Monday, June 22, 2015

Rant: Does Size Matter? (Restaurant Menu Size)

What is the optimal size for a restaurant menu? Can there be so many options on a menu that it overwhelms the diner? Can a menu be too short, with too few options?  Do the answers vary due to restaurant size, cuisine, price, or other such matters?

Last week, I dined at a local Italian restaurant and spoke with the general manager, who mentioned that a few customers had complained that their menu was too small, with insufficient options. Their lunch menu has about 25 options, from salads to pasta, sandwiches to pizza,and their dinner menu has roughly 30 options, with entrees replacing the sandwiches. I don't consider that a small menu, unless you compare it to some chain Italian restaurants that seem to have a dozen menu pages of dishes. At this particular restaurant, I have difficulty deciding what to order because so many of their dishes sound so delicious.

I generally prefer smaller restaurant menus, with exceptions, for multiple reasons. First, a large menu, with many dozens of choices, presents far too many choices, a sensory overload which stifles choices many that it helps. Second, a restaurant with a small menu should be able to produce better quality food through specialization. They wouldn't have to cook and prepare such a large list of dishes, increasing the chance for mistakes. Third, a restaurant with a smaller menu will often have fresher ingredients, as there is more turn over. With a large menu, some dishes might not be ordered that much, and maybe the ingredients for such matters aren't as fresh as they should be. Otherwise, the restaurant would have far more waste.

A restaurant doesn't need to be everything for everyone. That is the problem with some chain restaurants, as they try to create a large menu to appeal to everyone's preferences. By doing so, they can fail to achieve the level of quality they could achieve with a much smaller menu. Yes,if a restaurant has a smaller menu, they won't be able to cater to everyone's specific tastes. That is the trade-off. And I think the best of those restaurant have made an excellent decision.

When I think of my favorite restaurants, the vast majority of them have small menus, well-honed selections which express quality and taste. I always find multiple dishes that appeal to me and I'm very satisfied at the end of my meal.

Do you prefer that a restaurant have a smaller or larger menu?


Susan Holaday said...

I have to agree - one of my new favorites, The Brewer's Fork in Charlestown, has a relatively small menu - wood-fired pizzas and a number of small plates. Creatively made dishes and great wine and craft beer lists that change often make it engaging and simulate return business in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

I'm always suspicious of a big menu. Smaller translates to fresh, in my mind. When I see a large menu, I usually ask if there are any specials or I'll ask for "fresh" recommendations. It can be difficult however, to dine with a partner who is a picky eater and prone to craving specific items that are 90% NOT going to be on that small menu. Size matters in this case - small is better. But only as long as the wine list isn't as limited. There's nothing worse. Unless of course, all of the wines on that short list are excellent.