The restaurant industry is notorious for being highly competitive, with slim margins and a high failure rate. To survive, restaurateurs must stay on their toes to develop fresh new ideas and dishes to entice diners to come in through their doors.
One of the easiest and most effective tactics is the prix fixe menu. The idea of getting a multi-course meal for the price of one is undoubtedly attractive to diners. For restaurant owners, it can be a huge lifesaver. So when should you use a prix fixe menu, and how do you create one? Here are some tips and tricks to get you started.
A prix fixe menu (meaning “price fixed menus” in French) refers to a multi-course meal with a fixed price per person. This contrasts with an a la carte menu, where diners pick dishes priced individually.
If you’re not familiar with the term, you’ll probably recognize it by its other names, “set menu” or “tasting menu.” Different cuisines also have their versions of a fixed price menu, such as the thali in Indian cuisine or the teishoku or kaiseki in upscale Japanese restaurants.
A common feature of fine dining restaurants, a prix fixe dinner is often offered during special occasions like Valentine’s Day as a special menu. It’s composed of a minimum of three courses, sometimes more than ten, but always includes appetizers, a main course, and a dessert.
Most prix fixe menus allow diners to have limited choices, such as picking between two different entrees. Some even leave the choice up to the chef without telling the diner what each dish in the menu is until it’s served, such as with the Japanese omakase menu (literally translated as “I leave it up to you”).
There really is no “right” or “wrong” time to use a prix fixe menu. It’s not limited to fine dining establishments during special occasions, as many casual restaurants have used it successfully year-round.
The biggest advantage of a prix fixe menu is that it streamlines and simplifies kitchen operations. If your kitchen staff struggles to keep up with the demands of the dining room during peak hours, introducing set menus can help ease some of that burden.
Instead of having prep for the entire menu, the kitchen only focuses on a few items off the prix fixe set. This speeds up cooking and serving time. It can also lower your food costs because you’re ordering only stocks you know you can sell.
Set menus are also great alternatives to a buffet setup when your restaurant caters to a private event. Buffets entail that you allot some buffer portions on your food. The food on a prix fixe menu, on the other hand, is in fixed amounts, thus simplifying costing and procurement with minimal waste.
Price fixed menus are also an excellent way to offer seasonal ingredients or get rid of overstocked items. For instance, let’s say your steak dishes are moving slowly for the past few weeks, such that you have a large surplus of steak in storage. To help finish off this overstock, you can create a prix fixe menu with a steak dish as the entrée to encourage diners to order it.
Because diners often perceive prix fixe menus as a great deal, it’s a fantastic promotional tool as well. You can devise a prix fixe menu that you can offer specifically on slow days to help bring in more business. You can even change every season to keep the menu fresh and encourage patrons to come back.
Coming up with a prix fixe menu is a chance to be creative. For some entrepreneurs, this can be a refreshing process, but it can be daunting to others. Fortunately, it’s not that difficult to create one. Here are some tips to get you started.
Having a theme for your prix fixe meal makes it easier for you to come up with dishes. It also ensures that the different components and flavors in the set menu complement each other to create a more cohesive dining experience.
A theme can also be a promotional tool in its own right. For example, you can develop a “Lobster Night” prix fixe menu during weekdays, which can attract lobster lovers who don’t usually frequent your restaurant. Or you can come up with a seasonal vegan menu to accommodate people with this dietary preference.
The thing with humans is that they always want to have a choice, but not too much of it. Even in a fixed price menu, it’s still a good idea to let people choose.
For example, you can have an option between a three-course meal or a more premium five-course meal. Or, you can give guests the freedom of going with the fish entrée or the steak main course. It’s also vital that you offer options that cater to dietary restrictions, like vegan or dairy-free.
Options increase the chances that more people will opt for the prix fixe menu because it can cover a broader range of food and budget preferences. Of course, you should be careful not to go overboard or lose the benefits of simplicity that a prix fixe menu gives.
When putting together a prix fixe menu, try to include one or two of your best-sellers. This is a good idea for two reasons. One, it can help entice your loyal customers to try something new while not missing out on their favorites at the same time. Two, it can help introduce new diners to your proven dishes so that they hopefully come back in the future.
Expensive items on your menu, such as steaks and lobsters, are great centerpieces for your prix fixe menu. Grouping these with a lower-cost appetizer and dessert might make them a “great deal,” enough that customers who don’t typically order them will.
An excellent prix fixe menu is where the guest leaves satisfied knowing they had a wonderful meal at a discounted price. Sure, you might be charging them more in the long run, but diners should never feel that. Prix fixe menus are all about value perception more than anything else.
Price fixed menus are a fantastic chance for you to upsell drinks on your menu as well, as most don’t include it. For instance, you can offer a beer or wine pairing to go with the meal for an additional price.
Diners consider a prix fixe menu as a curated meal, so you should consider the entire experience. The amount, flavor, and weight of each dish matters.
For instance, you don’t want to start with a heavy appetizer if you have a rich main course because it will wear out a diner’s palate. The frequency at which each dish comes out of the kitchen is essential, too.
Here are some examples of what a three-course and five-course prix fixe menu might look like.
Three-Course Fine-Dining Prix Fixe Menu for $30
Five-Course Mediterranean-Inspired Prix Fixe Menu for $40
Prix fixe menus in restaurants are often not inserted together with the main menu. They’re usually printed on a separate sheet or possibly written on a blackboard somewhere on or outside the premises. All the food items are neatly listed on the menu, with options on each component if you offer that one.
While fixed price menus are often priced per person, some occasions (often Valentine’s Day) are priced per couple. In this case, some of the dishes, such as the appetizer or salad, might be in sharing portions.
A prix fixe menu carries with it the expectation of value. The reason patrons might order it is to either get a discounted price on the meal or to try out something new. It gives people the chance to try out a lot more dishes in smaller portions.
Set menus also eliminate the burden of choice, as a long menu can overwhelm some customers. This was the motivation for Georges Escoffier, who first devised the prix fixe menu in 1846 so that even inexperienced, non-French speaking diners could order a superb meal at this restaurant.
One of the best foundations for creating a prix fixe meal is the data you have on your customers. Which food items are resonating with them the most? When are you the busiest? What’s their average bill amount? Knowing all of these allows you to plan and price your set menu intelligently.
The only way to gather data is to have a robust POS platform in place. Revel’s iPad POS Platform includes customer relationship management (CRM) features that put your customers’ eating and spending habits at your fingertips at all times. And with a database of your loyal patrons, updating them on your latest prix fixe menu is next to effortless. Contact us today and see how our POS platform can work for you.