The Economics of Menu Choice and Food Quality

Let’s say you’re setting up a restaurant. How large should the menu be to encourage potential clientele to believe in your food?

Put another way: is there any correlation (real or perceived) between the size of a restaurant menu (measured in number of dishes) and the quality of the food that restaurant sells? For some time I was under the impression that there was an inverse relationship: for the best food, avoid those with large menus. This was based on the premise of combining: the kitchen can cheaply combine a number of pre-prepared meal components (meat, sauce, vegetables, carbohydrate) at the last minute to give the potential for a large number of dishes: but the components are not made freshly: and so the quality suffers.

Recently, though, I’ve started to question this assumption. I’ve eaten at a number of excellent restaurants with huge menus and poor ones with small, promising menus. In both cases, some were cheap, some not so. I don’t know if something has changed in the restaurant industry or if there never was much of a correlation anyway. A Google search doesn’t turn up much research in this area. Is there any hard evidence or empirical data on this?


My usual paper was out of stock so I bought the Sunday Times this weekend. Michael Winner's fabulous "Winner's Dinners" claimed that the best restaurants have only _one_ item on their menu - and that it should have been the same item for forty years!
[...] More worrying menu indicators, this time based on an actual Chinese takeaway menu that arrived through my door: [...]