Fine dining experiences appeal to all five senses in immaculate ways and each is strategically decided upon. Every restaurant has many decisions to make before seating a guest from cuisine to décor to dress codes. These experiences highlight the senses, the most important being taste. Chefs spend countless hours creating and refining the menu for guests to enjoy. One of the decisions that must be made from the beginning: à la carte or prix fixe menus.
Many are familiar with à la carte menus, this is the most popular menu style in America. À la carte menus give the guest the option to choose every dish they order from the start of the experience to the end. This provides flexibility and customization by allowing guests to individualize their dining experience. Guests love this as they are not limited to what they will be enjoying. However, it must be kept in mind that too many options on the menu can become overwhelming for guests. This is where menu planning is key. Add enough options to interest as many as possible and adhere to dietary needs like vegetarian or common allergies, but do not have pages of options causing a guest to require ten minutes to decide on a dish.
The second approach to a restaurant's menu style is a prix fixe menu. Georges-Auguste Escoffier, the creator of the prix fixe menu, designed this menu to help guide guests with their dining. In the 1800's, he noticed his high-profile guests were inexperienced with fine dining and this was his solution: a fixed menu specifically curated with all the best ingredients, guaranteed to please. This was ideal when guests were not versed with all the different options that were given. Nowadays guests are more and more aware and educated on cuisine, ingredients, and fine dining. So why do some restaurants still choose to have a prix fixe menu?
Recently, prix fixe menus have become more popular in America. Many chefs use it as a way to highlight some of their specialties or some of the locally sourced ingredients. A prix fixe menu does require that guests place their trust in the executive chef because every item on the menu is predetermined, there is no changing a dish. When it comes to prix fixe menus, chefs take the opportunity to be creative and pair every dish, so it becomes an all-encompassing dining experience, your tastebuds flow from one extraordinary flavor to the next. Prix fixe menus are a way to encourage guests to try a dish they wouldn't ordinarily order, it is a way to branch from comfortability.
Neither menu is a right or wrong choice. Some of the finest dining experiences serve à la carte style and others will only have prix fixe menus. Both styles offer different opportunities to create wonderful experiences. It ultimately comes to having an open mind and trusting the chef to create a dish to be enjoyed and remembered.