Saturday, December 20, 2014

When a French Menu is Not an English Menu!

Behind the French Menu.
Bryan Newman
Updated July 2020

The word menu in French indicates a fixed-price meal.
The word menu in English indicates a list of all the dishes that are available
with separate prices for each item.

The full French wording is: "Menu à Prix-Fixe" and is customarily abbreviated to the single word "Menu" or the word "Formule." A menu typically includes two or three courses. water (tap water) is free. Unless very clearly stated a glass of wine, a soft drink or coffee will be charged for. A full English style menu with each item price separately is called an à la carte menu.
Menus and the French laws
Displaying menus and à la carte menus outside restaurants.
Restaurants must display, by law, their menus with prices outside their entrance. That means their full “à la carte” menu as well as any fixed-price menus they offer. However, limited space outside the restaurant often means you really need to enter the restaurant to see everything.  Prices must include all taxes and service charges.

Daily specials in bistros, brasseries, and similar restaurants are often written on a blackboard or whiteboard, in French called an ”ardoise,” a slate. The ardoise may be inside on a wall or outside the restaurant in the street. In large restaurants, the specials may be on a card attached to the printed menu. Smaller restaurants may not offer any printed menus at all: what is written on their ardoise is their complete menu.
An “ardoise: with a single menu outside a restaurant

Fixed price menus were created for the French, not the visitors.
Fixed-price menus were conceived with the local citizenry in mind. They began as light lunchtime menus in business districts.  A fixed-price menu of two or three courses allowed a good restaurant to offer a full meal at a competitive price and serve it in less than one hour. These “menus” are usually good options compared to the cost of the same dishes offered on a full à la carte menu. Today fixed-price lunchtime menus are often available in restaurants with Michelin stars; sadly, that does not include any discounts on their wines!    Fixed-price menus have become so popular that many restaurants now offer fixed-price menus in the evening; that is beside their full à la carte menu. (The word formule may be used interchangeably with the word menu).       

"Formule" on an ardoise.
Ardoise Formules Gourmet 3 plats - Picture of Le XII - Douze de Luynes, Luynes
Requesting changes in a fixed-price menu
It is acceptable to ask for a change in a fixed-price menu.  In restaurants with two or three fixed-price menus, most can accept a change of the entrée, the French starter, or the dessert. The main course may prove more difficult.  Most will make the changes with a smile and changes taken from a more expensive menu will come with a surcharge.  NB: Small restaurants that offer a single fixed-price menu may be unable to change anything.

Your table awaits you.
All fixed-price menus include all taxes and service charges.

There are many types of fixed-price menus in France, and it is worthwhile noting some of the differences.  However, all French restaurant menus must include all taxes and service charges. For more about tipping in French restaurants and cafes, see the post: Tipping in French Restaurants and Asking for French Sales Tax to be Returned.
Three key words to look out for on fixed price menus:

Choix - Choice. Pronounced shwa.

Hormis – Apart from, except or excluding. Pronounced or-mi.
Hormis is the word that indicates items that are not included in a particular menu.   Hormis may also indicate the times when hotels or restaurants do not offer special rates, or the restaurant/hotel is closed.
Sauf -  Except. Pronounced as it reads, sauf.
Three examples of fixed-price menus:

Menu 1

Menu Avec une Entrée, un Plat, un Dessert pour Euro € 20.00 -  An "entrée," the French starter, a "plat," the main course, and a dessert for 20 Euros.

Menu 2

Menu à 30 Euros:  1 Entrée, 1 Plat au Choix dans La Carte, 1 Dessert. 1 Boisson au Choix -  The entrée, the starter, and the dessert are noted without any qualifications; that indicates that no choices are offered for these courses. The plat, the main course may be chosen from their full  " à la carte menu"  their full menu.  1 Boisson au Choix indicates you may choose your beverage, a soft drink, or coffee; the wine would be extra.
Menu 3

 La Formule à 31 € - 2 Plats au Choix dans la Carte. (Formule valable uniquement le midi, hormis les dimanches et jours fériés) -  Two dishes are included in this formule/menu.  You may choose a starter, and the main course or if you prefer, the main course and a dessert. All choices are from their full à la carte menu. The price is 31 Euros. In brackets, the restaurant advises that this formule/menu is for lunchtime only "hormis," apart, from Sunday's and Holiday's when it is not available.

When planning a trip to France, do take the French National Holidays into account. Not all attractions are open every day of the year and many are closed on national holidays.

Once the words choix,  hormis, and sauf, are part of your personal French-English dictionary, you will have few problems ordering from French fixed-price menus.
Menu de la journée Sarah Bernhardt, le 9 décembre 1896
Requesting fixed-price menus and or an à la carte menu:

To request a restaurant's fixed price menu/s say:  La menu/s a prix-fixe s'il vous plaît. Pronounced:  la menu/s a pree fix sil voo play. ("S'il vous plait" means, please).

To request an full à la carte menu say: La carte s’il vous plaît. Pronounced: la kart sil voo play.

N.B. In a busy restaurant, at lunchtime, do not be surprised if their â la carte menu is not available.
La carte and la formule.
Want to practice your pronunciation?
Use these excellent free programs, I do. (Best for single words) (Best for phrases).
Different types of fixed-price menus:
Menu "Buffet" le Dimanche – A Sunday buffet menu. The French version of a Sunday brunch; not the same but close.  A French Sunday buffet is an enjoyable and a relatively inexpensive way of dining with the whole family.
Menu d'Affaires – A fixed price business lunch.
Menu Dégustation - A tasting menu; this may be anywhere from four to seven, or even more, small servings.
A menu dégustation is intended to show off the abilities of the chef. Menus of this type will only be offered in the evening. Traditionally, in France, a menu dégustation has to be chosen by a minimum number of diners and in many restaurants by everyone at the same table.  The reason for having all the diners choose the same meal is to allow for timed service, with all the diners being served each course simultaneously.
French diners accept the rule that timing is an integral part of a great meal. Diners do not wish to be rushed or left for half an hour waiting for the next course, For the staff, timing is just as important, having different guests, at the same table, eating different courses can drive even a saintly Maitre D' to distraction.
Menu de Midi – A fixed price lunch menu.

A 21 Euro Menu
Menu du Terroir – A fixed price menu with an emphasis on local products and recipes.
Menu du Jour - The fixed price menu of the day. This menu is often a hand-written list on an ardoise, the blackboard on the wall, or a separate card inside the printed menu.
Menu en Anglais  An English language menu is available.
Menu Gastronomique – A  Menu Gastronomique, will offer unique and different recipes, dishes that are not seen, tasted, or served every day. When the restaurant offers a bona fide menu gastronomic, you may have a chance to try unique dishes.  Unfortunately, on occasion, a menu gastronomic may sometime be just a name the chef has allocated to a group of the restaurant's most expensive options on its à la carte menu combined into six or seven or more small courses.  In that case, look for other options.
Menu pour Enfants or Menu Pinocchio or Menu des Bambins – A child's menu. Many children's menus have cute names, even though their intended diners may not be able to read!  These menus, with low prices, may include chicken or turkey schnitzel, hamburgers, hot dog type sausages, and French fries, chips.  Today, many restaurants will offer children tomato ketchup.
Menu Servi Tous Les Jours Midi et Soir Sauf Samedi Soir et Jours Féries   A fixed-price set menu that will be offered for lunch and dinner every day sauf, except, Saturday evenings and Holidays.

Menu Suivant La Saison -  A menu that changes with the season.  The title implies that the menu offers seasonal specialties.  I always ask what these are.  Certain wild mushrooms or berries may only be in season for two or three weeks in a year and I don’t want to miss out.
Menu Touristique – A tourist menu.  For years, the French Ministry of Tourism has encouraged restaurants to offer fixed-price menus especially for tourists.  Caveat Emptor: Before entering a restaurant that provides a Menu Touristique look inside. If the restaurant is busy, with diners enjoying themselves, then enter. If the restaurant is serving greasy hamburgers to a nearly empty hall, go elsewhere.
Menu Végétarien – A vegetarian menu.

The wine list is La carte des Vins.

Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2012, 2014, 2020
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog write to Bryan Newman


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1 comment:

  1. Very useful and thorough post, thank you!
    May I suggest that an ardoise is better translated as a blackboard.
    Bon appetit!