Restaurants can be a la carte. That simply means that all of the different menu items can be purchased individually and they each have their own individual price. It's also true that restaurants can be prix fixe, they can have a set menu, perhaps with some choices within that menu and it prescribes how many courses you're going to have and what you're going to pay for the overall food experience.
A la carte dining gives the guest the most choice. They can choose how much or how little they are going to eat. They could order a few appetizers, or they could order an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert. Or they could order nothing but dessert. There's no prescription on how they're going to use the restaurant. They also can decide how much money they're going to spend during their dinner, or their meal.
In a prix fixe restaurant, or a restaurant with fixed price, there's a set menu. Maybe it's four courses. Or maybe it's a tasting menu, with many courses. And that menu comes at a specific price.
The tasting menu, or the multi-course menu with prix fixe is at the restaurant's decision. The restaurant decides how many courses a guest will have and how much they will pay for all of those courses combined.
Serving a multi-course menu to a guest, or a tasting menu, requires some careful thought and consideration. You want to have a progress of dishes that makes sense and is enjoyable for the guests. Much like a story. You don't want all the exciting part to be in the beginning, so that people end up being bored with the menu as it continues. It's important to build on the menu in a way that is refreshing and enjoyable and creates some anticipation for what's coming next.
Often multi-course menus will have multiple courses before a main protein item, like an entree, that is considered the climax of the savory part of the meal. Sometimes tasting menus have multiple dessert courses that may end with petit fours or chocolates.
When serving a multi-course or tasting menu, timing is critical. If the food comes too fast, the guests are not going to enjoy it. And if it takes too long, they're going to wonder what's going on and they're going to get impatient. That connection of timing and enjoyment is critical for a multi-course menu.
In a restaurant, it is required that the kitchen and the dining room have wonderful communication about the pace at which a guest is enjoying their meal. Some people will eat fast and some people will eat more slowly. It's very important that a table be treated as a whole. Everyone should be cleared from each course together and the restaurant should be able to provide a wave-like progress, where the table is prepared with all of the correct service ware. The beverages are poured. And then the food is delivered. Everyone enjoys their food, and then the dishes are cleared, the service ware is replaced, the table is crumbed, the beverages are poured, and the next course arrives.
Now the only way that can happen in a beautiful, and consistent, and appropriate manner is if the dining room is letting the kitchen know how quickly people are eating and when he perceives that they might need a breather, when they might need a break before they continue with their next course. The kitchen needs to be able to respond to the changing tempo of all of the different dining room tables and how they are dining either quickly or more slowly.
This is the dance of the restaurant business in multi-course menus and tasting menus, making sure that the kitchen, the dining room and the guests are all performing the dance in the right way, in the right tempo, for the guests ultimate enjoyment.