HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >


Do you get the special?

How frequently do you order the verbal special at a restaurant? What about special desserts? Are you worried that you're getting the clean-out-the-fridge or the leftovers from the big party the night before? Or do you forget what they are as soon as the server leaves the table?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I order the specials fairly frequently. One local place in town has fantastic specials and I usually go this route >75% of the time. The part of the OP that changes the picture is the "verbal". I truly dislike this practice. What is so hard about using a computer and printer to leave with the patrons. I still receive that "whay are you asking?" look from the waiter when I ask "How much?" for the specials my DW and I are interested in.

    No I do not consider the specials as the gumbo from the past.

    3 Replies
    1. re: jfood

      Don't know about other restaurants, but the reason we do specials as a "verbal" is because there is a limited amount and the don't want to print it on the menu just to have disappointing guests order it and be told it isn't available, or by starting service with a negative ("tonight we DON'T have...) Personally, I have a hard time remembering a verbal special when I'm a customer, but I'm not shy about asking for a repeat if it seems like something I'd be interested in.

      And for the record, never once have our specials been leftovers. Leftovers are for staff meal. Specials are truly something special that the chef comes up with.

      1. re: Kbee

        Boy I'm tired and my grammar stinks tonight...hopefully you understand what I'm trying to say. I meant we don't want to have disappointed guests try to order something that isn't there... oh, never mind. You get it.

        1. re: Kbee

          your grammar and mine are equal tonight. To be clear I do NOT believe the Specials are leftovers from the previous night.

          Blackboards are a good idea or just use the little white boards on each table that can be adjusted on the fly. Agree that it is a bad way to start the meal by elling people what is not avaialble. For some reason all of a sudden everyone at the table was going to order it.

    2. i'll order the special usually if i'm at a place i frequent often, just to try something new the kitchen's come up with. if i'm at a new place, i tend to try what's on the menu, especially if i've "heard" about a certain dish from friends or fellow chowhounds.

      but i'll listen to a waiter spill the specials regardless. however, i will say the selling and communication skills of the waiter do play a part in whether or not i order the special. if he/she speaks clearly and slowly enough and shows some passion in announcing the special, i'm more apt to consider it. it's also a nice if the waiter discloses the price in his spiel.

      i don't worry about specials being leftovers, so long as it's fresh or not being recycled. many restaurants have a dish and subsequent ingredient that doesn't sell as well and for these restaurants, the chef's creativity can really shine through. i mean, how many of us have made a fabulous meal out of extra veggies or meat we didn't use earlier in the week?

      1. At all of my favorite restaurants, the menu changes daily.

        Other places, in my experience, if the specials are the best thing to order there's usually a chalkboard.

        If a friendly server gives me a tip that there's only one order left of something particularly good, I'll always bite.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          Actually, thinking more about it, maybe I get the impression that specials are better when there's a chalkboard simply because I'm far more likely to order them.

        2. I'm more likely to get the special if the server lists the ingredients, and something I like jumps out at me. But just listing dishes with no extra info, I don't usually order those.

          1. If something on the special list sounds interesting to me, I'll order it. My husband once had an amazing special at a restaurant we love. It was unlike anything else on the menu and just the way the waitress described it made it almost a given that we'd order it.

            A few things I hate when it comes to specials (and what usually keep me from ordering one): when the waiter doesn't tell you how much it costs, the descriptions are way too long and you forget what they were even saying halfway through, the waiter sounds like he's reading from a cue card or he/she can't pronounce the ingredients.

            1. If they tell me the special without mentioning price, I'd never order it. I don't think I need to ask.

              2 Replies
              1. re: PeterL

                I too believe I shouldn't have to ask; but if I followed your policy, I'd hardly ever get to order a special! So I frequently ask, because I've been burned in the past--and if truth be told, I sometimes do it just to make a point. If the restaurant believes its customers don't care about prices, why print them on the menu in the first place?

                1. re: Miss Priss

                  Well Miss Priss, there are those restaurants that STILL don't have prices on their menus (or have separate ones for "hosts" with prices on them). As the saying goes "if you have to ask . . .."


              2. Well it depends. There are specials, and then there are "specials". If it's a case of "we've got to clear that box of lamb chops so sell em cheap", or "eat before 6pm and we'll give you an entree, two sides, and a dessert" then sure, why not.

                On the other hand, if it's "that salmon's getting past its best, so we'll serve it 'escabeche'" then I'll pass.

                As for NOT writing down the special, I don't think that sways me either way. If the meal sounds good, I'll have it.


                1. Not leftovers at all--in my experience, the specials often consist of the very freshest ingredients that are not available all the time, and thus do not make it on the permanent menu. Like if excellent heirloom tomatoes are available right now, there will be a special featuring heirloom tomatoes. So I think that specials are a good way to get the very best a restaurant has to offer at that momemt. But I agree--I much prefer if they are written somewhere instead of verbally given, without a price. But if it sounds good I'll order it anway.

                  1. I have never -- EVER -- been given a price of a special. Since I've been greatly surprised at the high price of a special on my bill, I now always ask the server if I am interested in a special. I believe they should tell you the price. They seem to rattle off each and every ingredient, so why not the price? And why are the specials always so much more expensive than the menu items?

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: shopgirl

                      In the SF Bay Area, the places I've gone in recent years, 80-90% say the prices.

                    2. Depending on the restaurant, the special can be:

                      Whatever is leftover, overstock, or about to go bad....


                      Some special creation the chef is trying out or some special ingredients (often seasonal) that the restaurant has acquired that it cannot get regularly to make it to the regular menu.

                      1. After reading Bourdain's book I've avoided the specials, great book... maybe what he says about specials isn't universally true, but.

                        1. If it's a restaurant that I frequent, I'm very likely to try the special. I do agree that the special always seem to be priced very high compared to the rest of the menu. At our favorite Italian restaurant I always order the special because the specials include the freshest seafood the chef/owner is able to get. But the price is $50! This compared to the regular menu in which most entrees are $20-35. But I bite every time.

                          1. I usually ask about the cost of the "specials" if they are not specified, which is 2/3 to 3/4 of the time for verbal-only recitations. Even if I'm not at all interested in them, as a matter of principle. And I tell the waiter prices should be specified.

                            I've discussed this with waiters and managers, and even a couple of chefs or owners. They often say that "the guests get insulted if we mention prices," and "You wouldn't eat here if you couldn't afford it." If the specials top at near the top price of the menu items, fair response. If the special is at or over the top price, I don't think the "don't ask, don't tell" policy is justified.

                            I don't usually make a point of this if I'm dining on my Dad's dime at a posh place.

                            Obviously there are exceptions for the "fois gras and truffle-infused lobster" special at the local hamburger joint.

                            1. The thing that bothers me about specials (as long as they are not the leftovers) at certain restaurants is when the price is out of line with the rest of the menu and no mention of price occurs during the recitation.

                              At a restaurant my DW and I go to a lot they offered a pasta special "with seafood." The pastas at the restaurant cost $14-18 and veal dishes top out at $24. I went for the special and although the dish was very good, it lost a lot of its likeability when I received the bill and the pasta special was $37.

                              Since then I ALWAYS ask the price of the special that i might me interested in if the restaurant does not provide a paper/blackboard menu of the specials.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: jfood

                                We had an interesting thing happen one time with some ice tea. The waitresss said they had "special teas" and so we ordered, not thinking they'd be much above the regular ones. They came out in this fancy bottle all expensive looking and then when the bill came, they were pretty pricy. One of the girls at our table was a lawyer so we had this whole debate (purely for fun) about contact law, and what to do where no price is specified, and what's a "reasonable price" etc. Bottom line was, once the damn things came out, we should have known they'd be a lot more expensive than a regular ice tea, but we chose to drink them anyway!


                              2. SWMBO and I both order off the specials menu approaching 80% of the time. I love pheasant, quail, duck, elk, and venison which always "seem" to be offered through that verbal recitation. Same with the desserts at Le Papillon; there are specials frequently offered there, too, but since I never know if I'll have room for dessert (a failing, I know), I usually ask the waiter to recite it again when I know we'll be having some.

                                The price-thing doesn't bother either of us.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: The Ranger

                                  What is SWMBO? Where is this Le Papillon you speak of?

                                    1. re: The Ranger

                                      Ah ! Rumpole. Thanks for the link.

                                2. The Special Menu is often where the Chef is able to use Seasonal and/or featured ingredients or specialties like Fish or Game. We order from the "special Menu" often, but I find the "Hi I'm Bruce and I'm your waiter" school of serice extremely annoying. He then rattles off the specials, omitting the price. I find this really annoying. I prefer seeing the specials on a chalkboard or on a printed Menu with prices.

                                  Am I the only one who feels like a jerk asking the price ?

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: Fleur

                                    Nope, you're not the only one, Fleur! And what IS a SWMBO?


                                    1. re: Fleur

                                      I certainly would not want to ask the price of the special. We're in suburban Philadelphia and spend weekends at the seashore in N.J. Far more often than not the server recites the specials with prices. My preference, like everyone on the board, it seems, is to receive a printed specials card or refer to a chalkboard. However, I'm not surprised that many restaurants choose the verbal approach. The spontaneity of the verbal recitation tends to draw me in if the dish is appealling. And in addition to selling more specials, despite the ease of printing a specials card, interacting with paper can seem like a daunting task to many restaurant operations. I don't know why, that's just something I've observed.

                                      At any rate, in the event that the price is not mentioned, I am a little perturbed but will order the item if it is particularly appealling. I expect to pay 20% -30% above the price of the most expensive entree and have never been surprised with a cost higher than that.

                                      While I would never want to ask the price of a special at the table, I think that I will take the initiative to email the restaurant if this should happen to us again. Just a quick note afterward explaining the trend toward reciting the price with an explanation of my personal preference can't really hurt!

                                      1. re: Fleur

                                        SWMCRW = She Who Must Capitalize Random Words

                                      2. She Who Must Be Obeyed

                                        1. Ohh! SWMBO=wife

                                          If given verbally I don't ask the price and usually assume the special is in line with the other entree prices. I don't order them that often because they rattle off the ingredients too fast and I like to know what I am getting. I am not comfortable grilling the server for explanations and prices so usually just let it go unless it has instant appeal. If they are printed on a paper or chalkboard I usually do order them.

                                          My dad was a meat salesman when I was a child, sold prime meats to high end restaurants, so I always understood the specials to be based on a special purchase deal they offered to get the chef to buy a little something extra. And it gives the chef an opportunity to offer something interesting within their food budget. I never thought of them as "leftovers" and haven't really experienced that.

                                          1. As a server, I ALWAYS give the price. I've been surprised (read gouged) a time or two myself and would never do that to my guests.

                                            When I verbalize a special I try to infuse my description with enought detail to make it interesting but not enough to overwhelm.

                                            But, sometimes, ya'll just don't listen...

                                            One night,several years ago I was describing a special something like this...

                                            "This evening we have fresh filet of Gulf Stream Snapper. The chef has wrapped it in parchment paper along with extra virgin olive oil, Kalamata olive, grape tomatoes, cippolini onions and a variety of fresh herb. It's then baked to seal in the juices. We're offering it tonight for $---"

                                            (I really don't remember the price. The chef wanted us to say that the fish was "baked en pappiote" (sp) but I'm a south Baltimore girl and I'd rather not mangle such a beautiful langauge with my terrible accent!)

                                            Two older, well dressed couples are sitting in my section and I give them my greeting, get a drink order and come back to tell them about the special.

                                            One of the gentlemen orders the special.

                                            Everything is going well and they love it all.

                                            As I'm clearing the table I notice that the parchment in gone. It's not on his plate. It's not on his side plate. It's not in a ball on the floor. It's pretty obvious that he has eaten it.

                                            Now, do I tell him? Of course not. After all this is "the best fish I'ver ever eaten." Why embarrass the poor fellow?

                                            Fast forward a few nights later I'm reading the Baltimore/DC message boards on Chowhound and ran across a woman raving about her dinner at my restaurant. Everything was great she said except for the husband's snapper special. The fish was lovely but the phylo like pastry was almost inedible!

                                            I had to laugh. The keyword was "almost" because if this was my table then he, by God, did eat it.

                                            BTW... I've looked for the link and I can't find it.

                                            3 Replies
                                              1. re: kimmer1850

                                                This is one time when I'm so happy I can "Report a Post" and click on "Great"

                                                1. re: kimmer1850

                                                  Here's the post you're referring to, in case anyone thinks you're making this up:
                                                  http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/... . Great story.

                                                2. Thanks for finding that post for me!!
                                                  You wouldn't believe how often I tell that story and it NEVER gets old...at least to me.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: kimmer1850

                                                    That's right up there with the best of them! Now that you mention it, if you'd never seen a dish like that before, and it's the really thin see-through type of paper, it kinda DOES look like phylo pastry! And why wouldn't you eat it?

                                                    It reminds me of some betel leaf wrapped duck I had the other day. Of course, I ate the duck and left the wrapping. But sometimes, things are wrapped in vine, spinach, or lettuce leaves, and you can eat those!