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Opinion: How Much Longer Can Restaurants Describe Dishes as ‘Shareable?’

Does everyone really enjoy the new format of ordering multiple small plates made to share?

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By Bon Appetit US | October 6, 2023 | Recipes

“Have you dined with us before?” You just sat down and already, the question is triggering a fight or flight response—you’re in for The Speech.

Your response doesn’t really matter. If there’s one thing the waiter at this upscale, dimly lit restaurant is going to do, it’s walk you through the menu: It’s ordered from smallest to largest servings (much like every other menu) and from lightest to heaviest dishes (much like every other menu). “Everything is designed to be shared,” and you should prepare to order from three to six plates per person.

Once you’ve been familiarized with the concept of small plates and sharing food, the waiter walks you through each section of the menu with painstaking care. The housemade bread and butter or the teeny bowl of hummus or the thimble of guacamole, they’ll explain, are just for noshing; then there are the small plates, which make up the bulk of the menu—I’m talking about the fluke crudo, the trio of croquettes, the single large shrimp. And of course, the salad, sneakily renamed “lettuces.” Finally, among the “larger plates,” there is surely something like an elaborate crab preparation or tomahawk steak for two that costs about $200, (R3800). Don’t try to explain that you’ve been to approximately a thousand restaurants where the menus are organized exactly like this one.

Considering the wide adoption of the teeny tiny dish genre and the meant-to-be-shared menu, we’re asking How needed is this speech? Who is it for? Image via Unsplash.

If you can’t tell, I’m not a huge fan of piecing together a meal from a multitude of dishes that ends up costing like, $100 (R1900) per person on a Tuesday night. But more than the meal itself, it’s the speech that gets me. These small-portioned dishlettes—and the accompanying explanation that everything is meant to be shared—have had a stranglehold on menus for a while now. If every new restaurant is dead-set on building a menu composed entirely of “shareables,” we’re going to need to acknowledge that the public is familiar with the concept of light bites. Call it hors d'oeuvres, or girl dinner, or snacks-meal, but the fact of the matter is diners get that ordering a single sardine toast or two dumplings for the table will not constitute an entire meal. They know that the pickle plate is probably a lot smaller than the $42 (R800) skirt steak.

Maybe there was a time when laboriously explaining the concept of a menu arranged from tiny dishes to slightly larger dishes to gigantic ones was necessary, but considering the sheer ubiquity of the teeny tiny dish genre and the meant-to-be-shared menu, I would lovingly and respectfully ask: How needed is this speech? Who is it for?

Then again, it only takes one loud, angry, still-hungry diner screaming at you about the size of an artfully prepared beet and yoghurt dish to ensure you never assume anyone knows anything about anything ever again. I was a server for years, and I’d venture to say that I understand better than most the absolute agony of repeating answers to the same questions all night. So even though I could probably recite the spiel with my waiter at this point, I find myself nodding encouragingly as they start explaining.

As small plates and meant-for-sharing menus hurtle towards national ubiquity, maybe the accompanying speech will eventually disappear. Until we arrive there, I’ll keep smiling placidly while my server outlines the differences between “bites” and “snacks.”

This story originally appeared on Bon Appetit US.