Restaurants Forgo Menus, Offering Patrons Unique Dining Experiences

Menu Chalkboard

The customer is always right – or so they say.  But those of us in the service industry know that this isn't always the case. 

As such, a number of chefs and restaurants have attempted to curb the amount of control their guests are able to exert over their dining experiences by implementing strict ‘no modification’ policies such as the infamous ‘no ketchup’ mandate at Los Angeles’ Father’s Office or the refusal of many high-end sushi bars, like Sugarfish, to provide guests with soy sauce, despite a good deal of begging. 

Yet several restaurants and bars are taking matters a step further, taking the choice of what to order out of their guests hands completely.  Forgoing menus all together, these establishments have taken charge of the dining experience, and guests are loving it.   

Trust the Chef!

Different than a prix-fixe tasting menu in which a restaurant selects one set menu that all diners receive, these “menu-less” restaurants have ditched traditional menus all together in favor of a “trust the chef” approach.  Modeled after the traditional Japanese Omakase menu, which translates into “It’s up to you,” restaurants ask their customers to place their faith in the chef, allowing him or her to create customized dishes, unique to each diner. 

Dallas based Restaurant Jezebel, helmed by Chef Parind Vora, is one such “menu-less” restaurant that became incredibly popular after the restaurant’s appearance on the first season of Bravo’s reality television series Best New Restaurant. 

Preferring to customize every dish to each customer, Restaurant Jezebel eliminated their printed menus in favor of what they call a “customized dining experience” in which waiters perform individual diner interviews designed to get an understanding of what flavor profiles the guests best enjoy.  Answering questions such as “Do you enjoy seafood?” and “Are you a fan of Asian spices?,” diners are then served a five-course tasting menu, featuring four savory courses and one dessert, that is tailored specifically to their own individual preferences. 

 “People tell us what they like and don’t like and I make it up as I want,” Chef Vora explained on the show.  “No one will leave here hungry.”

While the restaurant eventually ran into trouble on the TV series for their tendency to repeat dishes, thereby not extending enough of a customized experience to each individual, Jezebel’s intriguing concept still has diners flocking to try this adventurous style of dining. 

Menu

Other restaurants implementing this “trust the chef” concept include Top Chef Curtis Stone’s Maude, located in Beverly Hills, which reveals to diners only the ingredient that will be featured in the evening’s multi-course tasting menu, allowing each dish to come to the table as a complete surprise.  At the end of the meal, diners are given a copy of the evening’s menu as souvenirs of their experience.

In Massachusetts, local favorite Journeyman ditched their menus last year to feature surprise prix-fixe menus that cater towards the adventurous diners.  Changing ingredients and dishes every day, Journeyman ensures that no two dining experiences at the restaurant are alike. 

Houston’s Fuad Restaurant has been operating without a menu since 1979, preferring instead to have diners tell the chef what they would like to eat and creating customized dishes based off of these requests. 

And not just reserved to restaurants, Los Angeles’ own Bar Covell, located in Silver Lake, implements a similar structure, forgoing traditional wine lists in favor of allowing their expert staff to guide patrons towards the best wine to suit their mood.  Realizing that many guests can get hung up on a few grape varieties and don’t often venture outside their comfort zone, Bar Covell asks each visitor a series of questions to ascertain their mood, then offers several wine samples to best discern their taste, in order to match the perfect wine to each guest. 

Benefits of Going Menu-less

Restaurants choosing to forgo traditional menus undertake a considerable risk as the bold concept is best suited for adventurous diners.  Yet despite the risks, these “menu-less” restaurants enjoy several additional benefits not afforded to their menu-slinging neighbors. 

By removing menus from the establishment, these restaurants have allowed diners to relax and not have to worry about making decisions.  This lack of control allows for diners to place their trust in the hands of the chef and sit back and enjoy their meal.  The element of surprise these customized meals include also serves to create a distinctly memorable dining experience. 

In addition to the creation of an entirely unique guest experience, these restaurants also benefit from the logistical aspects of serving whatever the chef selects.  As chefs are able to decide which dishes they will serve and in what quantities, they are also able to determine how much of each ingredient they will need, allowing for them to cut down on waste.  By eliminating waste, these restaurants’ profit margins can be higher than their traditional counterparts.

While menu-less establishments may only serve to satisfy a niche-market, the unique concept offers these restaurants and bars a chance to stand out in an ever-growing culinary scene in which originality is prized above all else.