Because appetites are stimulated by all of the senses, you should plan your menu so that no one sense overpowers the others.

Looking Good

Most colors are pleasing to the eye, but not all are appetizing. You need to consider what colors go well together. For example, a plate of sliced white-meat turkey, mashed potatoes, and cauliflower will look bland. Probably the worst combination I have seen was a plate of spaghetti with red/orange tomato sauce garnished with a spiced purple/red crab apple ring.

Aroma Abounds

The sense of smell is very powerful and can evoke memories of good times past. But when it comes to food, use the word aroma, rather than scent (which generally is used to refer to flowers or perfumes) or odor, which usually refers to an unpleasant smell. The scent of flowers can dull the palate and affect the taste of food, so strongly scented flowers, such as lilies or gardenias, should not be used in a table centerpiece or near the food on a buffet. Using sliced citrus or crushed cloves in the centerpiece gives the table an appetizing aroma.

Feel the Difference

When choosing a menu, you should try to balance flavors, textures, shapes, colors, and temperatures. Be cautious of strong flavors which clash. For example, you would not want to serve broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, or Brussels sprouts together at the same meal. They are all strong-flavored and in the same vegetable family. Instead, balance them with a bland vegetable, such as a potato, or a sweet vegetable like carrots. Avoid the common mistake of serving two or more starches, such as potatoes plus rice, pasta, stuffing, or corn, etc.

A well-balanced menu includes something mild, something sweet, something salty, something bitter, and/or something sour.

Textures are important. A combination of crisp, firm, smooth, and soft foods in a meal is ideal.

Forms, shapes, and sizes should be mixed and matched. A menu could include a combination of flat, round, long, chopped, shredded, heaped, tubular, and square foods. A steak is flat, a baked potato is round, and green beans could be heaped for a pleasing contrast.

Temperature contrast is also appealing. A menu should offer both hot and cold options. This is why it is good to go from hot soup, to chilled salad, to hot main course to chilled dessert.

The type of preparation can provide contrast. A variety of sautéed, broiled, baked, fried, roasted, steamed, sauced, and smoked foods is more pleasing to attendees than are foods prepared only one or two ways.

Patti J. Shock, CPCE, is professor and director of distance learning, Tourism and Convention Administration Department, William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Visit or send e-mail to

On the Menu

Most meals range from three to nine courses. A basic three-course lunch or dinner would consist of

  1. appetizer/salad or soup,
  2. main course/starch/vegetable/bread, and
  3. dessert/beverage.

An extended meal could add any of the following:

  1. amuse-bouche (small taste, to “amuse” the mouth)
  2. appetizer
  3. soup
  4. salad
  5. intermezzo (sorbet to cleanse the palate)
  6. fish course
  7. meat course
  8. cheese course
  9. cordials

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