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Sticker shock specials

A few days ago, I went to Oriental Manor, and on the way in, I quickly glanced at the special list that they now post near the door. (By the way, kudos to them for now posting the specials in English as well as Chinese! - the "not for Anglos" posting of specials is another pet peeve) Anyway, the eel and roast pork special caught my eye, but I should have read closer - I read the price for the special above it on the list, and missed the word "seasonal" that was posted instead of a price for the eel and pork. To make a long story short, the dinner bill was about 3 times what I expected.

In this instance, shame on me - I fully admit that I should have read the posted sign more closely. That said, however, the tendency of many places to not mention the price of specials or "market price" items, especially when the price is multiples of the average dinner, rather than a few bucks more, is a major peeve of mine. There's some point at which the price difference between the average dinner and the price of the special, or even between the highest priced item on the menu and the special, is significant enough to warrant mention and confirmation with the diner. Whether one believes that point is $5 more than the average price or 3 times the highest listed dinner price, at *some* point, the price of a special should warrant mention, in my opinion.

In the interests of warning the unwary (or the tired, distracted, or otherwise vulnerable), what's the worst case of "tonight's special" sticker shock that you've experienced in the area? And what are the places that seem to be "repeat offenders" when it comes to having extravagantly priced specials, and not mentioning the price at the time of order?

And as always, the best rule may be that if you don't hear or read the price, don't order it, or if you do order, don't be surprised when you get the bill. That still doesn't help folks like me who read the wrong line for the price, though! ;-)

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  1. I've never had sticker shock. If I'm interested in a dish, and the price isn't given, I ask. I think "market price" and "seasonal" are industry jargon for "if you have to ask, you can't afford it."

    In my case, most of the time when the server is rattling off the daily specials, they include the price.

    I think there are cases where people automatically order the special, regardless of the price. It's like people who buy the most expensive item on the menu under the assumption that, since it's the most expensive, it must be the best. People pick cars and universities using the same principle, often with hilarious consequences. Ask anyone who owns a Jaguar or went to Yale.

    1. I once went to DaMimmos with my brother and sister-in-law. He was going to take me and my SO to dinner. We ordered two specials: one was a lobster ravioli. The other was some seafood pasta thing. The seafood pasta thing was $45 (this was several years ago); the lobster ravioli was $54.

      Needless to say, I paid for the meal.

      BTW, Oriental Manor recently changed management. Dim sum is still good, perhaps even better than before.

      1 Reply
      1. re: atls21231

        In my experience, many restaurants in Baltimore's Little Italy jack up the prices of specials to multiples of the cost of average menu entrees. I guess they're trying to find a few suckers on expense account or tourists that they will never see again. I make sure to ask for the prices there, and I am always amazed at the pcost. Usually, the special is a simple variation of a regular entree, adding an ingredient or two but doubling the price.

      2. I've only really had sticker once in recent memory. I went to Al Tiramisu on P St and ordered their Veal Chop special. While it was superb, the cost was something like $45 which is twice any other entree in the place. Needless to say, it ended up being my most expensive meal there.

        1. This may sound like a conspiracy theory, but I've noticed when my wife and I go to nicer restaurants with our children, they always seem to tell us the price of the specials. When we go to the same restaurants as a couple, they neglect to mention the price, thinking we might be on a date and neither party would want to call attention to price.

          And there's something to that--when we were dating, my wife didn't realize that a "special" meant special only to the owner's wallet. She thought she was doing me a favor and that "special" meant the same as "bargain" :-)

          1. Okay, so since when is it appropriate to put up a "today's specials" board and list the price as "market" - the market price is TODAY'S price! Not stating it is either dumb, lazy or cheating.

            BTW, when all the restaurants I grew up with could insert a mimeographed menu-of-the-day in the menu folder, is there really any excuse for a "market price" item?

            1. I couldn't agree more. Whenever I've taken the time to inquire as to the "market price" I've never ordered the said item. Without fail those menu items for which a daily price can't be posted, is 2 to 3X the price of those with prices.

              My worst sticker shock came in NYC at the Hearth. Fabulous restuarant. They had fresh black truffles that evening and though our server mentioned that they were extra (of course not specifying the price) we didn't think to ask 1. because it was a special occasion, and 2. more importantly, we'd ordered them on a $9 side dish, so how bad could the mark-up be? Try $35 bad.

              1. "Market Price" or "Seasonal" doesn't necessarily mean "expensive" though it usually is. What it means is that the cost of the ingredients is sufficiently variable that the restaurant can't commit to a price that they print on a menu.

                But Wayne is absolutely correct - when it's the day's special, they should have the day's price. At most places where I eat, when a server recites the daily specials, the price is stated along with the description.

                Could be that the "specials" posted on the window in the Oriental Manor were just non-regular-menu items, perhaps indeed seasonal.

                Never be embarassed to ask the price. How rare is it that you see a price (or even a listing on the menu when you know darn well they have it) for soft drinks or coffee. Now THAT'S sticker shock!

                1. I think MikeR said it right. Market or seasonal means the price can be variable. Additionally, sometimes it depends on the size of the item. My favorite Chinese place always lists the whole fish as "Market Price" because you can order several sizes, and the price depends on what size and type of fish you order.

                  Ont the other hand, if you don't ask what price the special is, you have no reason to complain. If you aren't afraid to ask how something is cooked or what is in it, why should one be afraid or embarassed to ask the price.

                  1. Sticker Shock:

                    Live Geoduck at Miu Kee for $85. No wonder the staff was in a tizzy when I ordered it. "Get that clam on their table before they change their minds!!!"

                    1. A few years ago an out of town friend made the mistake of going downtown for the fireworks and DRIVING THERE. I metroed down to rescue her. She and another friend had got caught in the rain. We ended up going north on Conn and stopping at 4 P's in Cleve. Park as they were open, we wanted to wait out the traffic and maybe get some food.

                      They had a special menu posted without prices. Turns out a bowl of stew was something like $15 (small bowl, too). Though I used to go occasionally (more for beer of course), I haven't been back since because of that.