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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.