Understanding the different types of menus can make dining out much more enjoyable. This is especially true if you are heading to a fancy restaurant and don’t want to be looked down upon by a snooty waiter asking if you want to see the "du jour" menu when you have no idea what he means.
Static menus are the typical menu type. Once set by the restaurant proprietor, they very rarely change and are usually grouped into sections such as appetizers, soups, mains and desserts. Static menus enable restaurants to build up a familiarity with guests, and are easily translatable across multiple restaurants, which is why they are the menu type of choice for most fast food chains, or franchise restaurants.
À la Carte
An a la carte menu may be similar to a static menu, in that the items on the menu rarely change, but the groupings on the menu are different. À la carte menus are grouped by food type; for example, seafood, chicken, beef, vegetables and starches are all grouped separately, and the customer can put together his own meal by ordering the meat, vegetable and starch of his choice. Each item on the menu is priced separately, so an a la carte menu often ends up being beneficial for the restaurateur, as the customer picks and pays for each separate item in his meal, which usually equates to a higher price than if a complete meal were offered as one menu item.
Degustation menus are typically very expensive, and either require prior booking, or the restaurant sets aside a certain night of the week to offer their degustation menu. Degustation means "to taste with relish" and, as noted in John R. Walker’s "The Restaurant," these menus offer a series of courses of the chef's best dishes, usually with smaller portions, but there are typically six or seven courses. These kinds of menus are more often found in renowned restaurants with well-known chefs, and diners can expect to sit for a number of hours as the courses are offered with plenty of time for savouring the flavours.
A table d’hôte (which means "the host’s table") is a selection of dishes offered under groupings such as entrée, salad, soup and dessert, which the guests can choose from for a fixed price. A table d’hôte menu typically has a small selection, three or four choices under each section, which makes it a chef-friendly menu. Table d’hôte menus change on a regular basis, generally incorporating seasonal menu items and showcasing the chef’s talents; as such, table d’hôte menus are usually found in fine dining restaurants.
"Du jour" simply means "of the day" and refers to those items that are only available on that particular day. A well-known example would be "soup of the day." Du jour menus are often written on chalkboards, and so are also called "chalkboard menus."