Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Restaurant Menu Choice and Food Quality

Andrew Ferrier asks an interesting question: "Let's say you're setting up a restaurant. How large should the menu be to encourage potential clientele to believe in your food?".

How the restaurant business works is a fascinating subject. I guess we all learn several truths about restaurants as we grow up. For example:

  • Chain restaurants offer consistency. When you're in a strange place, the neon sign of a familiar chain tells you: "Come here... it's safe... it's familiar.... it's not scary". That's valuable

  • Restaurants in fantastic locations don't need to try very hard. And rarely do.

  • Restaurants with large plastic or laminated menus are unlikely to specialise in seasonal or fresh produce :-)

But Andrew is asking something slightly different: how many items should be on the menu?

I think the extreme cases are easy to answer. Very posh restaurants typically prepare a new menu every day and there are only one or two choices for each part of the meal. They clearly want their customers to believe that everything has been prepared freshly that day. Restaurants with massive menus clearly cannot have bought all possible items freshly that day: they would go bust within the week. Therefore, you must assume there is a degree of reheating and freezing to be expected.

I guess the problem is: fresh doesn't mean better; frozen doesn't mean worse.

Therefore, contrary to what I thought I'd write at the beginning of this post, I no longer believe the size of a menu is a reliable predictor of restaurant quality. I guess relying on recommendation remains the best way to go.


Andrew Ferrier said...

'I guess the problem is: fresh doesn't mean better; frozen doesn't mean worse.'

Well, I agree. In fact, Bird's Eye had a series of adverts recently based around this principle - that fresh food starts decaying instantly. But good chefs still use fresh ingredients, I assume. I can't help but feel there must be some correlation between fresh food/menu size and quality (on the basis of nothing more than empirical evidence, please understand). It's just that the correlation isn't total.

Of course, this does ignore other aspects, such as ambience, company, service, etc.

In actuality, I would probably rely on recommendation and other factors first also. But if stuck with a choice between two places, and the only difference was the menu size (yeah, right), I'd plump for the smaller.

I'd love to know what a chef / restaurant owner would have to say about this.

Richard Brown said...

All things being equal, I, too, would go for the restaurant with the smaller menu.

But perhaps that's because I'm a snob :-p

Gordon fucking Ramsay said...

An excellent example of Brown the consultant ... discusses all the options, providing coherent argument for each ... then doesnt give me a bloody answer!!! The question was how large should the menu be ?! I am left feeling empty with comparative adjectives such as "smaller" ... I need definite answers goddamit!!

Richard Brown said...

Hello Gordon. That is a very good question.

Please can I borrow your watch?

It's 19:10.

Sorry... what was that? Oh...! You're welcome.