Explaining The Menu's mystery cheeseburger and what it means

In The Menu's ending, the key to unlocking the story is a cheeseburger. Yes, a cheeseburger. Why? How?

The movie left viewers shocked and kind of confused since its streaming debut on Disney+ in the UK and on Hulu in the US, so we're here to offer some answers. Well, we'll try to.

The darkly comic thriller stars Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult as Margot and Tyler, who are heading to a private island for a special evening at an upscale restaurant run by the enigmatic celebrity chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes).

But the exclusive dinner they've signed up for isn't what it appears, and soon all the guests find themselves fighting for their lives. It all leads to that enigmatic cheeseburger that could just prove the key to survival.

So, what is the ending of The Menu all about?

If it's left you confused though, we're here to tuck into The Menu's various reveals to explain the motives behind Slowik's murderous chicanery and just what that cheeseburger really means.

Major spoilers are ahead.

The Menu opens with Margot (Joy) and Tyler (Hoult) about to board a private yacht to a private island where Slowik's restaurant is located, but they're not the only guests for this exclusive evening.

They are joined by food critic Lilian (Janet McTeer, Ozark) and her editor Ted (Paul Adelstein); wealthy couple Richard (Reed Birney) and Anne (Judith Light); George (John Leguizamo), a post-prime movie star, and his personal assistant Felicity (Aimee Carrero); and business partners Soren (Arturo Castro), Dave (Mark St Cyr), and Bryce (Rob Yang, Succession), along with Julian's alcoholic mother (Rebecca Koon).

When they arrive they're greeted by Elsa (Hong Chau) the restaurant maître d' and Julian's right-hand who notices that Margot isn't on the manifest – we infer from the awkwardness that she is Tyler's last-minute date and they haven't known each other long.

Elsa guides them on a tour before seating them in the restaurant, where every seat is specifically planned out.

Dinner begins; each course is introduced by a lengthy and increasingly bizarre monologue from Slowik. The fourth course is punctuated by one of his militant sous-chefs shooting himself in the head in front of the guests.

ralph fiennes, anya taylorjoy, the menu
20th Century Studios

Slowik corners Margot in the women's bathroom and discovers her secret: she's a sex worker named Erin who Tyler hired as his date. He gives her the choice of being lumped in with the guests or the staff – either way, she will die.

Meanwhile, the guests are served tortillas on which Slowik has printed their secrets: the finance bros are engaging in illegal business practices, for example. Finally suspecting something is up, Richard tries to escape but has his finger cut off for his trouble.

Slowik then drowns the restaurant's main investor before allowing all the male guests to try and escape. While they're being caught, the women commiserate in the restaurant and we learn that Erin/Margot had meetings with Richard where he lived out a fantasy of his daughter not having died.

All the men captured, the guests return to eat their next course and Slowik reveals that Tyler had been invited knowing that the night would end in everyone's death, including his date. Slowik humiliates him by having him cook and roundly criticising his efforts; an embarrassed Tyler hangs himself.

nicholas hoult the menu
Searchlight Pictures

Slowik decides Erin/Margot is staff so he asks her to retrieve a barrel and while out, she sneaks into his house where she is confronted by Elsa; they fight and Erin/Margot kills Elsa before continuing to snoop. She discovers a photo in Slowik's house of himself as a young fast-food chef, along with a radio which she uses to call the coast guard.

Erin/Margot returns with the barrel and the coast guard shows up, but he too is one of Slowik's staff who returns to work. Feeling all hope is lost, suddenly Erin/Margot has an inspired plan.

She begins to mock Slowik's food and says she's still hungry even after his carefully curated meals. When he asks what she would like, she requests a cheeseburger and fries.

anya taylor joy, the menu
Searchlight Pictures

The Menu ending explained: What does the cheeseburger mean?

Slowik prepares the meal to exacting standards and delivers it to Erin/Margot himself. She takes a bite and then, saying that perhaps her eyes were bigger than her stomach, asks for it to go.

Charmed by her antics, Slowik gives her a take-out box and Margot leaves, with one final nod of encouragement from Anne. She uses the coast guard boat to flee while in the restaurant a dessert of s'mores is prepared: the floor is covered in crushed graham crackers, the guests are given chocolate hats and marshmallow capes, and the restaurant is set ablaze.

Erin/Margot watches the fire roar from safety on the boat and eats the cheeseburger. We know it makes us really crave for a cheeseburger, but what does it actually mean in the context of the movie?

It all goes back to why Slowik is killing his guests and himself (as well as all of his staff, who have bought into his deadly concept).

ralph fiennes ,the menu
Searchlight Pictures

The guests in particular were chosen for their role in his own disillusionment with cooking, or they make a name for themselves by exploiting the work of artists: the food critic and her editor for her role in the food-criticism world, the finance bros because of their financial ties to the restaurant, the actor and his assistant because of a food show he was trying to launch, the older couple for their inability to appreciate his food, and Tyler for his foodie-self-aggrandised social media obsession.

The cheeseburger itself is a symbol of the thing that reminded Slowik why he began cooking, and how he fell in love with it. The simple act of preparing something for someone who greatly appreciates it – no bells and whistles, no frills or fuss.

For another chef, the Proustian dish might be a bowl of ramen or a crepe – for another professional, it might be a simple sketch or the outline of a haiku; for an actor it might be a rain machine.

Erin/Margot works out Slowik's motive for murder before he reveals it and, as an outsider to the elite clientele, is able to tap into his lost passion and its nostalgia and use it to her benefit.

Some have thought that Slowik had the last laugh by poisoning the cheeseburger, meaning that Erin/Margot would also die. However, director Mark Mylod was having none of that dark fan theory.

While there were alternate endings (such as Elsa coming back), Mylod described the final shot of Erin/Margot tucking into that burger as "a victory bite, if you like. It's a f**k you, I beat you!".

And that is exactly how we'll view it.

The Menu is available to watch on Disney+ in the UK, and Hulu and HBO Max in the US.

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