What is Menu? Types, Format, Principles of Organizing

  • Post last modified:21 June 2023
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What is Menu?

In a restaurant, a menu is the list of dishes to be served or available for a diner to select from. The items that are available for the diner to choose from are broken down into various categories, depending on the time of day or the event.

The compilation of a menu is the most important part of a caterer’s work. It is regarded as an art, acquired only through experience and study. The menu is a link between the guest and the establishment, hence it should be carefully planned by the establishment’s professionals, namely the executive chef, the food and beverage manager, and the food and beverage controller.

The word menu dates back to 1718, but the custom of making such a list is much older. In earlier times, the escribe (bill of fare) or menu of ceremonial meals was displayed on the wall loadable with the kitchen staff to follow the order in which the dishes were to be served. It is said that in olden times, menus were like a large dictionary with sections covering a variety of dishes.

As time progressed the lengthy single-copy menu became smaller but increased in number allowing the number of copies placed on the table to increase. Depending on the establishment and the occasion, the menu may be plain or artistic in its presentation.

Types of Menu

In a restaurant, two different types of menus are differentiated by how they are served and priced. A menu may be a la carte or table d’hôte.

A La Carte Menu

An “A La Carte Menu”, is a multiple-choice menu, with each dish priced separately. If a guest wishes to place an order, an a la carte is offered, from which one can choose the items one wants to eat.

Traditionally, the original menus that offered consumers choices were prepared on a small chalkboard, a la carte in French; so foods chosen from a bill of fare are described as à la carte, “according to the board.”

In an a la carte menu all items are cooked to order including the sauces that are made with wine, cream, or mustard. Depending on the dish chosen by the guest, the cooking time will vary. It is necessary to inform the guests about the time the preparation might take. An extensive a la carte-menu is impressive but involves a huge amount of mise-en-place.

Table D’hôte

Table d’hôte is a French phrase that means “host’s table”. It is used to indicate a fixed menu where multi-course meals with limited choices are charged at a fixed price. Such a menu may also be called prix fixe (“fixed price”). It usually includes three or five courses of meals available at a fixed price. It is also referred to as a fixed menu. Because the menu is set, the cutlery on the table may also already be set for all of the courses, with the first-course cutlery on the outside, working towards the plate as the courses progress.

In the olden days, when the inns or dining establishments offering a limited choice in the menu were not preferred by the guests, they started offering an a la carte menu for guests to select the type of food they wanted to eat.

Fixed menus or table d’hote menus are still used in various forms such as buffet menus, conference packages, and on special occasions. A table d’hote menu comprises a complete meal at a predetermined price. It is sometimes printed on a menu card or as in the case of banquets, it is agreed upon by the host of the party. A banquet-style of the fixed menu has more elaborate choices ranging from the soup to the dessert. For the banquets, the hosts invariably fix or select the menu in consultation with the hotel staff in advance.

Most of the banquet food served in India is normally Indian food. For this, a printed format offering a choice of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes is prepared, from which the guests make their choice. Western-style fixed menus normally provide the choice of a starter or soup, a main course, and finally a dessert. In each course, there could be a choice of dishes to suit the tastes of individual guests.

Table d’hote menus should be well-planned and balanced. As the guest is not given a chance to plan his meal, the meal should be interesting, without any similarity in the color and taste of the courses as well as being palatable, delicious, and well presented.

If the main course is heavy, then the first course should be lighter, and act as an appetite stimulant for the courses to follow. Dishes that are heavy and hard to digest should be avoided. The color, varieties of ingredients used, and garnishes should, if possible, be different for each course.

Fixed menus are prevalent in transport catering which includes air, rail, and sea passengers. The guests have a variety of fixed or table d’hote menus, with virtually no choice offered to the passengers (except the first class air passengers). Cruise liners may have elaborate fixed menus with multiple choices built into each course.

Difference Between A La Carte and Table D’hote

A’ La CarteTable D’Hote
Food is kept in a semi-prepared form and takes time to serve.Food is kept in fully prepared form and can be served immediately.
Food items are individually served and guests pay for what they order.Food is kept in a fully prepared form and can be served immediately.
There is a vast choice. The menu is elaborate.There is limited or no choice. The menu is comparatively small.
Silver is laid according to the dishes ordered.Silver for the whole menu is laid in advance as the menu is known in advance.

Menu Format

In many cases, especially in restaurants, serving haute cuisine, the part or table d’hote menu is beautifully handwritten to emphasize the traditional character of the restaurant. In less fancy restaurants, a modern variant that is similar but simpler is often used: the blackboard, on which are written recommendations concerning the day’s specialties.

n general, however, the table d’hote or a part menu, which changes daily or cyclically, is prepared in-house (on a typewriter or computer) and duplicated as necessary. A separate menu listing the daily specials might also be prepared. In many restaurants, the table hotel or a part menu and the daily specials contain only a fraction of what is offered.

Often an a la carte menu, from which the guests can select from an array of dishes that are always available, is also provided. If an a la carte menu is offered, the other menus are inserted in or clipped to its folder. The daily menus may also be placed at every seat, but in most establishments, they are offered by the service staff along with the regular a la carte menu.

Basic Principles of Organizing a Menu

  • Cold and warm dishes are listed separately.

  • Appetizers, soups, seafood, and main courses are listed in separate groups.

  • In every group, the lighter dishes are listed before the richer ones.

  • Salads should be highlighted.

  • If offered, low-calorie foods should be specially indicated, and the number of calories should be stated.

  • If foods are prepared with organically grown ingredients, this fact should be highlighted to the discriminating customer.

  • Every dish should be described clearly and simply, in an appetizing way, without being too flowery.

  • House specialties and seasonal items should correspond to the season and should change accordingly. Use a clip-on menu or special insert to attract attention to them.

  • The dessert selection should be listed on a separate attractive card. The menu should inform the guests that such a card is available.

  • The numbering of menu items can save time and confusion, especially with many of the new computerized cash registers. Numbering, however, discourages communication between guests and the service staff and thus does not help promote sales. For an easy compromise, place one numbered menu at the register or where orders are relayed to the kitchen so that one can punch in the guest’s order by number; the guest, however, orders the actual foods with words, not numbers.

French Classical Menu

The classical French menu contains thirteen courses. Today, a menu of this size is hardly ever offered. But even today’s shorter menus follow the structure of the classical French menus as far as the succession of courses is concerned. They always start with something light to stimulate the appetite, build up to the main course, and then become lighter toward the end of the meal. The thirteen courses of the Classic Menu for French Cuisine are given below:

1.Horsd’oeuvreAppetizerMelon with port, rémoulade, oysters, smoked salmon, shrimp cocktail
2.PotageSoupConsomme brunoise, crème of tomato soup
3.OeufsEggOmlette espagnole, omelette aux tomates
4.FarineauxRice and pastaSpaghetti napolitaine, ravioli, cannelloni
5.PoissonFishSole de bonne femme
6.EntréeFirst meat dishFillet of sole Joinville
7.RelevéMain meat dishSaddle of Iamb
8.SorbetFlavoured ice waterChampagne sorbet
9.RotiFlavored ice waterGuinea hen stuffed with goose liver, salad
10.LegumesVegetablesTomato farcis
11.EntremetsSweetCharlotte russe
12.SavoureuxSavoryWelsh rarebit, Ivanhoe
13.DesservirDessertJellied fruit

Hors D’oeuvre

Being highly seasoned and piquant, this course is used to manipulate the appetite for the dishes that are to follow. In recent years, hors d’oeuvres have gained in popularity, and now appear even on simple menus in modest eating places. Although the actual term “hors d’oeuvres” applies to the service of various cold salads and morsels of anchovy, sardines, olives, prawns, etc., it also covers whatever items are served before the soup.

Examples of such hors d’oeuvres:

  • Melon Melon Frappe
  • Oysters Huitres Nature
  • Smoked Salmon Saumon Fumee
  • Caviar
  • Grapefruit Pamplemousse
  • Salami
  • Potted Shrimps Petites Pots de Crevettes
  • Shrimp, Prawn, or Lobster Cocktail
  • Fruit Cocktail Coupe Florida
  • Souses Herrings Hareng Dieppoise
  • Pate of Goose Liver Pate de Foie Gras

There are also quite several items that may be served hot, such as Bouchees, Croquettes, Fritters, etc., and these are known as ors oeuvres chaud.


The French have three separate words for soup. Consommé is a clear, thin broth. Soupe refers to a thick, hearty mélange with chunks of food. Potage falls somewhere between the two in texture, content, and thickness. A potage is usually puréed and is often thick, well-seasoned meat or vegetable soup, usually containing barley or other cereal or a pulse (e.g. lentils). Today, the words soup and potage are often used interchangeably. On good-class à la carte menus, a fish soup is also usually offered for selection, the two most common being “Bisque d’Homard” or “Bouillabaisse.”


Oeufs are dishes made from eggs. The omelet is the most popular item, but there are other styles of cooking and preparation of eggs such as boiled, en cocotte, poached, or scrambled. This course is not included in the dinner menu. Some examples are omelet, Espagnole, Oeuf en Cocotte a la crime, and Oeuf poche florentine.


This is Italy’s contribution to the courses of the menu. It includes different kinds of rice and pasta. Pasta dishs are spaghetti, lasagne and gnocchi. Pasta is made from durum wheat semolina or milled durum wheat to which water is added to form a dough. It can be colored and flavored in various ways. There are more than 200 varieties of pasta. The ingredients, size, shape, and color determine the type of pasta. Some examples include Spaghetti Bolognaise, Lasagne Napolitaine, and Macaroni au gratin.


Poisson is a dish made from fish. Fish, being soft-fibred, prepares the palate for the heavier meats that follow. Deep-fried or grilled fish dishes do not generally occupy a place on the “classical dinner menu,” but are freely offered on the shorter-coursed luncheon menu. This also applies to the coarser members of the fish family, and the dinner menu is usually comprised of the finer fish prepared and cooked in the more classical manners.

Ideal fish for dinner menu compilation are Sole, Salmon, Halibut, Escallops, etc. Rarely seen on a menu for the evening meal are: Cod, Bass, Haddock, Brill, Hake, and Plaice. One deep-fried fish dish, which normally finds itself on the dinner menu, however, is “Blanchaille”, and this is only because Whitebait is so light and in no way too filling for the comfort of the guest.


This is the first of the meat courses on the menu. It is always a complete dish in itself. It is despatched from the kitchen garnished and sauced in the manner in which it is intended to be served. The “entrée” is always cooked and garnished artistically and usually served with a rich sauce. The “entrée” can be devised of almost anything light. This course consists of all the small cuts of butcher’s meats, usually sautéed, but never grilled. Grilled steaks, cutlets, and chops invariably replace the joints as the roast (roti) course.

The following items, with their appropriate garnishes and sauces, can be successfully served as entrées.

  • Brains (Cervelles)
  • Liver (Foie)
  • Oxtail (Queue de Boeuf)
  • Kidneys (Rognons)
  • Calves Head (Tete de Veau)
  • Trips (Tripes)
  • Rump, Entrecote, and Tournedos Beefsteaks
  • Lamb Chops and cutlets – Noisettes and Filet Mignons
  • Pork Chops and cutlets
  • Escallops, Granadins, Medallions, and Cotes of Veal
  • Sweetbreads – (Ris de Veau / Agneau)
  • Hot Souffles or Mousses
  • Vouchers
  • Pilaws and Rizottos
  • Small cuts or portions of poultry, individually cooked, are also served as entrées

In first-class hotels and restaurants, all entrées are cooked, garnished, and presented for service by the sauce cook (saucier).


This is the main meat course on the menu, and is commonly known as the “piece de resistance.” It may consist of the joint of any of the following:

  • Lamb (Agneau)
  • Chicken (Poulet)
  • Beef (Boeuf)
  • Duckling (Canton)
  • Veal (Veau)
  • Fowl (Poulard)
  • Ham (Jambon)
  • Tongue (Langue)
  • Pork (Pore)

These joints would be cooked by the sauce cook in a first-class hotel or restaurant, by any method except roasting. They are usually cooked on the casserole, braise, or poêle. Generally cooked in a sauce and served with it.


This course is a rest between courses. It counteracts the previous dishes and rejuvenates the appetite of those that are to follow. Normally served between the relieve/remove and the roti, it is a water and crushed ice slush flavored as a rule with champagne and served in a glass. A frozen dessert made primarily of fruit juice, sugar, and water, and also containing milk, egg white, or gelatin. Some examples are Sorbet Italian and Sorbet creme de menthe. Russian or Egyptian cigarettes are often passed around during this course.

Roti – Roast

This course normally consists of game or poultry and is often included in the entree. Each dish is accompanied by its particular sauce and salad. Some examples are Roast chicken, Braised duck, and Roast quail.


These are vegetable dishes that can be served separately as an individual course or may be included along – with the entrée, relevé, or roast courses. Some examples are Cauliflower mornay, Baked potato, and Grilled tomatoes.


Entremets on a menu refers to desserts. This could include hot or cold sweets, gateaux, soufflés, or ice cream. Some examples are Apple pie, Chocolate souffle, and Cassata ice cream.


A dish of pungent taste, such as anchovies on toast or pickled fruit. They are served hot on toast or as savory soufflé. Welsh rarebit, Scotch woodcock, and Canape Diane are some of examples. Fromage (Cheese) is an alternative to the outdated savory course and may be served before or after the sweet course. It is usually served with butter, crackers, and occasionally celery. Gouda, Camembert, and Cheddar are some examples of cheese.


Dessert is a course that typically comes at the end of a meal. The French word desservir means “to clear the table.” This is the fruit course usually presented in a basket and placed on the table, as part of the table decor, and served at the end of the meal. All forms of fresh fruit and nuts may be served in this course. Common desserts include cakes, cookies, fruits, pastries, and candies.

The Order of Courses for a Dinner Menu

A full-course dinner is seldom served today, but the sequence of courses should be respected even if some are omitted. The general standard at present is for a four- or five-course meal to be served for dinner. Theoretically, however, all the courses of a full-dinner menu must be studied and learned by heart so that a perfect compilation of menus can be achieved.

  • Three-Course Dinner Menu:
    • Hors d’oeuvre or soup
    • Main course with vegetables and potatoes or salad
    • Sweet or savory
  • Four-Course Dinner Menu:
    • Hors d’oeuvre or soup
    • Fish course
    • Main course with vegetables and potatoes or salad
    • Sweet or savory
  • Five-Course Dinner Menu:
    • Hors d’oeuvre or soup
    • Fish course
    • Main course with vegetables and potatoes or salad
    • Sweet
    • Savory
  • Six-Course Dinner Menu:
    • Hors d’oeuvre or soup (potage)
    • Fish (poison)
    • Entrée
    • Main (releve or remove) with (pommes et legumes ou salade)
    • Sweet (entremets)
    • Savory (savoureux ou bonne bouche)
  • Seven-Course Dinner Menu:
    • Hors d’oeuvres or soup
    • Potage
    • Poisson
    • Entrée
    • Releve / Remove – Pommes et Legumes
    • Roast (roti) – Salade
    • Entremets or Bonne / Bonne Bouche
  • Eight-Course Dinner Menu:
    • Hors d’oeuvres
    • Postage
    • Poisson
    • Entrée
    • Releve / Remove – Pommes et Legumes
    • Roti–Salade
    • Entremets
    • Savories / Bonne Bouche

Food and Their Usual Accompaniments

Accompaniments are highly flavored seasonings of various kinds offered with certain dishes. The object of offering accompaniments with certain dishes is to improve the flavor of the food or to counteract its richness, eg. apple sauce with roast pork.

Many dishes have separate accompaniments and as they are not always mentioned on the menu, the waiter must know them. He should always have specific accompaniments ready for service at the right time. Hot adjuncts come with the dish from the kitchen, but cold sauces are often to be found at the buffet or sideboard. They should be served directly with a dish to which they belong.

They should be served from the guest’s left onto the top right of his plate (not on the rim). While serving from a sauceboat, the boat should be on an underside or small plate, carried on the palm of the left hand. In serving, the sauceboat, lip should point toward the guest’s plate.

The spoon, or ladle, should be passed over the lip. Sauces are not to be poured from a boat.

The following is a list of dishes with their standard accompaniments.

Grapefruit CocktailCastor Sugar
Tomato JuiceWorcester sauce
OystersOyster cruet (cayenne pepper, pepper mill, chili vinegar, Tabasco sauce)
Half a lemon
Brown bread and butter
SnailsOyster cruet (cayenne pepper, pepper mill, chili vinegar, Tabasco sauce)
Half a lemon
Brown bread and butter
Potted shrimpsCayenne pepper
Segments of lemon
Hot breakfast toast.
Ham MousseHot breakfast toast crusts (removed and cut into triangles served in a folded napkin on a sideplate)
Gulls’ EggHot breakfast toast crusts (removed and cut into triangles served in a folded napkin on a side plate)
Smoked SalmonHot breakfast toast crusts (removed and cut into triangles served in a folded napkin on a side plate)
AsparagusHollandaise sauce (if served hot)
Sauce Vinaigrette (if served cold)
Globe ArtichokeHollandaise sauce (if served hot)
Sauce Vinaigrette (if served cold)
Corn on the CobBeurre fondue
Fresh PrawnsBrown bread and butter Mayonnaise sauce
Chilled MelonGround ginger
Castor sugar
AvacodoBrown bread and butter
Shell Fish CocktailBrown bread and butter
Hors D’oeuvre
Crème de tomateCroutons
ConsommeDepending on garnish
Onion SoupGrated Parmesan cheese
Grilled flutes
Petit MarmiteGrated Parmesan cheese
Grilled flutes
Poached bone marrow
Crème de TomateCheese straws
Potage GerminyThin slices of French bread dipped in oil and grilled
BortschSour cream
Beetroot juice
Bouchees filled with a duck paste
Turtle soupBrown bread and butter
Segments of lemon
Cheese straws
Measure of sherry
Fish (fried)Slices of lemon with skin removed Sauces: tartare, remoulade, gribiche
Fish (grilled)Slices of lemon with skin removed Cold Sauces: tartare, remoulade, gribiche Hot sauces: bearnaise, tyrolienne
Fish (poached)Slices of lemon with skin removed Cold Sauces: tartare, remoulade, gribiche
Hollandaise sauce
Mousselin sauce
Beurre fondue
Grilled HerringMustard sauce
Poached SalmonHollandaise sauce
Mousseline sauce
MusselsBrown bread and butter
Cayenne pepper
CrawfishSauce mayonnaise
Cold lobsterSauce mayonnaise
Fish Dishes
SpaghettiGrated parmesan cheese
CurryPopadums: crisp, highly seasoned pancake Curry tray: items that are generally hot or sweet in flavor, such as chopped apples, sultanas, sliced bananas, and desiccated coconut.
Roast BeefFrench and English mustard
Horseradish sauce
Yorkshire pudding
Roast gravy
Roast LambMint sauce
Roast gravy
Roast MuttonRed currant jelly
(saddle or leg)
Onion sauce (shoulder)
Roast gravy
Roast PorkSage and onion stuffing
Apple sauce
Roast gravy
Boiled MuttonCaper sauce
Salted BeefTurned root
Natural cooking liquor
Boiled Fresh BeefTurned root vegetables
Natural cooking liquor
Rock salt
Calf’s HeadBoiled bacon
Parsley sauce,
Brain sauce
Sauce vinaigrette
Mixed grill and grilled steaksFrench and English mustard
Beurre maitre d hotel
Pomme paille (straw potatoes)
Irish stewWorcester sauce
Pickled red cabbage
ChickenBread sauce
Roast gravy
Parsley and thyme stuffing
Bacon rolls, Game chips
Turkey RotiCranberry sauce, Bread sauce
Chestnut stuffing
Chipolatas Game chips
Watercress Roast gravy
GooseSage and onion stuffing
Apple sauce
Roast gravy
Wild DuckOrange salad, Acidulated cream dressing
DuckSage and onion stuffing
Apple sauce
Roast gravy
HareHeart-shaped routes
Forcemeat balls
Red currant jelly
VenisonCumberland sauce
Red currant jelly
Game (Furred)
Fried breadcrumbs
Hot liver paste spread on a route
Bread sauce
Game chips
Roast gravy
Game (Feathered)
Baked Jacket PotatoCayenne
Peppermill Butter
Game (Unfeathered)
Article Reference
  • Casado, Matt A (1994), Food and Beverage Service Manual, John Wiley & Sons.

  • Victoria Luckett, Leah La Plante (1999), The Menu Dictionary: Words and Ways of the International Restaurant World, Sweetwater Press.

  • Ann Hoke (1954), Restaurant Menu Planning, Hotel Monthly Press.

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