco.

                                                                                                                Oh, there is still a restaurant in that building, but the one I'm referring to has been closed for at least 10 years. The family that ran it had another restaurant with the same menu about 12 miles up the road, but that one was bought out by the highway department so they could widen the road.

                                                                                                                1. How about a 45-page menu including 20 different bottled waters?
                                                                                                                  http://eater.com/archives/2013/08/06/...

                                                                                                                  48 Replies
                                                                                                                    1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                      the comments on the story are pretty funny.

                                                                                                                      1. re: Firegoat

                                                                                                                        What about those oxygen bars that have a menu of different-flavored air? Now that I think about it, that doesn't seem so crazy for LA.

                                                                                                                        1. re: flavrmeistr

                                                                                                                          Are the oxygen bars still around? Now THAT'S something I wouldn't have minded trying. ONCE.

                                                                                                                          1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                            I think they started in Tokyo. They have them at LAX and LAS. It's a bar fitted out with these things that look like a bong with a half-face respirator. Customers pay to huff pure oxygen bubbling up through their choice of flavored liquids. Bad air in LA and the hung-over masses fleeing Vegas must provide them with a healthy volume of business. It costs like $20 for 10 minutes. Personally, I'd rather invest my $20 in a couple of cold Stella's.

                                                                                                                          2. re: flavrmeistr

                                                                                                                            Once, I saw a lot of those in various US airports. Not so much anymore.

                                                                                                                            Personally, I would rather have showers in my airline's lounge. I'll save the oxygen for when I climb Everest.

                                                                                                                            Hunt

                                                                                                                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                              I've often thought it would be nice if there were little cubicles with cots in the terminals where you could nap for an hour or so. There are times when I'd pay $20 for an hour of uninterrupted snooze.

                                                                                                                              1. re: flavrmeistr

                                                                                                                                The airport on Oahu used to have something like that. You took a short shuttle to it. We used it about 25 years ago when we first took the girls to Maui and there were no nonstop flights back then. We got in late and were flying out early. They were real beds, two to a curtianed off cube. Had showers and a lounge area with coffee, etc. Made a world of sense.

                                                                                                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                  Brilliant! What a totally civilized concept! Investors, the line forms on the left.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: flavrmeistr

                                                                                                                                    I have struggled to remember this. Yotel at/in Heathrow and maybe others. I had booked something there but then wound up getting a day room at a super close hotel at a good price.

                                                                                                                                    http://www.yotel.com/Hotels/London-He...

                                                                                                                                2. re: flavrmeistr

                                                                                                                                  Several Asian airports have little "rooms," that allow a bit of downtime, and showers.

                                                                                                                                  Several international first lounges have similar, at least the showers.

                                                                                                                                  I have gotten to the point, that I will fly into X, overnight, then fly out the next AM. This beats taking a 6:00AM flight from PHX, where one would be up at about 2:30AM, then the car, then the arrival 2 hours before (or 2.5 hours before with international), then a connection to a 5 - 15 hour flight.

                                                                                                                                  Heck, I overnight at IAD (Dulles), when we have meetings in DC. That allows us to complete the meetings into the afternoon, then take the car to IAD - check in, then fly out on the 9:00AM flight.

                                                                                                                                  Let's just say that the staff at several Hilton Inns, know us by name and by sight. While we're only there one night, they see us a lot.

                                                                                                                                  In destinations like Sydney, Paris, London, and a few others, we book our hotel room for the night before, so when we arrive at 6:00 - 7:00AM, we do not sit in the lounge for 6 hours, while our room is being prepared. I have been there, done that, and it's not pretty, as I fall asleep in my Chablis.

                                                                                                                                  Hunt

                                                                                                                        2. re: Firegoat

                                                                                                                          Ok, that is too long for me. I want a menu that I can read through. I actually thought Cheesecake Factory menu being too big too.

                                                                                                                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                            To me, the Cheesecake Factory menu is probably the most intimidating one out there. You have a phone book size list of choices, and you know that none of it is going to be terribly good. When the server flops the thing in front of me, I just groan inside.

                                                                                                                            1. re: alliegator

                                                                                                                              CF is the Disneyworld of chain eateries.

                                                                                                                                1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                                                  You're not missing a thing except the 5 lb. menu. However, being the ubiquitous favorite spot for 30 and 40-ish y.o. ladies to meet up for dinner, I end up there a lot more than I want to :/

                                                                                                                                  1. re: alliegator

                                                                                                                                    Myself. It's the unanimous choice of my administrative support staff for "special" luncheons, all of whom fit neatly within that demographic. I took them to a crabhouse once. Big mistake. I just smile and sign the tab.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: flavrmeistr

                                                                                                                                      Well, consider yourself somewhat lucky. My husband's colleagues prefer (gulp) Olive Garden.

                                                                                                                                  2. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                                                    I am with you. I see those restaurants, but have never been inside one.

                                                                                                                                    While not intimidated by "normal" large menus, I am starting to feel that I should never go either.

                                                                                                                                    Hunt

                                                                                                                                  3. re: flavrmeistr

                                                                                                                                    If CF is the Disneyworld of chain eateries, what's the amusement park equivalent of non-chain eateries?

                                                                                                                                    1. re: FoodPopulist

                                                                                                                                      Knoebels . . .Family owned and operated and entirely a la carte.

                                                                                                                                      http://www.knoebels.com/

                                                                                                                                      1. re: gaffk

                                                                                                                                        Oh my god! I used to go there every summer as a child. You hit the nail on the head, gaffk.

                                                                                                                                      2. re: FoodPopulist

                                                                                                                                        I would say Hoff's Hut in Anaheim, CA. Famous for their fresh strawberry pie.

                                                                                                                                      3. re: alliegator

                                                                                                                                        I was at the Macys in Union Square SF some years ago. There's a CF (I guess it's still there) in the store. There was a really long line of people waiting to get in. When there was SO much good food within a short walk. I wanted to drag a few out of line or at least shout "what the hell are you doing here???"

                                                                                                                                        1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                          It appears to still be there, and still a going concern. Our normal SF hotel room sort of overlooks it, across Union Square, and it was busy, as of last month. Obviously popular with a segment of the population?

                                                                                                                                          Hunt

                                                                                                                                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                            I guess but, come on folks, you're in San Francisco. Even if your goal is only shopping, at least go down to the Cellar.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                              I cannot argue. We have never dined there, but do get to observe it, albeit from a very long block away. Not sure who is dining there, but it seems to fill up early, and stays so, until quite late. Must be attracting a certain audience?

                                                                                                                                              Hunt

                                                                                                                                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                                And I know you won't eat there. There IS a god :)

                                                                                                                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                                  So far, never have.

                                                                                                                                                  Were I to be so very tempted, it would NOT be in SF - just too many great restaurants, and especially in that general area.

                                                                                                                                                  Hunt

                                                                                                                                              2. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                                I always have that same reaction when I see people flocking to the Olive Garden in the middle of Times Square. C'mon, people -- this is New Yawk, New Yawk!!

                                                                                                                                            2. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                              Ugh, I feel for you. I was with a group of my fellow students some years ago in Chicago (Chicago, for crap's sake!), and despite my little bleats of protest, dinner on a free evening was indeed at the CF.
                                                                                                                                              I almost burst into a full on "this is MY rental car, we are going wherever I say!" rant.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                                Oy vey. SF is such a fantastic food city. People like the comfort of knowing what CF will offer (overly salty, bland, predictable food in a long list of choices). I suppose they're also the ones patronizing Fisherman Wharf tourist joints and Ghiradelli Sq. while ignoring so many other parts of the City.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: globocity

                                                                                                                                                  Sotto Mare in North Beach. My fave.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: globocity

                                                                                                                                                    So what you're sayin' is that there are close-minded, fear driven, American's who are content to wallow in their own ignorance, and they are not Members of the House of Representatives?

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: MGZ

                                                                                                                                                      If they ARE US Representatives, then they are dining at their personal table at either the Capital Grill, or The Oval Room, when in DC. A few, with no seniority, will likely dine at The Democrat Club, if they are of that persuasion.

                                                                                                                                                      When they get "back home," they will be in only mom-n-pops, where the photo-ops are better.

                                                                                                                                                      As for the rest, then I do think that it is fear - fear of anything beyond their normal comfort zone. Why explore, when one can find the same corporate food, as back home, wherever that might be. One reason that restaurants, like Morton's of Chicago are so popular, even in places like Honolulu. They want "adult McDonalds," and nothing less.

                                                                                                                                                      While most of us have some form of "comfort zone," most on CH expand that, whenever they have the opportunity to do so. It might not work out, but we tried it. OTOH, we probably hit more "winners," than almost any other group of diners, and our enjoyment is better for it.

                                                                                                                                                      Hunt

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                                        Er, I think MGZ was being sarcastic.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                                          You could well be correct. My comments on the US Representatives still holds though...

                                                                                                                                                          Hunt

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                                            Only if they're expensing it, Bill.

                                                                                                                                                        2. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                                          <They want "adult McDonalds," and nothing less.>

                                                                                                                                                          While what you said is true, I also think we all have a little bit of that. Certainly, most of us here do not feel that way toward foods because why else we are here, right? However, I "turtle" myself behind well known products. For example, I had a HP labtop. I am pretty sure they are like the "adult Fisher-Price" for me.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                            I am not sure what is different about me, and my wife, but we work very hard to get beyond the "safe."

                                                                                                                                                            OTOH, we are dining at Farallon in San Francisco, for like the 100th time, over the last 15 years, because they are good, they have a great wine program, and have never let us down. However, their menu changes constantly, and we normally go very far afield of what might be considered "safe." The same for the wines, and both sommeliers love to take us on a "trip." Heck, I do not want something that I have in my cellar, back in Phoenix, and other than their nice list of white Burgandies, want to always expand MY horizons - I want new varietals, new Regions, and wines that I would never have thought of, on my own.

                                                                                                                                                            Yeah, some of the familiar, but plenty of adventure. They always take care of those aspects.

                                                                                                                                                            Hunt

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                                              Sound exciting.

                                                                                                                                                              <I am not sure what is different about me, and my wife, but we work very hard to get beyond the "safe.">

                                                                                                                                                              Maybe you were not working very hard, maybe you are easily bored. I like to try different foods all the time because I can get bored of the same food. I rather try "average quality and new stuffs" than to try "excellent quality but old stuffs". This mostly apply to food though.

                                                                                                                                                              I can be conservative on other stuffs. Still use a dumb phone (not smart phone) and still drive a gasoline car and still prefer cotton clothing...etc.

                                                                                                                                                      2. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                                        Please, let them stay at CF and leave the rest of SF for us

                                                                                                                                                      3. re: alliegator

                                                                                                                                                        I don't hate Cheesecake Factory. I don't love it, but I certainly do not hate it. My local Cheesecake factory has some very attractive ladies working there too and that help. :)

                                                                                                                                                        Honestly, I just think the menu is just too big and too unfocused. It is like a little phone book like you said and an unorganized phone book at that.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                          I dunno. I don't care for those glistening corporate sauce bases they use on everything. Creeps me out.

                                                                                                                                                        2. re: alliegator

                                                                                                                                                          Skip the entrees and just order a bunch of appetizers as a meal. You don't have to read as much and you're out of there faster.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: FoodPopulist

                                                                                                                                                            Luckily, I just relocated a few months ago, so I get the chance to choose local friends more carefully, and based on the common interest of eating well ;)
                                                                                                                                                            So far, I've been lucky!

                                                                                                                                                    2. I still won't admit that I'm far-sighted and I forget to bring my glasses with me often enough that I've gotten used to just ordering whatever I want. Now I seldom use the menu, though I will sometimes order one of the blackboard specials.