Learning a Menu

When someone who has served before starts work in a new restaurant, the skills that server learned can be carried over from one place to another (most of them at least), but something that has to be learned from scratch is the menu for the new restaurant.

The last 4 restaurants I have worked in before I applied for a serving job there, I would go in and have a meal. This allows me to taste the food to see if it’s good, I can check out the menu and it’s pricing to see if it makes sense, I can see if it’s busy or slow (days fluctuate so don’t dismiss a place if it’s quiet while you’re there) and I can see how the staff go about their business and interact. Sometimes I’ll even have a chat about the restaurant with my server (if they have time).

So if I applied for a serving position at a new place, got the job, then start my orientation or first training shift in a day or two, I like to get a little prepared.

I have done this long enough that I’m comfortable with serving tables and if I have to adapt to the new restaurant’s standards and policies it’s not a big deal. But when it comes to the menu this is what I do:

  • I print up a copy of the menu (or you can grab one from the restaurant when you get the job)
  • I read it from front to back.
  • Anything (and I mean anything) I see while reading that I am unsure about, I will circle (or write it down if I can’t write on the menu).
  • I will then jump online and look up what I circled (whether it be an ingredient, cooking style, type of mushroom, etc.)
  • I’ll then write notes next to the circled word about what it is.
  • I’ll re-read the menu front to back one more time.

Doing this has made learning a menu easier for me, and if I can’t find an answer online, I’ll write it down and will ask when I go into the restaurant. But that’s not all you have to do to get a complete grasp of the menu.

When you actually see the items on a menu in the restaurant, coming out of the kitchen, the visual helps you to connect with the menu better. You can see portion sizes, dish presentation, what comes with what, how things get cooked (grilled, fried, oven-roasted, etc.) which will help you with recommending and describing a dish to a guest.

In my first few days of serving at a new restaurant, I ask if there is a chance I could do a food running shift. I do this because this lets me get familiar with the menu by exposing me to the most number of dishes being sent out of the kitchen (it also helps with learning table numbers). I can also ask questions about the food being put up (providing the kitchen isn’t being slammed, and someone has the time to answer my question), if not I write it down to ask later. If you aren’t allowed to do a food running shift (maybe your restaurant doesn’t have food runners) you should try to run as much food as you can while training in your first few days.

The last thing if you want to get a better idea of the menu is to try it! I’m not saying eat the entire menu, perhaps there are some things on there that you don’t like, and that’s totally fine. Eating off the menu also helps with describing dishes to your tables, and for the things, you like it makes recommending them easier. Hopefully, you get a staff discount or a staff meal, and if you do, you should take advantage of that and at least try some things.

Over time you will get familiar with your restaurant’s menu, but for me, following the procedures in this blog post makes learning a menu a lot faster.

You can also apply this to the bar/drinks menu but go easy on the tasting part ;).

Thanks, have an awesome day.