There’s the traditional three courses to any meal for consumers, especially when it comes to a sit-dwon restaurant. Traditionally, the option for an appetizer is a presented when drink orders are taken, if rarely acted upon by the consumer. Beyond that, there’s the main course of the trip. Once that large main entree is finished, it’ll be time to ask if theres a desired dessert. Naturally, things are a bit different in a fast-food setting, food truck setting, or more; all food is going to be ordered at once, and possibly mixed and matched (who can say they’ve never taken a bit of an ice cream dish with French fries?).
Alex Stupak of Empellon Cocina has removed all entrees from the menu, stating “I can’t stand them, so I’m never cooking them again”. Instead, he relies on appetizers and single-orders of tacos. Stupak’s not the only one to make this transition in phasing out the larger “core” meals. Wylie Dufresne, at his new location Alder, only serves small and medium-sized portions of his meals.
Some restaurants are going the opposite way of Alder and Empellon Cocina, and don’t offer small meals that consumers can grab multiples of and might be considered lighter. Feast overs family-style meals that start at $49 per person, and instead offers up a host of a variety of foods for large parties, passing them around and sharing, instead of ordering individual ones per person.
Pearl & Ash finds that many people may order reasonably priced small-plate dishes, but they make up for it in volume, with many ordering multiple dishes, for either an increased appetite or intention of sharing.
The disinterest in entrees seems to come from both the chefs that create them and the customers whom consume them. Stupak states that the smaller dishes “are more fun to work with than 6-8 ounces of clunky protein”. Logically, though, smaller dishes have less of a chance to get boring for consumers than large dishes; if you’re five minutes into your bowl of pasta or steak, you may have five more minutes to go, but when dealing with small plates, you may be three minutes into small crab cakes after having devoured a slider burger, or had a fair amount of fried green beans.
One interesting point-of-view to point out the mindset between small plates and large plates is the factor of timing.
My mantra — is that small plates or shared plates menus almost always end up giving diners more precise control over both their culinary and financial experience. With app/entree/dessert restaurants, you typically have to order everything at once so the kitchen can pace the meal. But with small plates venues, waiters often encourage ordering as you go along. That gives the diners a heck of a lot more power to control their individual levels of satiety and spending. Ordering the appetizer/entree/dessert, by contrast, is putting all your eggs in one basket up front at the beginning of the meal. I don’t really mind making that commitment to food and time and money for a tasting menu. For an a la carte restaurant, it’s a tougher sell.
Ryan Sutton’s argument is that the power of ordering dinner is more in the hands of the consumer.
Have you considered ditching the entree, and going more for small-size dishes? If so, we’ve started a guide just for you.