How to Read a Fine Dining Menu

It never fails. You’ve finally gotten that reservation to the ultimate fine dining restaurant you’re trying to impress someone with. You go through all the trouble of dressing for the occasion, deciding if you want to have drinks afterwards and you and your date arrive 5 minutes early. You sit at the table as your server brings you the menu, and suddenly the world melts around your table. The menu is so incomprehensible to you that it might as well be written in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. The fact is fine dining establishments often have references that most menus don’t. You may be used to “Apps”, “Salads”, “Entrees” and “Desserts”, but you probably don’t have a clue what “prix-fixe” means. In order to help you decipher what’s being communicated to you at such an establishment, we’ve compiled a little guideline to help you read and order from a fine dining restaurant’s menu so you won’t make a fool of yourself.

Don’t Experiment with Restaurant Concepts You Don’t Understand

Ordering at a Brazilian churrascaria is massively different than ordering from a restaurant that specializes in Korean BBQ. If you don’t understand what you’re getting into, then the chances are extremely high that you’ll have no idea what you’re doing when you get the menu. If you’re not familiar with any concept, such as tapas, a good Google search couldn’t hurt at all.

Whole Number Pricing

No, that number is not how many people it serves. Most fine dining establishments have whole number prices next to each meal listing instead of something like “$13.99”. You might be put off by not being manipulated into think that 24.99 is less than $25 dollars, but you’ll get the hang of it quickly. Also, be wary of dishes that have supplemental fees such as luxury ingredients such as truffle oil or foie gras. Then again, you knew you were planning on going somewhere nice. Quit complaining.

Ala Carte vs. Prix Fixe

Most restaurants have items separated by course with prices by each individual listing. This is a la carte. But what if you want to get a better sample of a restaurants offering. This often results in seeing something listed as “prix fixe”. This means you can order three or more items from a course selection at a fixed price – three apps of a smaller than normal portion, for example. This is best when dining with friends or when you want to try something out during lunchtime when the better chefs aren’t on site yet.


You might have decided that your table is going “prix-fixe” but what if someone sees an entree that they’re really curious about? Then you might look for an “amuse-bouche” option – a bite-size sample of an entree at a minute price. There’s even a “Pre-Dessert” option that works in the same way. This gives you the best opportunity to truly try out everything a restaurant has to offer