Restaurant Etiquette: Pre Fixe Menus

On special occasions such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years Eve–and *ahem* Valentine’s Day–restaurants tend to rely on pre fixe menu.

This can be irritating. You have chosen a restaurant that you love based on the food you typically enjoy there! Why are they changing it up? Do they really expect you to order a $75 four course meal for your three-year old?

The main reason restaurants offer a pre-fixe menu on a holidays and special occasions is the same reason that they frequently require parties larger than twelve to select a set menu; it makes the service faster and more efficient so you and all the other guests filling the dining room can get their food in a reasonable amount of time.

Typically, the menu will include mouthwatering dishes from succulent pastas, unctuous roasts, cracklingly grilled steaks and seared fish…. It is in the chef’s interest to make everything tempting because she knows that if she doesn’t, forty-seven people are going to order the grilled ribeye simultaneously and her grill cook is going to get overloaded while the pasta cook’s lovingly handmade noodles disintegrate in a pool of congealing cream sauce waiting for the steaks that are on the same ticket.

If you have Pre Fixe Menu Anxiety (PFMA), here are some things to consider : 1. Call ahead.

Ask if the restaurant will be serving a pre fix menu at the time that you have reserved. If anyone in your party has dietary restrictions or allergies, request to have these listed with your reservation so the staff can be prepared with the available options when your party arrives. If there are children in the party, mention this as well, as some restaurants offer a different price for children under ten.

Sometimes restaurants will offer an a la carte menu to parties sitting at the bar, or parties that arrive before 7:00. It is worth asking.

2. Order completely.

When you order from a pre fixe menu that has choices in each course (as in: would you prefer lobster bisque or field greens salad to start? The ribeye or sea trout for the entree, and flourless torte or lemon soufflé for dessert?), be prepared to order all of your courses at the same time. This allows the kitchen to streamline your experience on what is likely a very busy day and avoid massive wait times between your soup and your steak, or your trout and your cake.

3. Try to avoid modifications.

Usually on a day that a restaurant is serving a pre fixe menu, it is because they anticipate being busy. They may not have prepared items that are not explicitly featured on this menu. You will likely be happier with a dish that you do not need to modify to meet dietary restrictions or food allergies, rather than attempting to create a dish to suit your tastes from several components that are listed in separate dishes.

As in, “Can I get the pan seared salmon, but with the sauce from the fettuccini and can I get it grilled, not sautéed, and can I substitute the potatoes for brussells sprouts, steamed so there is no butter or oil?” when certainly the Harvest Cornucopia Quinoa ‘Risotto’ listed on the menu would be a satisfactory choice for a guest that is hoping to avoid dairy and refined starches.

Another option in that case would be to ask the server for guidance. “I cannot have gluten or dairy, what would the chef recommend?” Chances are the chef has already thought about the most common dietary restrictions and food allergies when creating the menu and there is likely a delicious option already available.

4. Put yourself in the staff’s hands.

When your PFMA feels like it might get the best of you, remind yourself that the chef has created this menu to feature the best food the kitchen can present on this day. Even if something sounds unfamiliar, it is sure to be delicious. Take a deep breath, have a glass of wine (or whiskey if that suits), and put yourself in the restaurant’s hands. No one wants you to have a great time as much as all the people who have worked so hard to make it happen!

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