Creating meaningful menus for special occasions

Menus for special occasions are an exciting opportunity for chefs and culinary students alike.

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December 12, 2017 4 min read

Building a successful menu for a restaurant is no easy feat, especially when chefs want to regularly update it to incorporate seasonal dishes and new culinary innovations. However, a well-designed menu can impress customers, attract business and raise the profile of your eatery. The same is true of menus for special occasions, which offer a chance to impress diners under a special set of circumstances – be it a weekly brunch or a special, once-a-year holiday meal.

Students pursuing an online culinary arts certificate should keep the following advice in mind as they develop not only their cooking skills, but their ability to create effective dining experiences.

Offer clear descriptions

A special menu isn’t regularly seen by diners, so they’re likely unfamiliar with its contents than your standard offerings – although some intrepid eaters will undoubtedly seek out such information ahead of time, via the restaurant’s website or with a phone call, if possible. Because of this lack of familiarity, it’s even more important than usual to offer clear descriptions of each dish.

Discussing both ingredients and flavors can clarify any confusion and encourage customers to venture out of their comfort zones and try a new dish. The Balance suggested using a recipe’s traditional or common name, as it’s often more appealing than naming a dish’s major ingredients. Consider how chicken satay sounds to the ear as compared to skewered chicken with peanut sauce. The description of the item can offer those details instead.

A menu should inform, not confuse, your diners.

Find a theme or concept to inspire you

Sometimes, the inspiration for a special menu will offer a clear starting point from the event around which it’s developed – St. Patrick’s Day, Sunday brunch – or due to requests from customers for special events like weddings and anniversaries. Other opportunities, such as creating a menu in collaboration with a local brewery’s new release or a simple chef’s table offering, may be informed by the type of beer or the fundamental nature of your restaurant. However, they offer much more room for experimentation.

In situations where you have a mostly free hand to create a menu, consider finding a theme. It may be an ingredient, type of cuisine, color palette or something entirely unique and novel. Beverage pairings and concepts like serving deconstructed versions of all the courses are other approaches you can consider. There are plenty of options out there to show off your creativity and versatility as a chef, so don’t let one of the most creative opportunities you’ll encounter go to waste.

Don’t get too complicated

A menu for a special occasion is either a limited-time affair or only makes an appearance every so often. It’s unlikely customers will have the chance to try everything on the menu unless they specifically plan for it. While you don’t want to offer too limited a menu – one that forces diners to choose between just a few options and also stifles your creative process – paring down the total number of choices and making sure each dish focuses strongly on your theme is important.

Each situation is different, so you should consider the length of time over which the the menu will be served, the number of anticipated diners and more practical considerations, like cost and the need for special ingredients not used in regular dishes. Take the common menu rule of 10 appetizers, 10 entrees and six desserts, shared by Thrillist, and consider paring it down by roughly 50 or 75 percent.

Developing a great menu for a special occasion requires a lot of thought and consideration, but the payoff can be especially rewarding. Don’t be afraid to experiment and expand your horizons as you create these menus.

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