Menu Design: Catering to the Wants of Patrons

It seems you can’t go out to dinner these days without someone at the table needing to request something special from the kitchen based on allergies or preferences. And I say this without judgement as I am one of those people…

Being a vegetarian does limit your choices on any menu, and just because I don’t eat meat, fish or eggs doesn’t mean I don’t like to eat out. But I have accepted my fate as a vegetarian and always research any new place for my options on their menus.

Common requests to chefs for ‘something special’ traditionally fall under the Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Nut Free, and Vegetarian categories. And while most venues include the helpful (V) vegetarian and (GF) gluten-free marks on their menus, I was blown away by the effort of Sunshine Coast restaurant Pitchfork earlier this month.

Rather than marking the vegetarian and gluten-free options on the main menu, they presented us with individual menus. No having to scan the outer edges of the menu items looking for our (V) and (GF) ticks, each of us had free range of the list in our hands.

It’s a little thing, but it made a huge difference to the dining experience for both of us…and we haven’t stopped talking about it since.

Our excitement was due to a number of factors. We had options that spanned beyond one item, we didn’t have to ask the kitchen to make something special (this is either received well or with annoyance), and we didn’t feel like the dining pariahs due to our food preferences.

The way I see it as a diner is that venues have two choices.

1. Stick with how they already run the show. It’s their menu and they are free to design it as they see fit. People who love what they do will continue to dine with them, and those who don’t have plenty of other options out there.

2. Take note of regular requests and come up with a menu design that caters to patrons. Offer variety and make it easy for people to see what is available for them. Embrace that diners are more aware of what they consume and give them options.

At the end of the day, you can’t please everyone…or can you? What do you think, is it possible to cater for all?

– Krystal