In a restaurant, a menu is a list of food and beverage offered to the customer. A menu may be à la carte – in which guests choose from a list of items – or table d’hôte, in which case an established sequence of courses are served.
Menus vary in length and detail depending on the type of restaurant. The simplest hand-held menus are printed on a single sheet of paper, though menus with multiple pages or “views” are common. In some cafeteria-style restaurants and chain restaurants, a single-page menu may double as a disposable place-mat. To protect a menu from spills and wear, it may be protected by heat-sealed vinyl page protectors, laminating or menu covers. Restaurants weigh their positioning in the marketplace (e.g. fine dining, fast food, informal) in deciding which style of menu to use.
While some restaurants may use a single menu as the sole way of communicating information about menu items to customers, in other cases, the meal menu is supplemented with ancillary menus, such as:
- An appetizer menu (nachos, chips and salsa, vegetables and dip, etc.)
- A wine list
- A liquor and mixed drinks menu
- A beer list
- A dessert menu (which may also include a list of tea and coffee options)
Some restaurants use only text in their menus. In other cases, restaurants include illustrations and photos, either of the dishes or of an element of the culture which is associated with the restaurant. An example of the latter is in cases where a Lebanese kebab restaurant decorates its menu with photos of Lebanese mountains and beaches. Particularly with the ancillary menu types, the menu may be provided in alternative formats, because these menus (other than wine lists) tend to be much shorter than food menus. For example, an appetizer menu or a dessert menu may be displayed on a folded paper table tent, a hard plastic table stand, a flip-chart style wooden “table stand,” or even, in the case of a pizza restaurant with a limited wine selection, a wine list glued to an empty bottle.
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