What do you think about prix fixe menus (fixed price, limited selections) offered by restaurants on holidays?
Recently for Best of the Big A, readers were asked to nominate restaurants for the best Valentine’s Day dining spot. Some readers chose to use the nomination space to talk about prix fixe menus instead. Here are some of the comments that were posted:
Kristen: Excitedly booked at table at La Grotta for Monday night, only to find out they are serving the prix fixe menu and nothing else. We’ve cancelled, and will stay in.
Jabba the Butt: The wife and I kind of like the prix fixe menu… We get to try weird things… that we probably wouldn’t order on a regular day–and, to tell you the truth, probably wouldn’t order again, but that’s the nature of the prix fixe.
Jeff: …BOYCOTT ANY RESTAURANT that tries to force you to use a prix fixe menu, whether it’s Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve or any other time. We as customers have to exercise our rights for CHOICE and VARIETY and NOT pay over-inflated prices for fewer options. That is idiotic and quite frankly a rip-off. I am offended when a restaurant suddenly thinks that I want to do “prix fixe” just because it happens to be a holiday… $40 or $50 a plate and YOU tell me my options for dinner?…
At the same time I read these comments, I had an inbox full of emailed press releases announcing special Valentine’s Day prix fixe menus. I wondered how others felt about prix fixe menus. Is it nice to have to have upscale choices or frustrating that your favorite restaurant isn’t serving what you usually order? To get another perspective, I surveyed some friends to get their thoughts and received mixed responses:
Julie: I love it. It makes us try new different things. Also, sometimes my brain is so fried that its nice not to think/choose items.
Paige: Seems like many restaurants do it only for the holidays, then only include standard, fairly boring choices. Sometimes it is like going to a wedding – would you like the steak or chicken?
Liz: I think it depends on the restaurant. I know they are doing it especially on holidays because they’re extra busy and it makes things easier for them. If I can see the menu ahead of time, fine, but I’m not a fan of restaurants that don’t normally do prix fixe and then I can’t have what I really want.
So it seems that there are several issues. First is choice: are the menus offering enough of a choice in their prix fixe menus? Second: is the menu reflective of the restaurant’s typical pricing and menu?
I spoke with Bocado co-owner Brian Lewis about the decision to serve their regular menu for Valentine’s Day. He says that before owning a restaurant, when going out for special occasions, he found that many restaurants with holiday prix fixe menus failed to stay true to their character both in terms of menu selection and price point. Because Bocado is designed to be approachable from menu and price perspective, they wanted to “offer that same opportunity on special occasions.” Bocado will run a special on Valentine’s Day (in addition to its regular menu) but it is in keeping with the typical menu and pricing. The lobster roll paired with a cup of tomato bisque ($20), which is typically serve d only on Saturday evenings, will be available on Valentine’s Day.
Canoe is taking a different approach to holiday dining. They are offering a special menu on Monday the 14th only — not the entire weekend. It is not a prix fixe menu but contains à la carte choices. Chef Carvel Gould says that they do not offer a prix fixe menu with a set number of courses on holidays because not everyone will want three or four courses. She also indicates that many prix fixe menus contain high and low-value items. Depending on what you order, you may or may not receive good value for your meal.
Canoe’s Valentine menu, however, will not be their typical menu. Chef Gould says they have learned that people want choices that are fancier, sexier, and those which make it feel like a special event. While the choices will remain in keeping with the restaurant’s style, items such as foie gras, oysters, rack of lamb, and pheasant may be on the Valentine à la carte menu.
I also spoke with Michael Erikson, Marketing Director for Fifth Group Restaurants. Three of the company’s restaurants (Ecco, South City Kitchen, and La Tavola) will offer prix fixe menus this Valentine’s Day. The restaurants, however, will incorporate some of their traditional menu items on their prix fixe menus. I was given three reasons to explain why the group elected to implement prix fixe menus for Valentine’s Day:
· Doing a prix fixe menu gives us the flexibility to mix up the menu to accommodate our guests who want to enjoy our classic, signature dishes while also satisfying the guests who have expressed the desire to experience special items on a special night.
· The chefs enjoy developing and preparing these special dishes (using unique or higher end items that can’t be offered on a regular basis) and the servers get excited about experiencing these new items as well as offering them to our guests.
· Prix fixe menus allow us to better manage the flow of the restaurant on what is traditional a very busy night—this results in a more relaxed, smoother dining experience for the guests and the staff.
In exploring the topic of prix fixe menus, I am reminded of a humorous piece Richard Blais wrote last year about planning a prix fixe menu (this one for New Year’s Eve). It gives an interesting look at these menus from a chef’s perspective.
What are your thoughts? Do you enjoy prix fixe menus or avoid them?
–by Jenny Turknett, Food & More blog
– Jenny Turknett writes about Southern and Neighborhood Fare for the AJC Dining Team. She also publishes her own blog, Going Low Carb.