Set for the Holidays

Warm Octopus Salad from Tavern Road in Boston.
Warm Octopus Salad from Tavern Road in Boston. Tavern Road: Connie Miller

Prix fixe menus are popular with diners and operators.

Attribute it to the season, to social evolutions, to an increased awareness of health, nutrition, and lifestyle management—whatever the reason—food is top of mind. “Right now, in America, we’re at our greatest level of food consciousness,” says Maeve Webster, senior director at Datassential. That consciousness has spread to the holiday season and is contributing to the increase of prix fixe menus and family-style dining at restaurants across the country.

“During the holidays, guests want to feel like they’re doing something special and different,” says Chef Louis DiBiccari of Tavern Road in Boston. His locally sourced, globally inspired small-plates menu switches to a prix fixe menu for the holidays.

Chefs embrace the occasion to do something different as well. Chef DiBiccari sees the prix fixe service as an opportunity for his kitchen to prepare ingredients and dishes that would usually be too costly per plate. “For the kitchen, holiday nights are such a thrill because we get to work with ingredients that we don’t typically use,” he says. At Tavern Road, known for its nose-to-tail cooking, holiday prix fixe menus often include luxury touches like foie gras or truffles.

Ricardo Dondisch, managing partner at The Hake Kitchen & Bar in La Jolla, California, agrees that prix fixe menus can be a fun alternative to a restaurant’s standard à la carte service, but warns that it could turn off their regulars. “The downside is that customers like to choose and they may want certain menu items,” Dondisch says.

To combat this, he suggests restaurateurs should offer a spectrum of options within a set menu. “We try to have at least one vegetarian item and one fish item,” he advises. Creating choices within a set menu can make guests feel they are still in control of the meal. ”Understand your market and what they’re looking for,” he says.

From an operations perspective, both DiBiccari and Dondisch agree that prix fixe menus offer benefits. “When the menu is set, you’re guaranteed a certain check average per person,” Dondisch notes.

At Tavern Road, the normal à la carte menu consists primarily of small plates—meaning guests can order a couple of items or linger over multiple courses.

Prix fixe menus also give DiBiccari and his staff an idea of how many table turns might occur for the night, which helps create openings in reservations. Especially on holiday nights, he says, “We can pace dinner service better and take more people.”

For restaurants contemplating a prix fixe menu for the holidays, Webster says that trust and desire for a new experience play key roles in where consumers decide to dine. “Customers are willing to have a set menu at restaurants they have trust in,” she says. “On holidays, guests are thinking: ‘I don’t have to make a decision. I can just go out to eat.’”

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