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May 18, 2008 08:10 AM

What's Up With Restaurant Specials?

Sometimes I think the chef is taking advantage of some really fresh ingredients. Sometimes I think they are just trying to push something that will earn them a high margin. What do you think?

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  1. Both. Also to move stuff that they have too much of/is getting old. Some places also use them to "trick" people into ordering stuff that costs 2X menu items, I've take to never ordering "specials" unless they say what it costs, either verbally, on a board or a printed feature sheet.

    2 Replies
    1. re: hsk

      I was at a restaurant not that long ago where they had the "specials" written on a chalkboard, but they were pulled straight from the menu with the same price and everything. I suspect hsk is right - they have too much of something and want you to get that rather than something that might be cheaper.

      1. re: ihatepickyeaters

        Those aren't specials. They're "featured items."

    2. Specials can indeed be special. For example, here in the L.A. area the Santa Monica farmers' market on Wednesday morning is open exclusively to the industry during early hours and is shopped by many area chef/owners. So this time of year, a Wednesday special of baby artichokes or whisper-thin asparagus or the like could actually be unique and amazing.

      But restaurants: Give the PRICE. Yeah, we've debated your lame excuses -- some patrons will be "insulted" by the verbal mention of a price, internalizing the implication that they can't afford it. Well, then why do you put any prices on the menu? And if the tab for the "special" is significantly above the range for the other offerings the omission becomes all the more suspect. If a server recites verbal specials without mentioning price I will ask and will follow up by ascertaining whether this is restaurant policy, in which case I'll take it up with the manager. Major peeve, along with online menus that are useless because they omit pricing.

      1 Reply
      1. re: nosh

        This is definitely my number one pet peeve with restaurants. I absolutely HATE it when specials are recited to you buy a server without also giving the prices. I too find the practice suspect and I am immediately put on guard that the restaurant is attempting to manipulate diners in some way (i.e pushing overstock/old food and/or pushing people to buy more expensive versions of the exact same thing on the regular menu.) My second pet peeve is when specials are recited by a server in the first place, at least without an accompanying printed version. In the age of computers and printers there is absolutely NO excuse for not giving each and every diner a copy of the specials with a description and the PRICE. And if the list of specials is especially long then I just find it annoying to have a server reel them off. It takes up way too much time and nobody can remember them all anyway. Just give us the printed version please.

      2. I agree that sometimes there is some giggery-pokery going on with specials. On the other hand, we were out last night and several of the specials were seafood which they said was very fresh and they had only gotten in that morning. Two at our table had seafood and were quite pleased.

        2 Replies
        1. re: yayadave


          Cute word. I had always heard that the specials were fresher than the menu items, and have ordered them many times. Only a verrrrry few times have the prices been recited when the specials were given verbally.

          1. re: dolores

            Yeah, and I spelled it wrong.

            One entry found.
            probably alteration of Scots joukery-pawkery, from jouk to dodge, cheat + pawk trick, wile
            Date: circa 1892

            : underhanded manipulation or dealings : trickery

        2. jfood ordered a wonderful special the other night, a whole roasted bronzino, fileted and served with a light tomato garlic sauce. It was fantastic, fresh, perfectly prepared and 40% more than the normal priced fish on the menu.

          So there are a couple of items here. 1 - it definitely was special and not some leftovers that the chef was trying to push 2 - jfood did not ask the price and paid for it (in two manners of speaking) 3 - the restaurant did not have the specials written.

          Long way to say, it depends and always ask the price or accept the end result and jfood still dislikes not having all selections in written form.

          1 Reply
          1. re: jfood

            I agree with jfood. My absolute FAVORITE restaurant has a wonderful menu that is written, but in addition to this, they generally have at least 4 or 5 specials, all of which are recited by the waiter and appear no where in written form. I sort of get the practicality of this, it's a small place and the specials change at the will of the chef, BUT I feel like it takes so much longer this way. It's five minutes for the waiter to recite the specials and then another five of me asking, "Now what was that with the bass? What kind of vegetables are with that? Did I hear a pilaf in there?" OK, maybe not those exact questions, but it's more of a process than it should be. I do feel lucky though as I have never had a bad meal there and the specials are always tremendous and never an effort to rip off the patrons.

          2. Usually, they are either (1) dishes that the chefs are experimenting (not only for custoemr reaction but to see if they make sense logistically within the kitchen), or (2) dishes that depend on ingredients for which the restaurant cannot (yet) get a reliable permanent supply to justify adding to the permanent menu.

            (And it's basically quite rude of restaurants not to give prices without being asked - if not so given, always ask, regardless of what anyone else thinks. But that's already a well-trod topic here....)

            2 Replies
            1. re: Karl S

              Oh, pooh. I worked in many restaurants, and the rationale behind specials was two-fold: first, to take advantage of fresh local produce (Toronto doesn't have the growing season of California, and some items, like fiddleheads, are only available for a few weeks in the spring) or unusual fish or seafood finds, and second, to offer some variety to regulars who like the restaurant, but would like to try something new from time to time.

              When the chef was experimenting, he would cook the dish, and divide it into many small portions, which were offered to the guests gratis. He was most interested in their responses, and depending on how busy it was, would often come out to discuss the dish with the guests.

              I have never worked anywhere where the "specials" were an attempt to get rid of aging food. The closest any place came to that was a Canadian steak house chain, where the rib bones from the previous night's prime rib were marinated overnight in a BBQ sauce, and then grilled the next night. We rarely had enough bones to make more than ten orders, and they were always gone by 6:30, so it was hardly like we had to "get rid" of them - the customers always wanted more than we could provide.

              1. re: KevinB

                I never said anything about specials being an attempt to get rid of aging food, so I don't know what the pooh is being directed at me for.