If you’ve ever looked at a restaurant’s menu online before booking a table with them, you might have noticed that some of the higher-end restaurants offer something called a ‘Tasting Menu’.
But what is a tasting menu exactly? Below, we’ll take at what you can expect if you’ve booked a tasting menu experience or if you simply aren’t sure what it means.
And, if you own or work in a restaurant, we’ll explain why adding a tasting menu to your list of options is a good idea.
Tasting Menus Explained
Put simply, a tasting menu is a variety of bite-sized dishes that are served as smaller, individual courses. While you would normally expect somewhere between 2-4 courses when you order from an ala carte menu, a tasting menu can consist of up to 12 courses.
But, since each course is much smaller, they only offer you a taste of the dish. Hence the name ‘Tasting Menu’. Despite the smaller portions, a tasting menu can take a longer time to finish as well, often up to three hours.
This is because you’re given a set amount of time between courses to really enjoy what you’ve just eaten, rather than being rushed onto your next course.
The idea of a tasting menu is to offer you a variety of different foods, flavors, and textures and to show you what the chefs in the restaurant are capable of producing.
For this reason, a tasting menu is often more expensive than an ala carte menu, but this is because you’re enjoying a wider variety of foods. You’re also being given a much more luxurious experience.
Why You Should Book A Tasting Menu
There are many different reasons why you should book a tasting menu.
If you’re a food lover, you’ll be able to experience loads of different flavors and textures without having the difficult task of having to make a decision over just one course.
Everything is already decided for you, so you can simply relax and enjoy.
You’re also given the opportunity to sample ingredients that you may never have tasted before. Tasting menus often feature some of the world’s rarest, most exclusive ingredients. This makes it a real treat for any self-proclaimed foodie!
Since a tasting menu is such a luxurious, special experience, it also makes a great alternative gift. Whether you’re celebrating a birthday, Mother’s Day, or just looking for that perfect Christmas gift, a tasting menu experience will always go down well.
Why You Should Feature A Tasting Menu In Your Restaurant
Whether you own the restaurant or you’re the head chef, there are loads of benefits to featuring a tasting menu.
First of all, food lovers travel from all over the world to sample different tasting menus.
Many of these people are bloggers and vloggers who will document their experience, and this means your menu could potentially be seen by millions of people.
If done correctly, your restaurant could gain notoriety across the globe for serving some of the tastiest food known to man!
Adding a tasting menu to your restaurant’s list of options also gives your regular patrons a chance to see what else is available to them.
So, if they’ve become stuck in their ways and order the same thing every time, or they struggle to decide what they want, you’re able to offer them a range of options that showcases your chef’s skills.
Since each course of a tasting menu is served in a small portion, it also allows a chef to express their creative side. Time can be taken to make each bite-sized dish look as beautiful as possible.
The intensity of the flavor combinations is also given the chance to shine through as it’s much more concentrated.
Finally, a tasting menu gives you the opportunity to work seasonally with ingredients that are available at that time of year.
This is something that is becoming a big trend in the food world. It’s especially good during the spring and summer when fresh produce is in abundance, and you’ll be able to create a huge variety of seasonal dishes with each being different from the last.
How To Create A Tasting Menu
If you’ve decided that you want to feature a tasting menu in your restaurant (a very wise choice!), the next thing you need to do is to work out how to create it.
There is often a common misconception that a tasting menu is simply a range of courses that you’d usually serve, just shrunk down to a smaller portion. This isn’t the case and doing this certainly won’t impress your customers!
You need to remember that you’re creating a brand new, luxurious, culinary experience. And, if you want the price tag that goes with that, it needs to be as exquisite as possible.
Below, we’ll look at each of the elements you need to think about when you’re creating a tasting menu. Taking the time to make sure you’ve got each of these covered will help you create an unforgettable tasting menu that your guests will love.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the first thing you need to think about is what dishes your tasting menu is going to feature. One of the best ways to think about this is by working seasonally.
Remember, just like your ala carte menu, a tasting menu can be changed throughout the year to offer interest and to showcase seasonal ingredients.
For example, throughout fall and winter, your tasting menu might consist of dishes that showcase different types of squash, seasonal berries, and winter vegetables.
For the rest of the year, you could change your menu to feature the best seasonal ingredients of spring and summer.
Once you know what sort of food you’d like your tasting menu to consist of, you’ll need to think about how many courses it will feature. You’ll also need to think about the split between sweet and savory dishes.
There isn’t a set rule over how many courses a tasting menu should have but, if you want to create an indulgent dining experience, it’s best to keep it between 8 and 10.
When it comes to the sweet/savory split, it’s always best to give the higher percentage to savory foods.
The reason for this is simply that a lot of people don’t actually enjoy desserts and would rather sample interesting savory ingredients that they’ve never tasted before.
The Highlight Dish
While every single course should be stunning, every tasting menu should feature one dish labeled as ‘The Highlight Dish’. This is your chance to really impress your guests with your culinary expertise and give them something that they’ll want to talk about.
The highlight dish can be given this title for various reasons.
Perhaps you’d like it to showcase your knowledge of flavor combinations. Or maybe it’s the one dish on the tasting menu that features an incredibly rare or luxurious ingredient.
Whatever the reason, make sure the highlight dish shouts louder than all the others and really stands out. Think of it as the headline act at your very own food festival!
You’ve likely heard the phrase “you eat with your eyes first” and, when it comes to a tasting menu, you need to make sure that everything looks as beautiful as possible.
When you’re choosing your ingredients, think about what colors would complement each other when they’re put together on the plate. This really is just as important as the flavor combination.
It’s also important to make sure that you’re serving each dish on a plate that is appropriate for the bite-sized portions.
If it’s too big, the eye will be drawn away from the beauty of the food. The same thing will happen if you serve it on a piece of crockery with a busy pattern.
Keep things small, plain, and simple.
The same principle applies to the cutlery your guests will be using. If you’ve ever sat down to a posh meal and found a variety of knives, forks, and spoons laid out around you, you’ll know that there can be some confusion over which to use.
To keep things simple, have the server replace your guest’s cutlery between each course.
This doesn’t only remove confusion, but keeps the table looking tidy and, again, allows your guests to better focus on each dish as it’s served.
You should never rush a tasting menu and you should allow a good chunk of time in between each course for your guests to enjoy the flavor.
However, to make sure they are fully able to taste the complexity of flavors in each consecutive course, a palate cleanser should be offered a few minutes before the next dish arrives.
Palate cleansers are an essential part of any tasting menu, so don’t feel as though you go without them! There are also several options you can choose from and it’s up to you whether you’d like to mix them up or stick to the same palate cleanser throughout.
Sparkling water is one of the most popular as it has a neutral flavor, is low cost, but provides a slightly more luxurious experience. Other palate cleanser options include celery sticks, plain sorbets, lightly brewed tea, and even champagne.
Finally, you’ll need to think about the ambiance of your restaurant when you’re creating your tasting menu. This is just as important as the taste and the appearance of each course.
In most cases, you’ll want your guests to be able to concentrate on their food and nothing else so it’s best to seat them in a quiet area away from other diners.
If you’re able to create a private dining room, you’ll really be able to give them that feeling of exclusivity.
You might even want to take things a step further in terms of ambiance and create different experiences for each course. This can involve adjusting the color of the lighting or playing certain music to accompany each course.
There you have it! Everything you need to know about what a tasting menu is and how to create one in your restaurant.
If there’s one key thing you need to remember it’s that a tasting menu is an expensive, exclusive experience.
So, if you are planning on featuring one in your restaurant, don’t rush into it. Take the time to plan your menu, create the perfect ambiance, and perfect your presentation.
In the end, you’ll have an irresistible tasting menu that people from all over the world will flock to your restaurant to experience!
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