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What is a menu?

Updated on August 17, 2013

Once the waiter gave me the menu, the first thing that attracts my attention is the description of the dishes, some menus have dishes that stimulate your appetite. One of my pet peeves is menus that are elaborately written, you don’t want to order something you don’t know. I like menus that are clearly written and easy to read. I like menu’s that are arrange in order such as appetizers, main entrees, desserts and beverages.

Do you think it is too much to ask... well, i think, if you are in the restaurant business, your priority is your customer and one of the first thing that a customer want to know is what they are ordering. You don't want to order something that you thought it was and you have an unpleasant surprise when it arrives on your table.

Did you know that?

The word menu as it relates to food is first found in print in 1718 in French. The Oxford English dictionary (2nd edition) confirms the English word menu was borrowed from the French. However” menu can be traced to the Latin word minutus which means a detailed list.

A little bit of history about menu. . .

  • Before the emergence of the restaurant, a menu had always been a list of all those foods to be served during a particular meal such as a banquet. The food served on a table had no menu and all the food arrived together all the same time. In the early 1770’s the use of a printed menu in restaurants allowed each customer to choose his or her own dish marked another innovation in food service.

The restaurant’s role as a place for the service of food and drink however necessitated a new sense of the menu; the creation of a list available items from which each customer made personal choices in sequence at the most convenient moment.

Today’s menu is an important communication method from the caterer to the customer. It is a legal requirement for restaurants to display menus that clearly inform customers about the price and other inclusions, such as the addition of services tax  and any service charges that are applied.

Types of Menus

Menus are not only available in a restaurant, but in other places that serve food such as, hotels, hospitals, schools and other food service outlets.

  • A la carte - meaning “from the menu”. Menu items are individually priced and cooked to order so that the customer can select a series of particular dishes to compile their own menu of choice. Traditionally the A la carte menu gives the full list of every dish available from the restaurant kitchen with individual prices on them. The A la carte menu may be classical or modern style and should include a full range of entrees, soups, main course, vegetables and deserts.

  • Table d’hote – meaning ‘table of the host” It is commonly known as the set menu or daily menu with a set price. The table de’hote menu implies a limited number of choices offered for an inclusive price. A set number of course usual includes (entrée main course and dessert) for a fixed price. Usually there are two, three or four different courses to this type of menu.

  • Cycle menu – a series of menus that are rotated to set dates or times . The menus vary daily to avoid repetition and to ensure that the customers are receiving healthy balanced diet. These menus are often used in large facilities such as hospitals, nursing homes and jails, where the same customers are being catered for over an extended period of time.

  • Cocktail menu- (or finger foods) there is no written menu that the customers see, the host or organizer chooses the selection of food in advance at a set price or per item until the occasion is finished.

  • Buffet menu – A buffet restaurant offers customers a large selection of foods from a self-service bar at an all inclusive price per person. Sometimes it also offers customer very detailed and attractive menus of extras, like side dishes and beverages, such as "All the Prawns You Can Eat", "Ice cream and Dessert Bar"

  • Cafe Menu - The European style cafe or brasserie an increasing popular menu as customers responds to the convenience of all day dining, flexible menus. Menu items are well described with plenty of information about the ingredients such as "Fresh Tasmanian Ocean Trout" and the method of cooking like "Wood-Fired Oven Pizzas" It is a modern and artistic presentation. The basic menu is usually supported by blackboard and daily specials.

Other Types of Menus

Menus are not only available in a restaurant, but in other places that serve food such as, hotels, hospitals, schools and contract food service outlets.

Hospital Menus

Hospital menus usually consist of a, limited choice written on a card that is filled in by the patient indicating their choice on the day prior to receiving the ordered dishes. Usually the menu choice consists of two or three different courses with dietary options available. Hospitals will usually cater for special dietary requirements on the grounds of religion, vegetarianism and allergies.

School Menus

School Menus gives emphasis on healthy eating and it has been firmly place onto the school menu agenda. All menus written have to be nutritionally balanced and offer suitably sized portions to give each student a healthy and nutritious lunch everyday. Choices are offered and catering for vegetarianism and religious diets are commonplace.

Investing in good quality food and balanced diet is a primary function for school caterers so that school children will benefit from the social experience of eating with others, developing a taste for different foods and gaining confidence to make the right choice.

Fast Food Menu

Fast food restaurants account for a large part of the total food service market for the very good reason that they are often cheaper and more convenient for consumers than buying food and preparing it at home.

Fast food menus are clear simple easy to read and the range from the most expensive to the cheapest item. Photograph either on illuminated signs or on bright table top menus play a big part in selling the product.

The best examples are Big Mac from McDonald's and the Whopper from Burger king, you will also find that encouragement given to customers to order inclusive meals for example hamburger, fries and soft drink, ether by special offer prices. New product promotions are frequent to prevent customer boredom with a static menu.

Contract Catering Menu

These are menus that are served to people at their place of work and sometimes at a subsidized price to the customer. Contract catering companies strive to provide innovative and high quality solutions, developing and delivering original food and service in the workplace, colleges, hospitals leisure centers and airlines or in remote environments for specialist functions.

Caterers operating in different regions and cultural environments means that menus have to be adapted to suit the locality. Executive dining menus are also catered for with the finest possible executive dining facilities for boardrooms and at major social events.


Ford, Jason, Professiona Chef; 1st ed., South Melbourne, Vic.: Cengage Learning, 2010.

Cullen, Paul, The Food and beverage manager, Elsternwick, Vic. : Hospitality Press, 1997.

Thanks for Visiting- drop me a line or two....

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    • profile image


      2 years ago

      i am want to full from on menu so any one answer me

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Thanks for the info's It really help me god bless

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      its very useful

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      i had a lot of idea in planning a menu...i very much thanks to this website, its help me a lot to my lesson plan in food and beverage service management..more students understand this topics now i know,,,,i well rate in in 100 means that very excellent.....thank you

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      i like that this page is very euducational for persons so as to know or learn more about things.

    • profile image

      Tabarez ansari 

      7 years ago

      Simple language and nice statement

    • profile image

      fiel munyendo 

      7 years ago

      thanks for the classifications

    • profile image

      Ramandeep kaur 

      7 years ago

      i got large information about menu and type of menu which is helpful for my study.thanks for sharing.

    • mwatkins profile image


      8 years ago from Portland, Oregon & Vancouver BC

      I had no idea about this menu history - thanks for sharing! Congratulations, also on taking the 30-day hub challenge! I wish you every success! Good job on hub #2! ;-)


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