So it’s the night before your menu test, and you still haven’t memorized it, huh? It’s not that you weren’t excited to get the job, or even that you don’t take it seriously—things have just been busy, and you may have procrastinated a little. You’re nervous, we’ve all been there.
Luckily for you, we’ve got the advice you need to make it through the next 24 hours. We’ve come up with a system for memorizing your entire restaurant menu overnight.
But notice how we didn’t say “In the next few minutes.” It’s going to take a couple hours of seriously diligent hard work. We may not be able turn back the clock, but if you really apply yourself to this method, then you’ve really got nothing to worry about.
While restaurant menus can seem intimidating, it’s all about having a plan of attack for memorization. Use these steps to create your plan, and don’t lose another second. By the time your test comes around, you may very well know the menu better than the chefs themselves.
Divide and Count
First you need to get a broad scope picture of what the menu has to offer, it will help you feel less intimidated, and also give you a clear path towards memorizing each section one by one.
Rather than doing the mental legwork of saying, “I’m going to memorize this whole menu overnight,” start by saying, “OK, there are 10 salads. I’m going to memorize every single one.” As you go section by section, you’ll be experiencing more and more small victories on the way.
Additionally, you need to have an idea of how the menu breaks down when people have special dietary needs. Number out how many gluten free or dairy free dishes are on the menu. How many are vegan? How many contain soy? If you can off hand know how many there are, it won’t be so hard to recall the specifics later.
Divide the menu up by type of dish and number them out.
Make An Ingredient Master List
Next you need to write out each ingredient that’s on your menu. Keep an excel spreadsheet or your favorite notepad handy, and you can even tally off how many repeated instances there are of each (though that’s not necessary for what we’re doing here).
Like giving yourself a full-scope picture of what dishes are on the menu, knowing all of the ingredients will help you to better place dishes in your memory. Oh, you’re looking for something with nutmeg? We’ve got several dishes that feature that spice.
Knowing and memorizing an ingredient master list will also help you to recall specifics when going through each dish. If you can rule out an ingredient entirely, because you know it’s not on that master list, you can give a confident “No” when asked if it’s included in a specific plate.
Write Out Flashcards
This is where the real memorizing begins. Flash cards are without a doubt the best way to quiz yourself or another coworker in a quick and concentrated way. You can put yourself into real life scenarios that will mimic what you can expect from customers, and keep yourself fresh by changing up the order with each quiz.
You’ll want to create two different sets of flashcards. The first is the standard that you might expect: the name of the dish on one side, the list on ingredients on the back. This works in two great ways, because you’ll then learn to identify the dish either by its name or its ingredients—helping to keep you especially fresh when customers are reading off a complicated order.
Secondly, you’ll want to create flashcards that quiz you on the general ingredients—which will certainly come in handy once you’ve got the master list down. For these, on side will feature an ingredient, and the other will have all the dishes that contain that ingredient.
While it’s great to know what a given dish contains, it’s even better to know all of the dishes that contain a specific ingredient. You’re going to get a lot of picky customers in your career serving, it’s better to use the weapon of preparedness, rather than working to hide how annoyed you are.
Create Two Fill-in-the-Blank Menus
Now the real testing comes: write out your menu. You’ll never be asked to recite the entire menu from top to bottom on a blank sheet of paper, so don’t waste your anxiety on trying to conquer such a feat.
Instead, simply draw up two menus: one with the dish names removed, and one with the ingredient names removed. Practice them until you can flawlessly produce the proper menu. Having that written associate will help you greatly later on.
Pro Tip: Create Personal Associations
If you’re still running into trouble, you can always create personal associations with the menu. Do you like or not like certain dishes? Certain ingredients? Remind yourself with each dish of a person experience, family member or friend that you can draw on when you’re drawing a blank.
For example: say you’re stuck on a question about your restaurant’s brussel sprouts. Think, “Oh, my mom loves brussel sprouts, but not ones with bacon. So she doesn’t like the brussel sprouts at my restaurant… because they have bacon!
When the question “Do your brussel sprouts have bacon?” comes, you can think: My mom doesn’t like them, because she doesn’t like bacon. And answer with a confident “Yes!”
A server who truly knows their menu well is worth their weight in platinum to a restaurateur—and ultimately to the customer as well. Do the hard work tonight of getting that menu down, and no matter what other challenges you face, you’ll be sure your new job is off to an amazing start.