Prix fixe menus have been popular across Europe for decades, but it’s only been fairly recently that they’ve gained a presence in the US--thanks in no small part to the recession in 2009. It’s a great way to get new customers in the door, and it’s also good for generating some creativity in the kitchen--as well as a chance to test out some new restaurant supplies. But as with everything, there is a right way and a wrong way to do prix fixe menus, and going about it the wrong way can be just as bad as not doing it at all. With that in mind, here are the things you need to know to successfully launch a prix fixe menu option.
Know your options
There are a few different ways to incorporate prix fixe into your restaurant’s rotation, and there are advantages and disadvantages to consider with them all. But first, you should consider whether or not the option is even worth it, or doable, for your operation. In essence, a prix fixe menu is a combo meal option: generally there’s a starter, a main, and possibly a dessert all for a standardized price. One benefit to this is that with a prix fixe menu, it’s much easier to have a per-head cost in your calculations. On the other hand, the menu may scare away some less adventurous diners who don’t want to make the initial commitment.
With that in mind, there are a few ways to incorporate the concept into your restaurant business: you can exclusively have a fixed price meal for either lunch or dinner, offer it in tandem with the regular menu, or do it only for special events. Obviously the easiest to implement would be to have a fixed-price meal available for specific occasions, such as Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day. Such meals are a good way of putting your toe in the water, and getting a chance to see how those events go over. Another way to look at the idea is to find out which service period is slower--lunch or dinner--and either replace regular service with the set menu, or add the set menu in addition to the regular service.
Plan your rollout
Once you’ve made the decision to incorporate a prix fixe menu into your restaurant’s rotation, plan how to make it happen. This includes making menu decisions, as well as deciding how to price your fixed price menu. On the menu-planning side, an important decision to make is whether you want to stick with dishes that your restaurant already makes, or introduce something new. Both approaches have their merits: by using items your business already offers, you can stick with the usual orders for components, but offering new items for a fixed price can be a way to attract existing customers and new ones alike with the prospect of something new. Whichever way you choose to go, it’s important to stay on-brand; don’t go too far afield with new dishes, or else it won’t make any sense with the rest of your restaurant’s offerings.
From the pricing standpoint, a lot will depend on which choice you made in regards to the menu offering. The goal is to make sure that the prix fixe menu offers a value to customers--less than they would pay for individual items, if you’re using existing menu options, for example--while also making sure that costs are covered. This consideration can also play into menu choice if you decide to offer items that are not already on your menu; it’s important to find out how much the cost per head for a dish will be, and conservatively estimate early interest in the item for the sake of ordering things. If you succeed in that end of things, you’re likely to be able to find a price point that will more than justify the added menu and some additional work, while still offering a value to customers.
The great thing about prix fixe menus is that they are easy to promote, they allow chefs some creativity in the kitchen, and they are a way to control costs in a straightforward manner. By promoting your restaurant’s new menu and the great value that it offers--through social media, and possibly a few simply-designed notices in the restaurant itself--you can draw in new customers as well as bringing in existing customers more often. With a little bit of advance planning and thought, your restaurant can incorporate this clever trick that has been so popular across Europe and in other countries for so long; and in doing so, increase revenues, which you can then invest at least some of back into the business--getting new restaurant supplies to continue developing and growing.