Of course, the Sommelier is the creator of the wine list while the Chef is the creator of the restaurant menuhowever to make the restaurant menu excellent, Sommelier and Chef must work together to create the perfect menu! Someone can argue that not all restaurants have a quality Chef and even less have a Sommelier in the dining room, but the restaurant that aspires to be on the guides for the excellence of its cuisine cannot have a menu built by the Chef alone.
The ideal restaurant menu is the result of the collaboration of many different heads and is never the sad exaltation of the Chef's ego! The restaurant menu MUST be designed to satisfy the final customer. Sterile research of innovation not supported by a careful analysis of the clientele, the food cost and the final cost of the dish inevitably lead to failure.
I know, I know: TV has accustomed us to primedonne Chefs with an exhilarated character who make shovelfuls of money, but the job of the Chef is the last one I would wish for my son: a smart Chef has no hours or days and lives in the his cooking and it takes a strong motivation and a big head to have results that justify and satisfy such a life! Not everyone is cut out, regardless of study or ability, and for those it is better to chat about cooking or manage small events or evenings at home!
In this guide I will tell you the 10 steps to build a perfect menu, from the choice of ingredients to the cost to the graphics and the choice of the menu holder, but first ... let's go and analyze the different types of restaurant menus!
Do you want to prepare the sommelier exam in half the time?
Would you like to pass the AIS exam the first time and make a good impression even if you work and have little time?
Even before I tell you the questions, I want to remind you that I have just written a book that will surely be useful to you and contains all my notes on wine. Is titled "How to become a sommelier: All you need to know about wine in less than 300 pages ”. The manual is meant for all aspiring sommeliers, but it is very useful also for the "already sommeliers" who want to revise or for restaurateurs who want to quickly train their staff with a "compact" but effective preparation ... among the things you will also find an entire chapter on the management of your wine cellar and the rules for selling more bottles of wine and above all for selling the bottles you they earn more! The great thing is that it's big and weighs exactly like your iPad and contains all the essentials about wine… and more! In this way you can really take it anywhere, for example in this photo I was passing by while I was waiting for my turn at Ikea 💪
The menu of a banquet
Some restaurants base most of their earnings on organizing banquets for ceremonies or corporate events. The setting of a banquet menu is completely different from that of the à la carte menu because the type of dishes and their order have been established in advance with an agreement between the Chef and the customer. The restaurant's task is not to disappoint the customer's expectations, on the contrary, always do that something more to amaze and retain him: if the customer is satisfied his guests will also be potential customers. This something more is to be considered for the restaurant an advertising investment at very low cost and very high yield: the restaurateur will never be so sure of reaching his target with targeted advertising as in this case. What can be done? Let's imagine that it is a wedding banquet, a very welcome surprise can certainly be preparing a small corner with an aperitif in addition to those provided by telling the couple that it is a gift from the house. And if you choose poor ingredients worked with the mastery of the Chef, success is guaranteed (and the cost is contained!).
The menu of a banquet can be very simple and include only one appetizer, a first course, a second course and a single dessert with wines offered in pairing indicated at the bottom of the page or better immediately under the plate. This type of menu, suitable for informal occasions, can be considered a starting point for a wider menu, enriched with numerous courses, suitable for really important lunches or dinners.
The 10 rules written at the bottom of the page also apply to this type of menu, especially the presentation ones: the more important the banquet is, the more attention must be paid to bringing out a menu of great aesthetic value.
The theme menu
The themed menu is proposed by some restaurants in particular seasons or days of the year, to enhance seasonal ingredients such as pumpkin, truffles ... and usually it is a menu that is added to or replaces the à la carte menu. Another way to interpret the themed menu is to create a special evening dedicated to ethnic cuisine, such as Spanish paella or Portuguese cataplana. Other successful evenings of themed menus offer medieval cuisine with dishes of the time, as long as you recreate the atmosphere of the historical period that inspired you inside the restaurant. Nothing is more embarrassing than savoring a Roman dish by eating correctly with your hands in an ultra-refined place without having to prepare the environment or the mise en place! A themed menu can also be dedicated to a particular ingredient, such as kobe meat. In this case, the themed menu always accompanies the restaurant's classic à la carte menu.
As a Sommelier, I really love themed menus built around a wine: imagine, for example, choosing a Classic Method wine and pairing, with the same wine, a different dish from appetizer to dessert. A nice challenge for the Chef, a low cost of running the restaurant that works on a single label and can well manage the cellar (especially if you choose the right wine) and a surprising result for the end customer!
The tasting menu
The tasting menu is a variant of the fixed price menu. There are 2 types of tasting menus: the one with numerous courses consisting of tastings and the one with a limited number of the most significant or popular or traditional courses of that restaurant. I personally like them both! In the first, the customer is given the opportunity to make numerous tastings and the skills of the Chef are enhanced, while in the second the specialties of the territory are preferred. The Sommelier, especially in the first case, must study the best combinations for more than one course, reducing the selection of wines to make the bottles turn correctly. Choices should always be limited to a maximum of 4 wines, including the aperitif and the dessert one. The type of wines and their price vary on the basis of the importance and price of the proposed tasting menu. Personally I recommend always creating a tasting menu and, apart from an additional price, the wine pairing proposed by the sommelier. This will allow the customer to choose whether to trust the sommelier's skill, or personally identify the bottle or bottles of wine he prefers to accompany his meal.
The fixed price menu
Unfortunately in Italy this type of menu is closely linked to tourism or business lunches. The fixed price menu here aims to optimize the work of the kitchen and give the customer the opportunity to have a full meal at a very economical price. In France, on the other hand, I have seen that this is absolutely not the case: in restaurants there are fixed price menus with various price ranges and the customer can compose his menu by choosing the dishes he prefers from those included in his price range by the restaurateur. For example, in the last restaurant we went to in Arles, you could choose between a fixed price menu at € 28 or € 35 and, depending on the choice, the type of dishes offered varied. Personally, I find it a very good choice for both the restaurant and the customer: the first is the opportunity to play with the proposals to optimize their cuisine and the possibility of making a correct forecast of the minimum estimated collection, the second removes the stress of the think about the price of the meal because this is already established a priori. I'll tell you how we ate in the next episode of #WineDiary, in the meantime enjoy Porquerolles: the fascinating wines of la Ila de Hyéres in Provence ???!
Ah, if the fixed price menu also includes pairings with wines, the Sommelier has the possibility of selling wines of which he has great availability in the cellar but which may have some conservation problems in the long run. Also here I always suggest to make two different proposals, one with only the menu and one that also includes wines!
The a la carte menu
Here I finish the academic part and really put my own into it. The setting of this menu is standard, and in Italy it always starts with appetizers, followed by first and second courses, any cheese selections and finally desserts. The menu must contain allergens next to each dish, but what are the 10 commandments to make it special?
1. Length, incipt and format
[Tweet "" Whoever drinks only water has a secret to hide. " C. Baudelaire "]
On the first page write a sentence or two identifying the restaurant, without (mercy) writing the whole story. Another nice idea is to write quotes on food and wine, especially romantic or fun. The important thing is not to overdo it and not to draw up very long menus that are boring and confusing. If you want your guests to read, leave some books in the room. (But is there really anyone reading a book while waiting to eat?). Personally, I love menus that last 2 pages, one on the right and one on the left: I don't get confused, I don't lose the page and I have everything in sight. Also for the restaurant it is good in terms of management. Also in the 2 doors also the menu of desserts, cheeses and a selection of passito wines by the glass or in the bottle of the restaurant to match (it is much easier to sell such a combination!). Avoid the photo menu like the plague: the first thing I think is that I ended up in a tourist trap and run away, just like when I see the menu with plastic bags!
2. The number of courses
A successful menu offers the right amount of choices. Too many choices make you think of a food that is not fresh or cheap and, at the same time, confuse. Few choices ... well what's worse than a restaurant that offers no alternatives? Rather, it lies in the Chef's ability to play with fresh ingredients, perhaps repeating some of them, between one dish and another. A fair proportion? If we are not a restaurant specializing in meat or fish, we always give 3/4 meat alternatives, 3/4 fish alternatives and 2/3 vegetarian alternatives! Remember that vegetarian alternatives, if well studied, are liked by everyone: just think of a plate of pumpkin cappellacci on pecorino fondue with maybe a grated truffle on top! Do you know a carnivore who wouldn't eat it? 😉
3. The composition of the menu
The first dish on the menu must have the lowest price and the last dish must have the highest price. And this must apply to everything, from appetizers to desserts. If as a second course the restaurant offers something extremely convenient for him in terms of profit margin, and very convenient for the customer in terms of palatability, it is easy that the choice will fall on the second option. Because? (Almost) nobody likes to look stingy.
4. The names of the dishes
When you invent the name of the dish, don't be too original: people like to understand what they eat and if your dining room staff is not well prepared there is the risk of making a great figure of shit. On the other hand, I find it very appealing to indicate quality suppliers, sought-after products such as PDO, Slow Food or other products. When you write the name of the dish graphically, avoid "all caps", gothic or unreadable fonts and prefer a minimal and clear style. Another accent on the name: to increase the perceived value, use the products! For example, instead of writing “pork fillet with vinegar and vegetables”, write: “Mora Romagnola fillet with traditional balsamic vinegar elixir from Reggio Emilia aged 25 years on a bed in our garden”. I'm sure that with the last wording the dish becomes tastier and can even cost a few euros more! 😉
the price must be written with the same font, better only the number (for the currency maybe write the words “price in €). Always use a whole number, without commas. Avoid prices like € 9,99 which are a lot of supermarket balance and are already a sign of low quality. Graphically, prices must always be written aligned to the right to give a sense of order, possibly of a lighter and more discreet tone than the color of the dishes. For example, if you write the plate in black, you write the price in the same font, in the same size, but use the gray color.
6. Aesthetics & Graphics
The aesthetic choice of the menu is very important and there is nothing sadder than seeing the menus with the transparent bags and the sheets tucked inside. If this happens to me, I change restaurant immediately. For me this is the first indication of how I will eat ... As for the shape, I really like the A4 album format, that is the horizontal. Another shape I love is the vertical A4 medium, in cork, especially for the wine list. For the menu of the day, I find the papyrus inserted in a form that contains and embellishes it perfect and practical.
But if you want to do the good of your customer ... always use a simple 2-door in order to let him always have the overview. Choose a beautiful canvas paper, chalk tintoretto, straw paper ... in line with the style of the restaurant and, if you have a beautiful handwriting, write your menu by hand (or have someone write it for you!) And then make high quality photocopies: the success is guaranteed and management costs are really minimal!
7. A restaurateur is not a graphic designer!
I know, many restaurateurs are absolutely convinced that they are also expert graphic designers. Others even see a graphic designer as an unnecessary cost. And that's how we poor customers find menus with Arial or Times New Romans fonts, Brush and other things of dubious taste. The bottom, however, we touch it with errors of all kinds, and corrections with felt-tip pen above (when someone has noticed it). How do you say? There is no second chance to make a first impression. If I'm looking at a menu outside a restaurant and I see a correct typo in pen, I won't even go in: how can I think they pay attention to cooking and service if they haven't paid attention to something so basic? Composing a menu is a great aesthetic commitment, which must be carried out with great professionalism by qualified personnel (for example I 😉) capable of making you make an excellent first impression! Everything must be taken care of in detail, from the layout to the choice of paper. The compositional rules must be respected. And above all, before putting it to print, read it again even 10 times!
8. Attention to the proper names of a dish or a preparation
As the very kind Giancarlo Agostinelli on the Facebook Sommelier group pointed out to me, pay attention to how you write the names of the dishes or preparations. For example, if in your restaurant you offer the famous "Milanese cutlet", put the "s" before the "t"! The Cotoletta is a Frenchism left by Napoleon. The "Costoletta alla Milananese" (from the resolution of 17 March 2008 with the subject "De.Co. recognition to traditional Milanese gastronomic products") is a preparation that has been talked about since 1134, but which was codified for the first time in Modern Gastronomy by Giuseppe Sorbiatti in 1855: "thinly prepare six veal ribs with grace, dip them in the beaten egg, then pack them with bread, fry them on a low heat on one side to blond heat, turn them, salt them, and after two minutes serve them on the plate sprinkled their butter, with some lemon on the side ”.
This is to say that if you propose a traditional preparation of your city, take care to write it correctly and prepare it properly! And if you are from Romagna I recommend: you write "Pizza" not "Pisza" 😉
I warmly thank Giancarlo Agostinelli for teaching me this.
9. Theme dinners, Holidays, Special evenings
In these cases, many restaurants adopt a single menu, often printed with their “home” printer on 80 gram paper. Here, when I see these things I feel sincere pity. Please, I beg you and I implore you: use at least 140 gram paper and clean the heads of your printer before doing this! Or better still, go to a photographer in your city (they always have a good printer in the shop) and print them on quality paper: just a few euros are enough to make a good impression!
10. GOLDEN RULE OF THE PERFECT MENU
The menu design, the type of dishes, the interior graphics and prices must always be aligned with the style and the target of the venue.
And with this chapter ends part 1 of my guide "The world of the Sommelier". Here are all the paragraphs:
- The world of the Sommelier:: the figure of the sommelier, the requirements to become a sommelier, ais or fisar, exam questions, winery management, the sommelier tools, the wine list, the wine service.
- Winery management: ideal environment, arrangement of the bottles, cellar of the day and wine cabinets, supply and management of the cellar, purchases and stock rotation, sale of wine, sale price.
- The customer is (almost) always right: how to deal with customers (restaurant, wine bar, wine shop, GDO)
- Sommelier Tools: corkscrew, wine basket, decanter, bucket, glacette, wine thermometer, tongs, stopper, wine trolley
- Wine service: from the cellar to the table, presentation of the bottle, presentation of the important bottle, opening the bottle, decanting, table service, priorities
- Menu: menu setting, à la carte menu, banquet menu, themed menu, tasting menu, fixed price menu.
I know that these days courses begin to become sommeliers throughout Italy, good luck to you all!
See you soon,
Speaking of the menu… I just ordered these two posters to decorate my house on Amazon… I love them! It's very vintage and a little industrial like the style of my house… do you like them? For now I have ordered Wine, Cheers and Shots… I wait for them to arrive and then I try to figure out where to put them and if I can get more! 😉
Many thanks to Valentina of Dag Style for the photographs with which I embellished this article ... and for its splendid menus in natural cork, which I find perfect for any winery, wine shop or wine bar (but they also have many other very beautiful ones, take a look at their website 😉)
How to become a sommelier
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