A pre-theatre menu is a small, fixed price menu that you can offer cheaply in order to entice customers into your restaurant between lunch and dinner services.

1.       Make sure there is something for everyone.  You have to make sure you cover a good variety of food groups, mainly fish, meat and vegetarian options.  If there is nothing that people can eat because of dietary requirements, then your menu isn’t going to appeal to them.

2.       Don’t put your most popular dishes on the menu.  If your restaurant is known for a particular dish then people are happy to a pay premium price for the experience.  You may lose out if you discount these items on a pre-theatre menu.

3.       Don’t give too much choice.  By only giving a few options for each course you reduce the time people will take ordering from the menu.  The customer will also be able to decide quickly if they want to order from the pre theatre menu rather than the a la carte.  If you give lots of dish choices then people may ask if they can substitute other a la carte dishes at the pre-theatre price.

4.       The benefits of adding supplements.  An initial low priced menu can be augmented by adding supplements for more expensive dishes like steak or seafood dishes.  The supplements have to be justified otherwise it will put people off, but it is a good and easy way to increase the price of the total menu by a reasonable amount.

5.       Cover all the kitchen stations.  When choosing dishes to go on the menu, you need to balance the work amongst the chefs in the kitchen so that you are using the cooking equipment and man power efficiently.  This will significantly speed up the time in which you can send out tables.

6.       Think about the cooking time required.  A pre-theatre menu should be very quick to cook and produce because as the name suggests, people have places to be (like the theatre). If they are delayed by what they expect to be a quick meal they won’t be happy.  Providing a quick service will ensure that you can secure multiple sittings.

7.       Having a daily special.  By putting a daily changing dish on the menu, it allows you to use ingredients that you wouldn’t be able to use otherwise.  The most common use of this is ‘Soup of the Day’, but having a ‘Chef’s Special’ provides an opportunity for the kitchen to experiment and try new dishes before committing them to the a la carte menu.  Having a dish that the server needs to explain to the customer starts off the ‘talking about the menu’ stream of dialogue which can help break the ice on up-selling other more expensive dishes or drinks.

8.       Clearly state price and options.  The main attraction of the menu to the customer is the price. Setting the menu out concisely allows the customer to make a quick decision about whether it is a good deal or not.  If the customer finds it difficult to work out what you’re offering, or when the menu is available, then the chances are it’s not going to appeal to them.

9.       When to offer it.  A pre-theatre menu doesn’t just have to be 5pm-7pm, you can use this menu whenever you are struggling to fill your restaurant.  Generally, you want to have it available when your restaurant is expected to be less than half full.  Be careful that you aren’t offering cheaper options to patrons who expect to pay a la carte prices and stump for the cheaper option instead.

10.   Promoting it.  The reason to offer a pre-theatre menu alongside an a la carte menu is to make your restaurant appeal to more people at key times.  If people don’t know you offer a pre-theatre menu then you are losing all benefits of having the menu in the first place.  By promoting your pre-theatre menu, you are also promoting the restaurant.  Most importantly, a cheaper menu option is a great way to open your doors to more a wider clientele, especially if your restaurant is perceived as a fine dining establishment.