Menus: Background, History and Trends
What is a Menu?
The dictionary definition lists the word menu as a “bill of fare” or a list of dishes served. It does, however, serve other purposes. It is an ideal tool in the following areas:
communication: by advertising exactly what an establishment can offer its customers, as well as assisting the staff preparing the food
selling: by enticing a customer to buy a particular dish
advertising: through the development of a reputation for culinary specialties and/or quality
public relations: creating a focus on the establishment as well as an awareness in the minds of customers, eg. a customer may encourage his/her friends to visit a particular establishment because he/she has heard that “the seafood is always fresh”
Classical Menu vs Modern Menu
Menus and dining has changed a lot in Australia over the past 20 years. Dining out was once done only for special occasions and was much more formal in its nature. But many people in the hospitality industry say that we have now become a café culture with people eating out much more often and dining in many cases has become very casual.
Menus have changed to reflect this change in our culture.
Menus were once very structured with formal courses and even old fashioned palate cleansers such as sorbet between courses. Modern menus may have different styles of serving food such as shared plates, tasting plates of mixed dishes and platters with several meals on the one platter so the table can share.
Meals, entrees or desserts are sometimes now served Tapas style – ie where the client chooses a number of small dishes.
Contrary to popular opinion, the concept of offering a “list of dishes” (or menu) to customers did not originate in France, or even Europe for that matter, but rather China.
One of the first known references to menus in Europe was made in the 1541 when Duke Henrich von Braunschweig attended a banquet at the Reichstag I Prussia, and later commented about a “slip of paper” that the chef had given him which described the dishes in order to allow the duke to choose a dish.
In Europe, particularly France, menus of that period were predominantly bills of fare in the literal sense i.e. lists of dishes. All foods were placed on the table and eaten without attention to balance or sequence. Towards the late 1700s/early 1800s, more attention was devoted to eating food in a sequential manner instead of placing all dishes on the table at the same time. This had a profound effect on menu writing at the time, particularly in France, where emphasis was increasingly placed on offering a balanced selection of dishes which complemented each other.
The number of cooks and chefs required to service classical French Cuisine increased proportionately with the greater number of dishes offered per course. Elaborate centrepieces made from sugar, marzipan, salt, lard, margarine, ice or vegetable would often accompany these dishes.
During these periods, menus, dishes and dining concepts were considered both grand and extravagant.
Increased demand and cost of ingredients as well as labour saw the decline of the large expensive menu styles from the early to mid 20th century. Customers were shifting towards lighter and more economical styles of eating and menus were becoming smaller, simpler and cheaper.
Australia has a large culinary influence from Great Britain and Europe. Menus written in Australia in the early 1900s more or less copied European styles and trends, if not in quality, then certainly in content.
Increased immigration to Australia after the 2nd World War increased awareness of other cultures. Coupled with the greater variety of fresh foods available, dining styles in Australia have changed rapidly, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s and menu planning has reflected these trends. Terms such as stir fried, wok fried, soy sauce, olive oil, capsicum, octopus, and calamari may be commonly known methods and ingredients now, but were considered uncommon as recently as the 1950s.
On the other hand, the number of menus in high quality establishments exclusively written in French has diminished.
There are as many different cuisines on a global basis as there are countries, regions and customs. Each cuisine offers a regionalised edible portrait encompassing local history, culture and religion. These cuisines, by utilising local produce, develop dishes which are harmonious with the surrounding climate and weather.
The types of cuisines developed over the years are not limited within national boundaries, but rather climatic and cultural regions. In France, their cuisine has developed beyond regional emphasis and more towards lighter “healthier” styles of dining. Though most of these terms are not commonly used in Australia, the methods of preparing them certainly are, which include the following:
European based French classical cuisine with a multi-course structure.
European in origin, and developed in the late 1950s and remained popular into the late 1970s. Also known as nouvelle cuisine, this style emphasised a simplified version of French Classical cuisine, with some experimentation with combinations. It should be noted that this experiment failed dismally outside France, particularly in Australia, where the interpretation of “anything goes” reached new levels in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Based on the French Classic cuisine principles which encourage healthier cooking styles that avoid excessive fats and unhealthy styles of cooking.
A style which emphasises leaving food in as natural a state as possible. Vegetables, for example, would be cooked minimally or not at all.
Ethnic cuisine by definition should embrace every imported cuisine that is not native to a particular area. In Australia, it should be noted that this term is slowly fading with each cuisine establishing itself in its own right. For the purpose of this exercise, however, an ethnic cuisine in Australia can be identified as any cuisine that is not Western, i.e. Indian, Middle Eastern, Greek, Italian, etc.
A dish or cuisine from a specific geographic region, i.e. Mediterranean, provincial (South France), Cantonese (China), Szechwan (China), Pacific, etc Contemporary cuisine styles in Australia have developed eclectically by borrowing from a number of other styles and influences. For example, it is not an uncommon feature for several influences to feature on the same menu.
You are required to write a list of seven well known dishes using regional cuisines as a guide
Controlling Menu-Based Catering Operations
Menu-based catering operations simply refer to establishments where the menu is the predominant sales and revenue tool. In other words, customers use a menu to make their selections.
Catering operations are essentially geared towards earning financial returns (also known as profit). Correct menu presentation is important as it is the first phase of the revenue cycle. In this context, it is important that menus are correctly presented.
Basic Menu Planning
Before attempting to plan a menu, it is important that you understand why, when and where people prefer to dine. By and large, the first priority of providing food has to be to satisfy hunger. Food has, however, always been linked to other factors such as
The customers budget The customers tastes
The location of your food business
The types of customers that come to your business The reputation of your food business
What dishes are popular or usually sell well
What dishes are unpopular and don’t sell well at your business Healthy food
Expectations of consumers are difficult to pinpoint, but are nevertheless motivated by the following areas:
Personal preference of the customer
Cultural or religious preferences and restrictions of the customer Is the person looking for something special or an old favourite The time available to eat or dine
Value for money
The atmosphere and type of service the client wants
Many customers want healthy food as well as tasty value money food.
Dietary guidelines for adult Australians (2003)
Eat plenty of vegetables, legumes and fruits
Eat plenty of cereals (including breads, rice, pasta and noodles), preferably wholegrain
Include lean meat, fish, poultry and/or alternatives
Include milks, yoghurts, cheeses and/or alternatives. Reduced-fat varieties should be chosen, where possible
Drink plenty of water.
Limit your consumption of saturated fat and moderate total fat intake Choose foods low in salt and limit your alcohol intake if you choose to
Consume only moderate amounts of sugars and foods containing added sugars.
To prevent weight gain be physically active and eat according to your energy needs. It is also important prepare and store your food safely to maintain its freshness, quality and safety.
These guidelines relate to the quantity and quality of the food we eat so we eat the right types of foods in the correct amounts to meet the body's daily nutrient needs and to reduce the risk of chronic illnesses.
Given the increased numbers of people who are overweight, or obese, in Australia, these guidelines also identify the need to be active, exercise regularly and to avoid overeating or drinking alcohol.
Types of Menus
The specific types of menus offered in establishments will depend on:
the establishment’s hours of business
types of customers, and their reasons for dining time constraints
skill of the staff
Overall, it could be argued that menus are reasonably similar in that they offer the diner a choice of different dishes to eat.
From a structural point of view, however, they differ slightly, and can include the following types:
Table d’hÃ´te menu
This a French term used to describe what is more commonly known as a set menu. One or more dishes can be offered per course. It can also feature an all-inclusive price per person. This type of menu also allows for some dishes to be pre-prepared, and is therefore appropriate in an environment where cost of labour and food is an issue.
Table d’hÃ´te menus are also faster to serve so if you need to serve a large number of people fast then a Table d’hÃ´te menu is much better than an A La Carte menu
Table d’hÃ´te menus can be presented in the following ways: E.g.
Choice of 2 Soups Choice of 3 Main courses Choice of 3 Desserts
Coffee or tea
A la Carte menu
An A la Carte menu is a larger menu giving the customer a larger choice than a table d’hÃ´te menu. It is designed to give the customer the maximum choice. If a customer is hungry he or she may order 3 or 4 courses but if they are not so hungry or in a hurry they may only order a main course.
Dishes are usually individually priced according to the cost of ingredients and the complexity of the preparation.
Dishes are usually partially prepared or portioned by the kitchen but not actually cooked until the customer orders the food from the menu. There are some exceptions where food must be cooked ahead like a soup or stew. A chef cannot make a soup for one person each time it is ordered, The soup is made in bulk and reheated to order.
A la carte menus are usually presented in a printed or written form to the diner.
They may range from a choice of 10 dishes to a choice of 100 dishes. An example of an a la carte menu is on the following page:
Banquet menus, also known as function menus, are similar in structure to table d’hÃ´te menus in that they are usually menus with limited choices and fixed prices.
They are ideal for larger groups of people who intend to dine at the same time. These functions may be celebratory, ie. wedding, birthday etc or business-based conferences, seminars, etc.
Dishes selected for banquet or function menus are specifically geared to satisfy the greatest number of people, and avoid (as a general rule) using exotic ingredients, or dishes that may be inappropriate from a medical or religious perspective.
Banquet menus are normally pre-organised, although menu cards are sometimes placed on the tables to indicate the menu to the diners.
A buffet is a type of service where the food is presented on a large table and guests serve themselves food from the buffet table before sitting at their dining table. Quite often a guest will take food from the buffet several times throughout the meal. The food is presented on plates, platters or heated Chafing dishes.
A buffet menu can be large and complex or small and simple according to the customer’s requirements and budget. This style of menu and service can serve a large number of people for a set price very fast.
Types of service
Due to the large diversity of cultures in Australia, it can be difficult to define what should be served and when. The following service times should be used as an approximate guide only.
Normally served from 6.00 am. - 10.00 am Includes the following types of menus
Usually a selection of breads or pastries such as croissants, baguette, and toast served with a preserve or honey, finished with coffee.
Hot breakfast which can include fried bacon rashers, eggs (scrambled, poached or fried), grilled lamb cutlets, grilled tomatoes, fried mushrooms, kedgeree (curried fish and rice), fried kidneys, livers, toast. The cold part of the English breakfast includes the continental breakfast as well as cereal, selection of juices, tea and/or coffee.
Similar to English, except hot cakes (pancakes) are also served with whipped butter, maple syrup (sometimes with bacon rashers).
Asian styles of breakfast include simple rice- based dishes such as congee (rice porridge), broths, fish, fruit, noodles, dumplings and fried rice
Morning teas are normally served between 10.00 am. - 11.00 am.
British in origin, a traditional morning tea will include a selection of sandwiches, scones with jam and cream, small cakes, pastries and fruit plates. These are accompanied by tea or coffee or fresh juices.
Brunch is a combination of lunch and breakfast, and is usually served between approximately 9.00 am. - 12 noon.
Similar foods to an English breakfast are quite often served, although sliced meats, cheeses, and other slightly more substantial food is served.
A brunch may include: Egg dishes
Pastries and bread
Sandwiches Pasta dishes Noodles Salads Sliced meats Smoked fish
Cakes and slices
Lunch is normally served between 12 noon - 3.00 pm.
Quite often considered a quick meal to satisfy hunger while then getting back to work quickly. , it serves to satisfy hunger, and get the diner back to work.