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Do You Ask for the Price of Restaurant Specials?

A thread in the Outer Boroughs prompted me to ask this question. I know I always do, with no hesitation or embarrassment. But others do feel embarrased or, as one poster pointed out, even ashamed to do so. I think it's kind of shameful that restaurants don't automatically tell you how much the specials are in the first place. Here is my partial response:

"Why the shame? You are paying not only for the food, but also contributing to the staff's salary, health benefits (if they get), the restaurant's overhead, etc. I understand all the reasons cited for people not wanting to ask how much something costs--many of my friends are like that, and then they nearly fall out of their chair when the check comes--but this is a case of be careful what you don't ask for.

I have friends who make six-figure salaries who can well afford to indugle every day, and they always ask for the price of the specials. There is no shame in asking. The shame is all self-perceived. What's more "shameful" is to get a not-so-nice surprise when the bill comes that could have been totally avoided."

I'm really interested to hear what my fellow CHs have to say about this, including those of you who work in the restaurant industry. Do you flinch when patrons ask for the price of specials?

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  1. If the server does not vounteer the price of the specials I will ask. It beats getting a surpise on the check at the end of the meal. I dont feel any shame in asking, I think it is being a smart diner.

    1 Reply
    1. re: swsidejim

      Of course it is! If you were buying a suit, and your sales person added a shirt and tie for yu, wouldn't you ask how much?

    2. I am interested in hearing the replies. A lot of restaurants will give the price up front, but if not, I will ask. Years ago, I worked in International Sales, and did a lot of entertaining of clients from Europe and Asia. When I took them out to eat, the European clients, without exception, always thought it odd when the server told the price of the specials. They told me that would not happen in their country ( clients were mostly from Germany, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, or the UK). I had never noticed before they mentioned it, that the prices were not recited when I visited their countries. But it was true! Wonder if it is still the same- this was in the 80's.

      1. If the special appeals to me I will ask the price. Only took one time of being charged about 1/3 more for a special than the most expensive entree on the menu for me to develop that habit. But I am ususally the one in the party that will ask for details on how menu items are prepared or seasoned. The server is there to guide and serve me. I feel no shame for asking.

        1 Reply
        1. re: AreBe

          it depends on who is paying. if you are being taken out to dinner then I think it would be rude to ask the server. If the person paying could afford it (a business dinner maybe or someone you know has the money) then I guess it would be ok to order a special, but if you know they can't afford it or it's a date or whatever then I wouldnt dream of ordering a special.

          If it's just you and your SO then I don't see any reason not to ask the prices.

        2. I hope the servers won't flinch if I ask the price of a special. I'd say it depends upon so many situations. Some specials are not more than the regular dishes on the menu, and I'd be happy to find that out. Some places actually mention the price. Some have more elaborate specials that are more costly than the rest of the menu. I would agree if someone else is paying it would be odd for the person ordering OR the person paying to ask, actually, if the price wasn't volunteered. Either one would seem awkward in that case.

          I actually asked a server for a wine (by the glass) recommendation once (I'm not much of a wine drinker, but it's a really wine-oriented restaurant and I wanted to try something, and SO and I wouldn't go through a whole bottle). Must've been a bit of a crazy moment for her, but she did come up with something. And I did ask her how much at that point, which felt maybe a little weird. Hopefully she wasn't insulted by that. I wanted to make sure I wasn't being recommended a crazy expensive glass just because I asked, as the chances I would enjoy the difference seem slim. Clearly she realized this as well when making the recommendation, but it's good to confirm rather than be surprised when the bill comes. :-)

            1. I assume the specials will be among the most, if not THE most, expensive entree. Unless it's lobster tail & filet or something similarly pricey.

              I don't like it when they tell you the price, especially when it's a high-end restaurant - if you want to know, you'll ask. When I go to a nice restaurant, I am not usually ordering the top-of-the-line menu item, but if a special is appealing, I get it, because it's a special and won't likely be there when I return.

              I don't know exactly why I don't like it, can't put my finger on it exactly.. hopefully someone else can produce a more meaningful comment!!

              1. After being charged DOUBLE the average meal price one evening, I always ask. I've noticed more restaurants print their menus every day so the prices of the specials are already listed.
                I used to be a waiter years ago and expected guests to ask the prices. We were instructed to not offer the prices without being asked, though. It wasn't a matter of trying to get them to order something more expensive but to not insult a guest with the assumption that they might not be able to afford it. (Most of our specials were about the same price of the menu items anyway).

                2 Replies
                  1. re: socaldesign

                    I do feel uncomfortable asking, but do so, because it can factor to my decision...

                  2. Having made the original comment, I have been interested to hear these responses. Mostly it is descriptive of assertive behavior, and I agree with all of their reasons. I was talking more about the internal voice that most of us don't like to acknowlege factors into many of our decisions. I've don't think that waiters mind listing prices when inquired, but I do think that asking after the prices is a declaration of interest, like kicking the tires of a car.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: thinks too much

                      for me its a wallet issue. It is not that I cannot afford to eat anything on the menu, but I dont want to feel ripped off paying more for a dish than what I think is acceptable.

                      I know I have been stung a few to many times paying $12-$13 each for a couple of shots of tequila, I now ask the cost of the shots, and likewise a dinner special.

                      1. re: swsidejim

                        If it's an insult to the diner to give prices without being asked, perhaps the printed menu should be devoid of all prices.

                        But this all comes back to my pet peeve: give all specials to me in printed form. Some of us are more visual when it comes to such things.

                        1. re: swsidejim

                          LOL. If anything, I guess it's even more prevalent in a bar, since there typically isn't a menu aside from specialty martinis or frozen drinks.

                          1. re: thinks too much

                            Don't know the liquor laws in other places but here prices of all products sold in a bar are required to be posted. Of course you are never sure unless you ask if what you are drinking is a well, a call, a premium, a super premium, or an exotic.

                            1. re: KaimukiMan

                              I am not sure of the law in Illinois where I live, but I find the range of prices I pay for the same tequilas surprising,. Cazadores tequilla for example some places I go to charge $5 per shot, where others charge $12. Same price issue with Tres Generacions Tequila, and other "top shelf" tequilas. Some places I think just like to simply gouge the customers.

                              1. re: KaimukiMan

                                I've lived in Vermont, Utah, Connecticut, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Germany, Australia... I have no problem getting the price of liquor or beers if I ask anywhere, but I have never in any bar seen a full menu of all the liquors available. That's what the rack is for beneath the mirror. You can see what you get.

                        2. IMO specials should be printed with prices. Usually specials are at least 20% higher in price so it's not that big a deal but I hate it when a server recites 3 specials with detail and has to repeat them to all parties at the table. Then they leave and each one turns to the other and says, "what were the specials?" There was an article in our local paper about a French restaurant that has a Kobe beef special. They do not post or verbally give the price but it is at least 3X the average dinner price. This is just wrong. Yes one might suggest that anyone ordering Kobe beef knows it's expensive but when an item on a menu is at least 3 times the average I think they should tell you. In fact I think they should always tell you without asking or why put prices on a menu.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: scubadoo97

                            We own a restaurant (65 seats) in Southwest Florida and although we usually only feature 1-2 specials, we not only have them written on a Specials board with corresponding price, but insist that our waitstaff mention the price when they recite the special"s". Whenever possible we even print them up. We know what it is like to be a guest in a restaurant and would rather know the price up front.
                            If it is done correctly nobody feels offended that they are told the price.
                            My husband (our chef) and I also read the article about the Kobe beef being $107 and were flabbergasted not only by the high price (we live in St. Petersburg not Chicago), but by the Chef's response to the food writer's question on
                            1- why the price was not given by the waiter. (the chef owner said that a couple of years ago a waiter in his restaurant recited the price of a special at a table and the guest got up, threw money on the table and stormed out saying "Don't you think I can afford it?".
                            How often does that happen? We have owned our own restaurants for 18 years and that has never happened
                            2- why the chef's reason for charging $107 for a Kobe filet (The chef says that when he receives the beef he has to trim away 40% of the fat, so that is a loss for him)
                            Are we all talking about Kobe beef, which is some of the leanest meat around-
                            Even when my husband gets an entire side of the fattest beef, we don't lose 40% to waste.

                          2. We would ask for the price of specials, "market price items" or "catch of th day" if it wasn't marked. Same for wines selected for meal pairings (often with no price listed).

                            I think its too late to know how much you spent after the fact, no?

                            1. After hearing this story from a manager at one of our favorite restaurants, I always ask the specials price if there's something I'm interested in.

                              He was working at a popular Cantonese seafood restaurant one night when a foursome of young, well dressed, boisterous professionals came in. The two men were obviously out to impress the two ladies they'd brought to this higher end restaurant. After loudly gesticulating at the tanks of live seafood and talking big about whether to order lobster, sharks fin, etc. they settled on one of those huge 10 lb. white crabs from Australia. I don't know the name of the species, but the body is almost the size of a human head and the legs are two feet long. Restaurant prices usually top $30/lb for the suckers. Of course they did not ask.

                              The restaurant proceeded to prepare the crab in the signature "three ways." that would be something like stir fried with ginger/scallions/rice wine, a soup, a fried rice, or whatever. Bill came, the two men freaked out at the $300+ bill, started screaming that the server did not warn them, that $30/lb was ridiculous, and that they were doing to refuse to pay it, sue the restaurant, etc. Talk about ridiculous. One moment of supposed "awkwardness" could have helped them avoid the whole mess at the end of the meal.

                              I do prefer it when the server tells me the prices up front. Even if I can't actually remember each dish and the price, I'll have an impression of whether they were in line with other menu items, or especially expensive.

                              1. This is actually a HUGE pet peeve of mine. In an age of readily available (read cheap) computers and printers there is absolutely NO excuse not to print out a page with the daily specials AND the prices. Restaurants that continually refuse to do this just drive me crazy.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: flourgirl

                                  you'd be surprised how well certain items sell when you verbalize them instead of presenting them on a written menu.

                                  1. re: baconstrip

                                    I much prefer to read about the specials and am more likely to get one if I do. I feel rushed when a server announces them and as though I'm just nodding and smiling and not really listening. I usually forget half of what was said.

                                    1. re: baconstrip

                                      Sorry baconstrip, don't care. It's absolutely annoying not to offer a printed list of specials and their prices. It's simple. Why not forgo the whole menu and have the servers recite the entire darn thing? And I practically never order a special if it wasn't presented on a printed sheet. I hate trying to remember all the details of the preparation for each dish, never mind ask the prices. I just skip it and order off the menu. In fact, I barely listen when the server rattles off those specials, I find the experience that irritating.

                                      1. re: baconstrip

                                        I was always minorly annoyed when the specials at a nice restaurant were not printed on an insert in the menu - with the prices listed. My exasperation was recently heighened when I had friends in town for a week - at the same time I had an ear infection and was having trouble hearing in a noisy restaurant.

                                        If you want to have the servers mention them specifically fine, but let me at least have a chance to see it in print as well.

                                        1. re: baconstrip

                                          It's a balancing act.

                                          Some places lose me when they've got 5 specials that are so laden with descriptive words that I can't keep up... or I get distracted by the presentation itself. Even great servers who are confident in discussing any item on the normal menu sometimes get tripped up when having to recite a list of specials. Know what I mean? You sometimes get caught up in critiquing their presentation, as if it was acting class (which might be very valid in L.A. or N.Y.!).

                                          Meanwhile a simple pitch of a special or two can be quite enticing. Just keep it simple and yes, please mention the price. It's annoying to have to ask and everyone wins if there are no suprises.

                                      2. I ask if it's a place I haven't been to before. I never used to, but I was in an Italian place where most of the entrees were about $11-13, and I got their lasagna special, and it was $24! Now, I don't mind paying that much for an entree at the right place, but $24 for lasagna at this place was exorbitant. I learned my lesson there. Most servers are nice about it.

                                        1. Unless I know the place well, I always ask. A few years ago, I was eating in a touristy type restaurant, and the server rattled off a list of around 10 specials. After I complimented him on his memory, he said it was no big deal as the restaurant had the same "specials" every night. That made me suspicious, so I asked how much one of the named items was and he replied something like $25. Considering that nothing on the menu was over $15, I suddenly realized why the place had the same "specials" every night! What was special about those entrees was the price, not the availability. Clearly the restaurant wanted to maximize its profit at the expense of tourists who weren't likely to return in any case.

                                          ed

                                          1. I should add that it would depend on the situation too, as some posters have pointed out. Recently, I took a friend out for his birthday at a pricey restaurant. I told him to order whatever he wanted (and meant it!) and was surprised when he asked our server how much some wine cost as well as some of the specials. I didn't take offense though. He does this all the time regardless of who's paying, and I thought it was considerate. However, I'm not sure if I would do that if someone was taking me out.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: gloriousfood

                                              I would ask price without hesitation. I also always ask the price for a glass of after dinner something, like port. When we talk to the sommelier at a place with a big wine list, we have no problem saying, can you recommend a bottle to go with our food in X price range, even if X is at the low end of the wine list.

                                              1. re: gloriousfood

                                                I"m not sure that I would ask, but even if someone told me to order whatever I wanted, I would be mindful to order conservatively.... just out of respect and appreciation of the gift.

                                                1. re: laurendlewis

                                                  Have you ever been in a situation where someone was treating you to a restaurant where everything on the menu looks great, and you want to try several apps and maybe even split some mains--but you don't b/c the person is treating? When I'm in a situation like that, I wish I had the guts to say, "Hey, how about if I pay for all the apps outside of the one I ordered." But I don't b/c I know my friends would insist on treating me, and then I would feel guilty. Sigh.

                                              2. I ask on occasion, specifically if I know the typical cost of the protein, certain beef and seafood choices can be very expensive. In my experience the specials are usually mid range and I normally don't bother to ask. It's not in the best interest of a restaurant to leave you shell shocked when you get your bill and if I felt purposely taken I would certainly say something to the manager and never return. That said, I encourage all of you to ask all of the questions you have of your server, without embaressment or apology, as good communication with your server will definately enhance your experience. If I were your server and noticed you were unhappy about charges which you though were out of line, I would not be happy about that. After all, I am working for gratuities and my success depends on your satisfaction. If I were offering you a specail which was out of range of the rest of the menu I would probably offer the price up front and tell you why it was worth the extra $$$.

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: TruDiner

                                                  In my experience, specials are almost invariably a great deal more expensive than the highest priced regular menu item (excluding a few obvious examples like market priced seafood). And usually not justifiably so.

                                                  (To make matters worse, I have repeatedly read that diners need to be aware of the fact that specials often consist of items that were nearing the end of their shelf life and need to get out of the kitchen.)

                                                  1. re: flourgirl

                                                    "(To make matters worse, I have repeatedly read that diners need to be aware of the fact that specials often consist of items that were nearing the end of their shelf life and need to get out of the kitchen.)"

                                                    That may be true in some places, but in every place I've worked that has absolutely NOT been the case. The specials are always a special ingredient the chef has access to, or something a vendor is carrying that they don't usually have. The stuff they're trying to get rid of? Fear not, they feed it to the staff for family meal.

                                                2. I usually don't ask the price of the specials unless it's some truffle, caviar laden monstrosity. And I rarely order those anyway. If it sounds good, I'll order it. I mean unless, I am dining at an extremely expensive restaurant, rarely have I seen the price of a single "special" dish go beyond $60. Which I understand, some may consider to be more than they are willing to pay. I see no shame in asking.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: cornellfrancis

                                                    I definitely would want to know before I got socked for anything close to $60 for an entree.

                                                  2. Since jfood has been burned twice by not asking, he always asks before ordering.

                                                    1 - Average pasta was $17-20, ordered special pasta w seafood, $37, ouch
                                                    2 - Lobster sushi appetizer, are you in the sit position, $45, FOR AN APPETIZER

                                                    So if the resto does have the courtesy of giving jfood the menu w prices, jfood doe not mind:

                                                    1 - asking as many times as jfood would read the dexcription plus the price.
                                                    2 - resent me asking over and over. sorry,

                                                    jfood did not create this situation and just wants to order what he wants to order and not have a GOTCHA at the end of the meal.

                                                    1. In every restaurant I've ever worked at, we've been told to tell the price if it is above our regular menu range. We don't want to surprise anyone (no, we're really not trying to trick you into spending more money.) If the price is in line with everything else, we don't mention it.

                                                      1. The other one you have to watch out for is where it says "Market Price" on the menu.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                          And AQ, especially if no price is quoted!

                                                        2. One of our favorite places has the specials printed up on a separate sheet that they give out when they hand out the regular menu. The server always then says something to the effect of "I'd like to draw your attention to our specials this evening" and usually offers a bit more of an explanation than what's on the menu description. Its a good way, i think, to both give the information to the customer in a useful way and still let that verbal description from a good server do its job.

                                                          If I am told of specials but not the price, I'll ask if I'm at all interested in the dish. No qualms whatsoever about asking.

                                                          1. I ABSOLUTELY ask about the "special's" price..I have been burned a couple of times when I did not, so now I just ASK! I really don't care about their reaction, and most of the time I don't get a negative one...They know, just as I do, that usually the "special" is more expensive than the average entree!

                                                            1. I just don't feel comfortable with the idea of the server NOT giving the price of specials...... other than I suppose it may be just a little 'undignified' to call public attention to the price that way. Everything else has the price printed on the menu that everyone has right in front of them. To me it seems like an overt 'entrapment' of sorts....... taking advantage of the natural tendency many people have to NOT ask.

                                                              An acquaintance of mine was dining at a nearby Italian resto where the entrees top out at around $30, and the bulk are well under that (more in the high teens for pastas). Enamoured by a lobster ravioli special, he ordered it without asking. It was $48!
                                                              If it hadn't been so good, he said he would have raised the issue. I guess, though, he really knew it was his 'fault' not to ask, especially with it involving lobster.

                                                              1. I always ask, if the special interests me and if the price isn't given. Everything else on the menu has a price, after all.

                                                                1. If we are interested in the "special", we always ask the price before ordering.

                                                                  I, too, like the idea of seeing the printed Special Menu with prices, but I understand the rationale of orally presenting ther specials to the customer.

                                                                  I have no qualms about asking the price, but I understand that many do feel uncomfortable. I would only add it is never tacky, never cheap, and never out of place or impolite to ask. Never.

                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                  1. re: Fleur

                                                                    This topic has turned into a revealing thread. I cannot imagine hesitating to ask the price of any meal if I was expected to pay/pay my share. Why would knowing the cost of a meal in advance of enjoying it be tacky or cheap? Walking out on a bill, stiffing a dining companion because you don't have enough cash to cover your own tab, even over ordering-that's odd. So interesting...

                                                                    1. re: HillJ

                                                                      It's not tacky or cheap to ask the price. The armchair psychologist in me believes that asking the price suggests that one will make a decision based on the cost of the meal. That shouldn't be anything other than a person's common sense decision to make, but it is certainly understandable that some people may be sensitive to making it 'in public'. I'm sure the sensitivity is directly related to the relationship to those seated at the table.

                                                                    2. re: Fleur

                                                                      If they read me specials, and leave out the price, then I just didn't hear them. It also makes me pay more attention to the bill.
                                                                      It doesn't happen much around here, but when it does, I have to try hard not to laugh.

                                                                    3. I hate to go to restaurants that do not include the price after telling you what that night's specials are. What is the big deal?? You get the regular menu and it has prices on it, why should the specials remain a mystery? The best is when a "special" menu is presented and low and behold the prices are there staring you in the face!!! I think I have had this happen three times in my life!!!

                                                                      1. We always ask too. What is there to be embarrassed about? That a waitron will think less of you for wanting to know what you're paying for? Puh-leeeze!

                                                                        1. I have never asked for prices, but I will make sure to peruse the place before I get there

                                                                          1. A lot of people have weighed in with "what's there to be embasssed
                                                                            about ... just ask ... it's your money" etc.

                                                                            So I'm just curious if you are equally likely to ask when dining with
                                                                            say your sibling as on a (first) date. I asked the same question about
                                                                            gift certificates, coupons etc.

                                                                            Yes, maybe it is slightly irrational that asking the price or using some
                                                                            form of "free money" would have some 'stigma' attached, but the point
                                                                            is "it's out there". You cant just dismiss it by saying "dont worry about it".
                                                                            Walking around with your shirt untucked or mismatched socks isnt unsanitary
                                                                            or immoral but you will look foolish if you do it.

                                                                            Personal answer: if the special sounds expensive [$$$ seafood or $$$ cut of
                                                                            meat], I might ask, but if it sounds like a regular item, I probably wont.

                                                                            What I am really interested in is why restaurants go with the verbal presention
                                                                            since the customers seem to overwhelmingly wish to be "informed in writing"
                                                                            both so they can see the prices and so they dont have to mentally buffer the
                                                                            options. Do they restaurants not writie them on a board or menu insert because
                                                                            it is a hassle? Because of the "soft sell" ... somebody claimed verbal presentation
                                                                            increases sales? Because it is a clever way of leaving out prices and they know a
                                                                            certain number of people are reticent to ask? I'm sure there are different answer in
                                                                            different places.

                                                                            I think the biggest cases where I'be been burned by not knowing the price
                                                                            of something was with alcohol. That glass of champagne from the cart or
                                                                            armagnac or port apres can have have crazy prices ... you could easily
                                                                            be $20 off in your estimate ... which would be odd for an entree even.

                                                                            1. At one of my more favorite local restaurants, the specials are listed and priced on a separate menu and presented along with the standard menu. I find this the best solution and approach. But it is not by any means a universal procedure. IF any of the specials recited by a waiter (in another/different restaurant) interest me, I ALWAYS ask the price. Dining out should be a pleasant experience and a shock at the end negates all that.

                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                              1. re: feelinpeckish

                                                                                >I find this the best solution and approach.
                                                                                >
                                                                                yes, everybody on the comsumer side seems to agree with you.
                                                                                the question is why isnt it universal ... to much hassle or is there a
                                                                                deliberate reason. again, i'm sure different explanations in different cases.

                                                                                >I ALWAYS ask the price.
                                                                                >
                                                                                do you ALWAYS ask the price of a cocktail before you order one?

                                                                                1. re: psb

                                                                                  You know, that's an interesting point. I don't drink, so I never had to think about this. And with the price of cocktails in Manhattan (my city), it can get pricey! I think it's also situational: are you on a date, are you treating someone or being treated, are you with old friends and family who you're comfortable with and wouldn't bat an eyelash if you asked for the price of specials and cocktails, etc., etc.

                                                                              2. This was an interesting read for me. Just last week we went to our favourite local restaurant. We both ordered specials - one seafood, one veal....and never bothered to ask the price. At the time, it really didn't matter, it's "dinner out, our treat" type thing; however we were both a bit surprised at the total bill and on further checking discovered that the specials were "pricey". It was the surprise factor more than anything....you know you figure dinner will be $150 and whoa it's a $200 bill...absolutely no regrets, we loved our meal. But a little niggling in the back of our minds suggests that was a bit more of a splurge than we "expected". This leads me to conclude....our own darn fault....we should always ask the price (IF they didn't actually mention it). No embarrassment....no suprises....live and learn from Chowhound!!!

                                                                                1. Over the weekend, I also applied the benefit of reading this thread to a dining experience by asking for the "price range" a particular wine fell and avoided the whole "omg that wine costs us what" at the end of the meal.