Nearly every adventuring party ends up in a tavern at some point of time or another. Sometimes, they’re a place of great importance for a plotline or a quest, and sometimes the party just wants to celebrate/commiserate over recent events. Either way – there are times when you’ll need to come up with a tavern on the fly, and while a name and NPCs can be easy enough, once they want to look at a menu, you might find yourself scrambling to determine a level of detail that you might not be prepared for. I personally have created a tavern menu in Barovia where the place ONLY sells stew (and if you want it to be fancy, they’ll throw on a sprig of parsley), because I was caught off guard. Taverns, while so essential to so many D&D campaigns, are often overlooked – especially their menus. We wanted to provide some options of how to manage this, or how you can get creative with this. Not everyone’s a foodie, but creating a reasonable tavern menu is a solid step to creating immersive environments that your players can interact with.
So, more often than not, you can come up with something on the fly. Whether this is a pub that sells one dish and three different wines, or a full blown restaurant menu, complete with beverage pairings. This is actually a great exercise for DMs who are still getting used to improvising, as it’s a simple enough detail that it doesn’t (or shouldn’t) drastically impact the adventure, but gives you the freedom to do as you please. Think about the last time you were at a restaurant – what did you have? What dishes did you see on the menu? Think about your favourite foods and drinks – would they be found here? Can you find a way to fantasy it up so that it suits the setting? You can start off simple – one or two dishes, a few options for drinks, but I recommend taking note of whatever you come up with – that way your new tavern doesn’t have a wildly rotating menu! That said, you could still call it a rotating seasonal menu and call it a day.
It’s not a bad idea to pull up some restaurants, real or fake, and jot down some notes on their menu. Think of also your setting – what season is it? What foods would be in season right now? What dishes could be made with that? Does the town have a local specialty? Are they known for hunting? If so, what animals are found in this area? Is there a vineyard in your setting? If so, how far away is it? How many wine varietals would they have? How fancy is this establishment? Who are the regulars here? What would they order? There’s a lot of questions that you can ask yourself so you can put yourself in the shoes of this tavern owner and plan out a menu that makes sense for where the party has landed. If the tavern is going to be a place that is used frequently by the party, this exercise would be great in helping establish the location further, as well as paint a picture of the local culture.
Now for the truly chaotic, there is a randomizer for EVERYTHING. I’m not kidding. I harbour a not so secret love for them as well. So of course, this would be an option for you when creating a menu. Wizards of the Coast themselves have created a tavern and menu generator. You can select how classy the location is, as well as get some rumors that are being spread around, and it will provide you with a well laid out menu. This does NOT include alcohol, so you’re on your own there, but if you’re willing to consider other randomization sites (the Copper Sanctum has a great one), you can pull some spirit menus off of those instead. Either way, it doesn’t hurt to have a few of these bookmarked and at the ready for the next time your session turns into an impromptu shopping episode that ends the night at the tavern.
There is no one way to create really anything – but adding these types of details to your setting can make a difference. My players now have a love-hate relationship with the owner of the tavern that only sells stew, and the thought of it makes them cringe to this day. The extra level you go to can help enhance the story – even if it’s just a side story in the grand scheme of things – so find out what works for you so you can create the best adventure for your players.