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Special Pet Peeve

Hello Hounds --

Last night I went to a popular little spot in the East Village; one that I've been to before, that I've recommended, and honestly I will most likely go back to. The menu is inexpensive, with most apps in the $5-8 range, and pasta dishes hovering around $10-12. Yet the pasta specials sounded good, so we ordered two of them for dinner. They were listed on a chalkboard, and the waiter recited them... but there were no prices listed nor recited. There wasn't anything particularly exotic in them, nor would it seem that their preparations were elaborate. But the bill arrived, and the specials were *twice* as much as the other pastas on the menu. Why?! Why are the specials not more or less in line with the price point of the rest of the menu (truffle season excepted, of course).

It's not about the money, it's about the principle. Normally I ask about the prices of specials, but this is a low-cost, low-key place. Honestly, it didn't occur to me to ask. I was more offended by this because I'd recommended the place, yet I wasn't paying the bill. I think it was a little bit of a nasty surprise for her, because she doesn't have a ton extra cash to burn.

Am I the only person this bothers? Has anyone ever challenged a restaurant on their bill when this happens?

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  1. No, you're not the only one.
    I have a friend who absolutely goes crazy when "specials" are recited and without prices, yet.
    Instead of wasting our time while the server recites (and sometimes stumbles, poor things), why can't they just attach specials of the day to the menu with prices? I'll bet almost any server would be glad to volunteer to take the time to copy them on the computer and attach them to menus rather than have to stand there wasting everyone's time reciting. It would probably be less time consuming all around.

    2 Replies
    1. re: idia

      My father was like your friend. He would ask the price of every special, whether he was interested in it or not, just to make the point that he shouldn't have *had* to ask.

      But to the question of challenging the bill, if you don't ask the price I don't think you have a right to challenge it. It's a shame that it had to happen when the OP recommended the restaurant and someone else was paying. I'd certainly feel awkward in that situation as well. Caveat emptor, and lesson learned.

      1. re: JoanN

        joanN, i'm gonna take your father's approach: "and how much is that special?"
        ......"and how much is that special?"....."and how much is that special?"
        (well...maybe not, depending on how potent the cocktails ;-)

    2. im guessing this was max?

      its tacky...it used to be more popular in the past. these days, decent restaurants treat customers with respect...especially considering you'll come home and post something right away on chowhound.

      places like perilla, market table, little owl...always are cool about mentioning the price. i think thats the only way to do business.

      1. The situation you have described, i.e., recitation of special without prices, is one of my major restaurant peeves. As I've said many times before, in the age of computers and printers, there is absolutely no excuse for restaurants not printing out specials *with prices* and providing this info with the regular menu. Nobody would ever accept a regular menu without prices, so why accept specials without them? Restaurants are the only place where this happens. Would anyone purchase movie or theater tiks without knowing the cost? Shoes? A candy bar? Restaurant owners do it because they figure that diners will be too embarrassed to ask for fear of looking cheap, thus making it an easy way to pad the bottom line. Frankly, it's deplorable.

        If a special interests me and no price has been provided, I *always* ask! Those who don't have nobody to blame but themselves when the bill hits the table and they're faced with sticker shock.

        Until enough diners make it clear to restaurants that they won't put up with this way of doing business and the practice is totally banished, it's "Caveat emptor!"

        7 Replies
        1. re: RGR

          RGR, you just hit on DH's pet peeve when you said "Nobody would ever accept a regular menu without prices,". Most menus don't post the price for tea, coffee, bottled water or soft drinks. He always asks the price to avoid paying $3.00 for a glass of iced tea.
          To OP, sorry this happened to you and your friend. Life is such a learning experience and this is one for us all. If no price is given, ask. Most of us are in the same boat - price does matter.

          1. re: Pampatz


            I must disagree with you in part. I have never seen a menu in lower end and moderate restaurants that did not list prices for coffee and tea. When it comes to upscale restaurants, all the ones we've been to have a separate dessert menu with prices, and that's where coffee and tea are listed along with prices.

            With regard to bottled water and soft drinks, I do agree that at high end restaurants, no prices are provided. But to be honest, we never order either, so I've not given much thought what the costs are. I'd venture to say that diners at that level don't care how much bottled water or a Coke costs.

            1. re: RGR

              IHOP does nto include the price for coffee on the menu.

              1. re: jes

                and Applebees does not list the prices for their cocktails

              2. re: RGR

                Most dine-in chains don't list the price of beverages on the menu. In a high-end restaurant, I wouldn't look because I wouldn't be ordering a Coke anyway.
                I agree that lower/mod owner run restaurants usually post the prices.

                1. re: RGR

                  <<I'd venture to say that diners at that level don't care how much bottled water or a Coke costs.>>
                  Ummm - wrong - did you not see this recent post about this issue?

                  1. re: Catskillgirl

                    jfood agrees with Catskillgirl

                    Bottle of Panna (flat water) $10. Chocolate mousse cake $9. Which would you buy? jfood does not buy bottled water in areas with good tap water.

            2. If I'm interested in a special, I ask the price as they are frequently more expensive than the usual menu prices. As for challenging the bill, I don't think you can do that in this case. They didn't mis-calculate, you simply didn't ask ahead of time. My pet peeve with specials is when there are more than about 3 that are recited. . .too many details to remember!

              1 Reply
              1. re: gourmanda

                I know, gourmanda and RGR..!! I (the OP) absolutely agree it's a caveat emptor situation. I normally DO ask. I'm not even sure why I didn't... but as I said I just kind of didn't think of it. And normally when I ask the specials are *close* to the prices of the regular menu.

                In my case the waiter was also the bartender, and was definitely harried. He may have simply forgotten to give the price. But still, in my "fantasty brain" I have a quiet little conversation with the manager about this...

              2. I ask the price of the special if it isn't given. I don't think it's appropriate to challenge the bill because you (general) neglected to ask a question. Same if someone orders a drink without knowing the price (which commonly happens). I think this instance is one you chalk up to a life lesson and move on from there.

                1. Yes, I agree-I once paid $15 for a beet salad at a casual spot I used to frequent... See there-USED to frequent...I can see when the special is special and has pricey ingredients...But, buyer beware, I guess...We paid the bill and chalked it up to a lesson learned...but of course, not all establishments do this...Often the special is less expensive, because they're trying to push something they need to get rid of...

                  1. i would tell the mod about my thoughts on the situation. maybe they change their practice?

                    1. I once overheard a neighbor table complain to the server about the cost of the special they ordered. It was a pasta dish at a tiny italian restaurant that usually costs less than $15 per pasta on the regular menu. When the bill came, they complained that they charged over $45 for their pasta from the specials menu. While I was eavesdropping (sorry!) I then understood why... the pasta was garnished with white truffle shavings! I do know the extreme fee that can come with eating white truffles, but these poor folks I'm guessing had no idea and just thought the pasta du jour sounded tasty. If only the waiter had told them the price...

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: QueenPeach

                        Funny you mention this on Valentines Day -- do you think that maybe owners know that on a "date night holiday" there are extra incentives to "up the ante"?

                        I mean it is pretty well known that romantic entrees like "his & her lobster tails", 'châteaubriand", and even Dover Sole are going to come with "Top Tier " pricing -- with the overuse terms like "chocalate truffles" & "truffle oil" it is easy for people to miss that an entree has REAL truffles and that it'll be a budget buster...

                        (and I will not speculate as to whether there really are truffles in the dish...)

                      2. It happened to me once, and never again. I always ask for the price of a special that I might be interested in ordering.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Chinon00

                          Interesting. I expect specials to be 50-100% more than the menu items, and act accordingly. One of the caveats of eating out.

                          1. re: dolores

                            I agree dolores. Unfortunately, this is the case in most restaurants I have dined in. It would be much more customer friendly all around to stop with the recitations (for those of use who suffer from short term memory loss), print up the specials and list with price. I prefer to see everything in writing anyway so I can compare and contrast the finer points of each dish.

                        2. inexpensive joints have insideous ways of driving up the bill. was this at Frank by any chance? I love that place but that is exactly what they do. As does Lupa. Why is does orcciette with sausage and broccoli rape cost $22? And it's a special every night.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: psawce

                            psawce - i wasn't going to mention the restaurant, because yes, I do like that place and I'm sure i'll go back when i'm down there again and it's convenient. And I'll even recommend it again with the "caveat emptor." Yes, it was Frank. I don't remember Little Frankie's or Supper ever doing that. I'm not bashing the place, because the food was very good, as always. It's just annoying when restaurants do that.

                            1. re: egit

                              egit, sorry I missed your reply saying the restaurant name. I can't believe it was the same one. When I first read your initial post, Frank was the first thing that popped into my head. Glad you didn't get the $45 truffle pasta at least...

                            2. re: psawce

                              psawce, were you replying to my post about the white truffle pasta? If so, I'm shocked to say YES! Frank was where this incident occured. I love that place but still feel terrible for that couple. (you probably know how easy it is to hear a neighbor's conversation given the very very tight fit...)

                            3. it strikes me as a "soft fraud" (my term) for resto servers not to disclose specials' prices that are multiples of the regular menu range.

                              in general, i believe resto servers should always tell diners the prices where not otherwise disclosed. and restos to have that policy. (or post it on menu, somewhere.) a simple matter of fair dealing.

                              1. A resto that we like used to have a "printed menu" and a a bunch of specials, depending on what looked good in the market that morning. The owner would give the servers an index card with the details of the specials - but the customers would ask their server for the cheat-sheet because as has been pointed out, who can remember?

                                So now every morning Andy types up a new menu - changing the day and the date, removing what they are not offering adding the new stuff. Everything has a price and the servers don't have to recite.

                                I like that place!

                                1. The prices of the specials were not offered; you didn't ask; you ordered; you have no basis for challenging the bill.

                                  I agree that they should print out the specials and prices on a piece of paper or clearly visible blackboard but if they don't, caveat emptor.

                                    1. I really don't see this as any different to the price of drinks at many restaurants. They have a printed drinks list often with no prices (so they don't have to reprint when they put prices up).

                                      How many of you here can honestly say how much when you ask for a martini, a vodka rocks, a margarita, a scotch with mixer? And when the barman says would you like house vodka or absolut who asks how much extra is that??? None I would suspect. You do not make a fuss at your drinks bill when it arrives either at the table or the bar.

                                      Everyone knows specials cost more. I agree that there are some times when it is not prudent to ask the price - on a date, a business lunch when you are not paying, a business lunch when you ARE paying, with friends etc. Then you know what, don't order the specials. Stick to the menu or put up with it. Perhaps ask the server if they could give you the specials price range. You know that dover sole or a chateaubriand is going to be expensive.

                                      10 Replies
                                      1. re: smartie

                                        Smartie, the difference here is that the place we're talking about has actually even charged 200% more than the regular menu. I see it as much different than adding a few bucks onto a drink because you asked for Absolut. A buck or 2 is so minimal so how can it compare? What if you ordered a $10 martini and the barman asked you if you wanted to try their house special martini and you said yes but later saw the bill at $40. Would you make a fuss at your drinks bill then?

                                        1. re: QueenPeach

                                          I guess it depends where you are and what is special about the special. A while back I went to Abe and Lou's in Boca and the special apps of the day were lobster claws. My 2 friends chose 2 each and were not told the price nor did they ask. When the bill came they were $20 each!! I nearly fell off my chair. It was a big buyer beware flag for me. If it's my money I will ask, plain and simple.

                                          and to reply to Queenpeach, I probably would be hopping mad if a martini was $40 each. They would surely have to justify that price. I know I wouldnt go back there.

                                        2. re: smartie


                                          jfood does not think he has ever been in a bar where the call drink was less than the standard, but that is neither here nor there to this discussion, with hundreds of bottles sometimes, the Absolut is $10, Chopin $11, on and on each with a different price point. Jfood is glad he does not drink and get into that and wine mark-ups.

                                          But specials are maybe at most a half a dozen. What is so hard with hand-writing, printing, blackboarding some form of description and price. There is only one reason (other than lazy) and that is the restaurant (broad use of word) is trying to pull a fast one on the customer ("soft fraud" used above is a nice description).

                                          Jfood is always open to understanding, but there is no customer focused answer to this age old question other than hold onto your wallet people, here come the specials.

                                          BTW - jfood thought the $1.99 Breakfast Specials in FL are less than a regular breakfast.

                                          1. re: jfood

                                            the Florida breakfast specials are well worth their price!! Although I think you will find them around $2.69 nowadays.

                                            1. re: smartie


                                              Sorry about not being specific. Your earlier comment of "Everyone knows specials cost more." The breakfast specials, as you describe are "worth their price" (and jfood absolutely agrees). So as you can see specials are not always more expensive.

                                              1. re: jfood

                                                true Jfood but these are always on the menus - specials served between 7 and 11am! Anyway this is Florida and you know how angry some of those seniors get if anyone tries to pull the wool over their eyes. Although saying that a little deli a friend and I go to in Delray have removed coffee from their breakfast special so it's cost has gone up without you really noticing till you get to the checkout.

                                                1. re: smartie

                                                  Understand, jfood loves going to Flakowitz and watching the crowd interact with the staff. Noone likes the place but jfood. He gets along with all the bakery guys to the point they give him some samples. Other spot jfood loves is Twin Bagel or Bagel Twin. He hears it so many different ways he forgets which is correct.

                                                  Jfood is a Senior Schmoozer in Training.

                                                  1. re: jfood

                                                    it's Bagel Twins and yes I go there often, also Poppies across the street. No more Flakewitz for me on Federal Hwy after the server removed my cold chewy latke with her fingers from my plate.

                                                    1. re: smartie

                                                      the other Flakowitz on Boynton Beach not Federal

                                          2. re: smartie

                                            Just a note -
                                            In smaller towns/different areas specials often are a way to introduce people to something on the menu - these "specials" are offered at a reduced price as a way to entice people to try the dish.

                                            So many people over the years have come into either of my restaurants asking for the "special of the day", and clearly expecting something at a substantial mark down from regular menu prices.

                                            Not everybody knows that a "special" will cost more.

                                          3. Eqit

                                            Welcome to the club. To join one had to have had faith in the MOD and the server to tell the customer that a special was 1.5-2x the price of the normal price, one must have ordered it, one must have enjoyed it, one must have been shocked when receiving the bill. And most importantly one must say "ain't happening again."

                                            One time jfood was out with friends and the "truffle surcharge" was $30/plate on the appetizers at a normal $25-35 entree place. The server was kind enough to tell the jfoods and they and the other company each ordered them. Now they were not upset because they knew and that's $120 in just surcharges for appetizers. Three months later jfood ordered the special seafood pasta (verbal specials w no prices) at a red sauce $15-22 red sauce place and the pasta was $31, and he was upset for the unmentioned price point for the “special”. But it was really good.

                                            Many will say, “All specials are more expensive.” Jfood's response is “no they are not.” In fact, last night Jfood went to a resto where the specials were all within the bookends of the highest and lowest on the regular menu. And Jfood would posture that if ALL the specials are higher than the most expensive regular item, then the restaurant has a higher standard in telling the customer.

                                            Jfood always asks the server to leave the list of specials behind so Jfood can review before final decision. Other than that they have a responsibility to tell the prices. Many do not and Jfood will not get in that sandbox if out with other people and just won’t order them. But if they do not ask the price and you order the special, you gotta pay the price.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: jfood

                                              jfood -- egit does not speak in the third person very often...

                                              No, fortunately it's not white truffle season. I wouldn't have blithely ordered a truffle dish w/o asking the price, but I could easily imagine someone doing that and then being shocked at a 3X multiple if you didn't know how expensive they are.

                                              The price of a cocktail is pretty standard from place to place. Fancy resto, a martini will be 10-15. Well booze and mixer 6-10, call 8-12, etc. If it goes way over the conventional price... like if it were $30, you'd be a little surprised. Like, if you're at a regular pub and you order a regular pint of guinness, say, and they said $12 you'd probably raise your eyebrow a bit. Interesting note, the restaurant indicates the daily-changing wines by the glass on a different chalkboard WITH the prices next to them.

                                              Look, the thing is, I'm not really all that upset over this. I was wondering if anyone ever asked the waiter or manager about it. It does raise the specter of "soft fraud" as someone mentioned above. If the waiter never give the price and you never ask, what's to say you won't be charged $30 for spaghetti and clams, when the price would have been $14, had you asked? I don't really think that goes on (much), but who's to say it doesn't.

                                              The "specials" were nothing more than the ravioli of the day (spinach/ricotta/marinara), and the other special was papardelle with mushrooms and a butter sauche with *ahem* truffle oil. (seriously? c'mon). If the special is something odd, like venison which may need to be procured from a licensed game purveyor, etc, or if it's some sort of rare, seasonal or difficult seafood item (softshell crab, fresh marlin, wild salmon), then obviously... expect the price to go up accordingly.

                                              To those who aren't familiar with the restaurant, there are always about 8-10 dishes listed as specials, with maybe 15 or so regular or day-by-day dishes (monday, lasagne, tuesday, cavatelli, or whatever).

                                            2. I used to go to Il Baggato in the East Village and they pulled that crap on me several times where the average dish was $8-12 but specials around $22-28, and now I always ask how much specials are.

                                              1. This has happened to me several times in the past. I've never challenged the price, but it did leave enough of a sour taste that I NEVER order the special unless the price is either stated or written on a feature sheet or blackboard. I never ask the price, not because I'm worried about looking cheap, but because I can't be bothered, I've never seen a menu that didn't have something I would eat.

                                                1. "soft fraud".. good one whoever came up with that.

                                                  I just had a mouthwatering steak dinner at Striphouse in Manhattan. It was my first time there and I loved it. But getting down to business, my server told me every special in detail with it's respective price and this conversation made me appreciate it more so. The place is probably on the higher end side so I expected them not to offer the price so I was presently surprised. Nice..

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: QueenPeach

                                                    thanks! that was my creation.

                                                    look at the legal elements of fraud, borrowed here from
                                                    "Under common law, three elements are required to prove fraud: a material false statement made with an intent to deceive (scienter), a victim’s reliance on the statement and damages."

                                                    i coined the phrase "soft fraud" for the op's situation because there is no material misstatement by server or resto, but an omission (to state a price) that -- if stated (so easy to do!) --- would cure any potential (and foreseeable) custo misunderstanding/expectation based on the "regular menu's" price range.
                                                    plus, there is always the "duty of good faith and fair dealing" implied in every contract....

                                                    btw, in civil cases (in contradiction of the article), fraud must be proved by the standard of "clear and convincing evidence."

                                                    case closed.