No matter whether you’ve been running a restaurant for years or just starting one up, the idea of a prix fixe menu will probably come up at some point. Prix fixe (literally in French: “fixed price”) is a type of menu that features a set multiple-course list at a set single price, without the option of ordering items individually (a la carte).
There are several benefits off the bat to a prix fixe menu. For one, it’s much easier to estimate and anticipate your sales forecast. As long as you know how many people are seated per table, you’ll know as soon as they sit down what they’ll be paying for their meal (with possibly a little extra depending on if you include drinks as part of the deal).
This can be especially helpful for fine dining establishments that offer catering, because estimates on cost for you and pricing for the customer are as simple as multiplying by a head count.
Going prix fixe also means less or no menu choices for the guests to have to make, which could mean faster table turns. For the guest, a prix fixe menu adds something special to the dining experience — they feel like they’re being catered to with a meal specifically curated by the chef with dishes that are designed to go together.
Full-time prix fixe
If willing, your chef can certainly build a restaurant concept around a prix fixe menu. This can mean keeping your menu the same for multiple weeks or switching it up once a week (or daily!).
Regardless of how often you change your menu offering, the central conceit to this concept is still that every table gets the exact same set of courses. This could potentially help your kitchen’s efficiency, since each cooking station could be making the same orders consistently throughout the night rather than preparing a wide variety of dishes on and off all shift.
For the consumer, restaurants with full-time prix fixe menus have niche appeal. Diners looking for a unique experience can find it in a prix fixe menu, and if your food impresses you can gain a loyal returning guest beyond the trendy allure that got them through the door. The risk, of course, is that your customer may grow attached to a particular dish, and when that dish is no longer available, they could get disillusioned with their dining choice.
Believe it or not, you don’t have to be a fine dining restaurant to make this work full-time. In fact, many customers are looking for affordable, not-just-for-special-occasions takes on the set multiple course meal. It could be as simple as an appetizer, salad, entrée, desert combo.
Partial prix fixe
If you want to play around with the idea of a prix fixe menu without going through the radical change of hosting one full time, you can always include a prix fixe section as a separate option in your main menu. That way if customers don’t want to pick their appetizer, entree, sides, and dessert individually, they can choose a pre-picked course set that both highlights the restaurant’s best-reviewed dishes and is composed of items that accent each other’s rich flavors in a cohesive meal.
The biggest decision to make about any prix fixe menu, full or partial, is deciding how strict you will be about changing out ingredients or adjusting orders. Maybe you don’t want to swap out ingredients for picky eaters, but what about serious dietary restrictions like allergies or gluten intolerance? Whatever you decide for your prix fixe menu, make sure to include any rules about it on the menu in plain sight.
Parties and catering
If you don’t want to take the plunge into all prix fixe all the time, you can always try small periods throughout the year where you add a prix fixe menu option at your restaurant, or through offsite catering. Often holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and Valentine’s Days in particular) lend themselves well to prix fixe courses.
It also lets your kitchen to try out different prix fixe menus to see what works, without committing to hosting them on a regular basis. This brings in many customers that only go this formal for special occasions thanks to creating a sense of urgency with an once a year opportunity. If your restaurant becomes known for great holiday prix fixe meals, your guests won’t want to miss out!
Restaurant weeks are also great opportunities for local restaurants to work together and bring in new customers with smaller prix fixe deals featuring largely the best of your menu. The prix fixe menu can be an important opportunity for your chef to flex their creative muscles, but do insist on choices that make sense for your clientele and have borne out to be profitable over some amount of time.
While some restaurants take these events as a challenge to sell their food to new guests, others fall into the trap of “Well, if they’re already paying a set price, we don’t have to worry about giving them our most expensive dishes.” But diners come to restaurant week events in order to sample the best of their area, so this isn’t the time to skimp or cut corners.
If you do a prix fixe restaurant week menu, make sure it’s not only delicious and worth the price of the package, but also representative of your brand. Include at least some items from your main menu so that new customers know they can order it when they (hopefully) come back after restaurant week is over.
Want to explore other menu options for launching out a catering menu for your restaurant?