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should restaurants tell you they're serving "special menu"?

I'm just curious. Called to make reservations for New Year's Eve. When we arrived, with EXTREMELY picky 15-year-old son, were told they had a special menu. Prix fixe, 3 courses, $48. Entree choices: prime rib, salmon, duck. Uh-oh. Our son is stictly chicken nugget, spaghetti, burgers. So we decided to leave. Explained the problem to waiter and host, apologized, and headed for our neighborhood pizzeria. So what do you think? When you call for a reservation, should the restaurant tell you if they're serving a special menu?

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  1. I think ANY restaurant should tell you when you make the res. I gather you've been there before and their regular menu is the "low-brow" stuff that some teens want :) It does seem odd that they would completely diverge for NYE, doesn't it?

    1. Yes, definitely. I'm assuming the place was not TGI Fridays or Olive Garden that specializes in your son's cuisine but still, a deviation to a prix fixe menu should be mentioned. As I recall everytime I've called in such a situation I've been told, "we're serving a fixed price menu that night for $80 [or whatever]" very explicitly.

      1 Reply
      1. re: taos

        I also do not recall a time, that I was not informed. This is just a good business practice. All surprises should be good ones.


      2. Where I live, almost every non-chain restaurant does a "special menu" for NYE, prix fixe as you've described. If it's unusual there, they should mention it. I would expect it where I live.

        1. I think they should have mentioned it. But, on a day like NYE when a lot of restaurants use special menus, I always make sure to ask when I'm making the reservation even if the information isn't volunteered.

          1. Maybe they should have mentioned it, but I think it was more your responsibility to ask.

            3 Replies
            1. re: valerie

              I agree with Lucia & Valerie. They should have told you, but you have a duty as a consumer to protect yourself and ask, it being NYE.

              1. re: Leonardo

                i hate to say it, but i agree with Lucia, Valerie & Leonardo. it's pretty common knowledge that many, if not most, restaurants serve a special or prix-fixe menu on holidays like NYE, so i always assume that IS the case. it would be nice if the restaurants did always offer the information, but you really can't rely on them - you should take responsibility for it yourself.

                1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                  Agree NYE is always an exception to normally and special menus are always in place....it is also a good night to stay in.

            2. Sounds like it's 75-25 on OP side to jfood.

              1 - It's NYE and every call jfood has ever made always includes..."is there a special menu for the evening." You have an EXTREMELY picky son and since you know this, probably a good idea to always ask, or work on the kid.
              2 - The restaurant should have at least mentioned the change as well if it is extremely different form the regular choices.

              1. Where I am, most restaurants have a special menu for NYE. But regardless, I think that menus are one of those things that are "subject to change" so you cant expect something to be on the menu. As a favor to your son ( any any future SO he may have) I would get him to broaden his tastes a bit though- he will thank you when he is going on dates and to dinner parties.

                1. This isn't what you asked, but why does a fussy 15 year old get to call the shots? I'd have let my kid fill up on bread and maybe, as a special treat, smell my prime rib.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Ideefixed

                    I'm still curious about what the place was, or general category and location, where the OP would expect the menu to include food to suit the kid's limited repertoire but then switched to a fine dining prix fixe menu.

                    1. re: Ideefixed

                      I must agree with Idee. Why are parents allowing children to dictate where to eat or what can be eaten??? it seems to me that he is fussy because you have allowed him to be. If I had checked and found a prix fix menu that we would have loved, and he wouldn't like, ask if he would like to join you or stay home.

                    2. I appreciate all the replies. Yes, I should've asked about a special menu -- but yes, also, they should've said. I'll know next time. Problem was, we'd found their regular menu online and my son saw some choices he'd be fine with. It was a surprise to all of us when we arrived and found that the regular menu was unavailable. If the restaurant were closer to home, I'd have offered to pickup fast food for him and my husband and I could've gone ahead as planned.

                      25 Replies
                      1. re: CathyR

                        Glad to see a few others speak up on this issue. When you let the kid drive the bus, you're ALWAYS going to end up at McDs. At 15, he's old enough to try something new, but if you continue allowing him to choose only pedestrian fare, that's all he's ever going to want. Ten years from now his wife is going to be posting here about her husband's junk food habit and what to do about it.

                        And on NYE, at any nice restaurant that takes (requires) reservations, you should just assume there will be a special menu.

                        1. re: Cheflambo

                          There's a lot of grey area between McD's and a $50 prix fixe! I wouldn't want to spend the 50 bucks on someone who didn't appreciate it, maybe not even touch it, either. I think it's nice the OP tries to do the holiday as a family with food everyone can enjoy, rather than leaving her son home alone because he doesn't eat the right food.

                          1. re: julesrules

                            I agree. I have a somewhat picky 15 year old (less so lately!) and sometimes we leave him at home and enjoy ourselves without him, other times we take him with us after looking at an online menu and making sure he'll like something on it, and sometimes he's made do with just chips and salsa or bread and butter. It depends. Sometimes it's not worth dragging him along, other times we really want to have a family meal, just the three of us, and sometimes if other family members are involved (ie grandparents) he has to go whether he wants to or not and just eat bread. But I would never want to pay for a prix fixe meal that he wouldn't eat. It would make him feel guilty and miserable and piss off his dad.

                            1. re: Glencora

                              AND it's not the question OP asked! :)

                              1. re: c oliver

                                Okay, then I agree with most of the other posts -- the restaurant should have told her, but she also might have asked.

                                AND phooey.

                                (I didn't mean to ramble, but I didn't want the OP to feel too horrible about having a picky kid. People on this board can be a bit judgmental. Just a bit.)

                                1. re: Glencora

                                  I guess you would defend another picky teenager, if you have one. It's purely setting an example, rules and training. Eat what's put before you or go hungry.
                                  The son had THREE meat choices! Good grief...
                                  Actually, four or more choices: Meat, no meat (eat veggies/sides), dinner rolls with butter, all desserts, go hungry, etc.
                                  Please uderstand that when I was 15 my three choices were often beans, potatoes or cornbread.

                                  1. re: Scargod

                                    Almost your age S and when eating at home jfood's choices growing up were (a) eat or (b) don't eat.

                                    When he went out with his parents on his birthday (the only time they could afford it) to the local diner, jfood's dad showed him the 2 cheapest things on the menu and had him choose. He ate a lot of liver.

                                    Little jfoods always ask if it OK to order the XYZ. Jfood usually says yes, guess everyone overcompensates.

                                    1. re: jfood

                                      And CathyR will never post again.

                                      1. re: Glencora

                                        Exactly, Glencora. She didn't write in to say that her son is a picky eater and asking for ideas on how to deal with it. But it seems so easy for all of us to "pile on" with judgments. Bad us :(

                                        1. re: c oliver

                                          Please don't include me in your "us". I refer you to the discussion about trade barriers: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/584280, where one theory is that the sooner you change something the better. It may be painful but there will be less pain and not drawn out pain.
                                          I say this because this is an (somewhat), open forum (though we can't beat up on people). CathyR asked for opinions. I have started a thread several times and had many unexpected comments. I was actually shocked at some of them. Then I realized that (in some instances), I was looking for affirmation; and guess what, people disagree and are opinionated. I don't want CathyR to leave. I'm just for better parenting.

                                        2. re: Glencora

                                          Jfood does not think he "piled on" at all.

                                          But let's look at the OP.

                                          "When we arrived, with EXTREMELY picky 15-year-old son"

                                          Those are OP's all-caps, not jfood's, and the only all-caps in the OP. Then OP adds:

                                          "Our son is stictly chicken nugget, spaghetti, burgers"

                                          The son's eating style was obviously a huge independent variable to the equation. If not, the OP would have merely wrote that the three of them went to a restaurant on NYE and the menu was not to their liking, was different from the website, and they went elsewhere.

                                          And then the OP's requests:

                                          "So what do you think? When you call for a reservation, should the restaurant tell you if they're serving a special menu?"

                                          So there are actually two questions being posed. Many answered one, others answered both.

                                          Sorry, but when someone places that kind of data and asks what people think, expect varying opinions.

                                          So for many posters to take this into consideration is completely in line.

                                          1. re: jfood

                                            Dang, I hate it :) but I have to agree with you :) I guess I'm overly sensitive to some of the judgmental comments that DO get made here. You're right; by bringing it up, she was at least "fair game" even if she wasn't looking for responses to the "unasked" question. As usual, jfood, you've steered me in the right direction. Thanks, Mom.

                                            1. re: c oliver

                                              Plus, most of the judging was on the fact that there is a 15 year old that only eats burgers, spaghetti, and chicken nuggets. I mean we are on a food board, right?

                                            2. re: jfood

                                              As a kid, growing up on a farm where there were up to 12 people at the table, being a picky-eater was not an option. Making noise about it was also not tolerated.

                                              I'm always amazed when CHs tell us they are catering to picky brat-theatrics.

                                              1. re: Sharuf

                                                i'm amazed at how in tolerant people can be towards others who do not share their tastes and priorities, We all love food. not everyone does. some people don't. it's strange to me, and i do not pretend to understand it, but to presume that a 15 year old (that's not an infant) not having a broad taste for, or interest in, food is somehow a failing of parenting is utter bullshoot.

                                                likewise people thinking it strange that a family would want celebrate NYE together, just because the child doesn't share the parents gourmet tastes, has issues. don't presume your own family dynamic is everyone else's.

                                                1. re: Sharuf

                                                  So, was this a good thing? I don't really understand the "I sucked it up and the kids these days should too" attitude. I also had to eat what was set before me and had to sit at the table until I finished. I couldn't wait to turn 18 so I could leave home and cook for myself. Having to eat what I was given in no way made me a better person or more open to new foods. Sorry if this is off-topic, but this whole line of reasoning (not just from you, Sharuf) has been bugging me. End of rant.

                                                  Actually, not end of rant. To clarify: I'm not saying that kids should be catered to and given special meals, especially if money is tight. I'm just asking people to be a little less sanctimonious.

                                                  1. re: Glencora

                                                    "sanctimonious": making a hypocritical show of religious devotion, piety, righteousness, etc.
                                                    How do you know I/we are hypocritical? I have practiced what I am espousing. My son is now a professional cook and eats all kinds of foods and doesn't hate me.
                                                    Please don't suggest I think, or lump me in with anyone that thinks, that all kids should go through some kind of bootcamp of depivation. It's just not me.
                                                    I think children should be taught to respect food. be taught good nutrition and appreciate what it takes to get food to the table; one reason I have always had a garden. It wasn't an economic necessity. I also had my son helping me cook at an early age. Pretty soon, he was self-sufficient and experimenting.

                                                    1. re: Scargod

                                                      Also: making a show of being morally better than others.

                                                      I stand by my word choice. And, hey, I even spelled it right.

                                                      For what it's worth, I don't think you're hypocritical, just a little harsh. And I agree with you about the garden. We've always had one, too.

                                                      1. re: Glencora

                                                        We have a garden, and have also gotten much of our meat, veggies and fruit from a CSA. I made my son's baby food and he likes to help me in the kitchen. My husband and I cook most of our meals from scratch, don't eat much processed food and have tried to pass our love of food on to our son.

                                                        Sometimes a parent can do all the right things and not get the right results.

                                                        And FWIW my daughter was raised the same way and eats everything in sight. Kids are who they are and while you can do what you can to impress your values upon them, you're kidding yourself if you think you can take all the credit/blame for all of their successes and shortcomings.

                                                    2. re: Glencora

                                                      Glencora --

                                                      Sorry you had to eat what was before you. Forcing kids to eat anything they don't want is a very bad thing. Forcing them to stay at the table, after everyone else has left, until they do it is overbearing. Dinnertime should not be a venue for domination, or for rebellion, or for whiny attention-seeking.

                                                      Quietly leaving what you don't want to eat seems a civilized way to handle various preferences. This standard especially applies to large and busy tables feeding family and hired hands, where logistics dictate what gets served to all.

                                                      And, there's nothing stopping you from saying later, "Mom, I really don't like liver, so next time could you cook some hotdogs as well?"

                                            3. re: Scargod

                                              I think you are off base in assuming that your experiences reflect the way others eat.

                                              I suppose you'll discount my opinion because it seems you believe that if I have a picky kid my experience isn't as valid as yours. But in case it helps you realize there may be more at play here, I'll point out that my son has an incredibly sensitive gag reflex, and many foods (meat in particular) trigger it for him. Yes, it's partly psychological at this point but that doesn't make the vomit that comes out on his plate in the middle of the meal he's trying to eat to be polite any less real.

                                              If I specifically planned a meal at a place where we could dine as a family and all be happy, and got there and found out that wasn't going to happen, I'd rather leave and find a place we could all eat at and enjoy each other's company than watch my son miserably try to fill up on bread or go hungry. Eating is supposed to be a fun and social experience. If the food you put in your mouth is more important that your family's comfort, then you need to reassess your priorities in life.

                                              1. re: Chris VR

                                                Now you've done it! I'm wrong, am I? At least I can be wrong and be in good company.
                                                I guess I'm an ogre who would make a child choke to death or puke in the restaurant?
                                                Eating is a necessity. We eat or we die. Sometimes we do it in a social context, and yes, that's important. Let's not forget that we have to eat. How well is that kid going to do in a foreign land, or if there's not a KFC or McD's handy? I guess he could always pack a bunch of candybars...

                                                1. re: Chris VR

                                                  Chris -- your son sounds like a very unusual case. Is there a name for this condition?

                                                  1. re: Sharuf

                                                    Not that I know of, but his dad and grandpa are the same way, so who knows, maybe there's some dopey gene carrying this trait. I kid my husband that he kept this one a secret on purpose because he knows it just might have been a dealbreaker :-)

                                                    1. re: Chris VR

                                                      There is a name for this condition, but I don't remember what it is. One of my son's good friends has the same thing, and as a result, he is a very slow eater, with everything in tiny bites. Doesn't seem to hurt him much, he's 6'6 and 225lbs at 17. But when he eats over, it can take him over an hour to eat a regular family dinner that takes my heathens less than 10 minutes.

                                  2. I'm just curious what that particular restaurant had on their regular menu that would have satisfied your son? I would probably have ordered my picky eater a dessert and promised a drive-through dinner on the way home. Or left him home with take-out. '-)

                                    Actually, I suspect that even though it was NYE, the restaurant could have put together something that Mr. Picky Eater would have been happy with. I do understand the angst that comes with wanting to share the new year with the family and wanting to go someplace really special when not everyone will enjoy it. There are times when life can be such a bummer. I think you're a saint for settling for the pizzeria. That, and a very loving mom!

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                      I know this is OP but GS used to be that picky kid. He lived with us for a year and DH and I wouldn't stand for it! We drug him along everywhere and he finally decided to try different foods. He is 12 now and there isn't anything he won't try - just don't try to foist a kids meal on him lol!!!

                                      Yes the restaurant should have mentioned it - I would then have asked if there was something for kids too.

                                    2. The restaurant should have informed you of the evening's menu change--which you had first checked on their website. I know that website information can be totally inaccurate regarding times, menu, special selections and have recently been duped based on that information alone and have had to go back to actually calling places to confirm their information.

                                      Most places I've gone to on NYE have fixed price / set menus because of the sheer volume of guests and table turns that evening (as with Valentine's Day, it's also one of the 2 days of the year when set seating times--ie 90-120 minutes maximum--are strictly enforced). Personally, I find NYE and Valentine's Day the most over-rated and heinous nights of the year to go out and prefer to attend friend's parties. Then again, for years I've been avoiding Friday and Saturday night dining for similar reasons (better service and less crowding).

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: Caralien

                                        wow, never ever had a restaurant enforce any kind of seat time limit!? if I am still enjoying my dinner or drinks or both and you ask me to leave, I am a.) not going to tip(say what you want about it hurting the server not the establishment but its one of the only tools at a diners disposal) and b.)not paying for any of the dishes or drinks that I didnt get to finish or fully enjoy!

                                        sorry for the off-topicness but that just blew me away!

                                        1. re: nkeane

                                          If a restaurant specifically has set "seatings", say, at 5:30, 7:30, and 9:30 for NYE, you know you've got two hours for your meal if you choose the 7:30 seating. Those who choose the 9:30 seating get to stay through the celebration at midnight (and probably pay just a bit more to do so).

                                          So as Caralien said, it's often one of the nights in which the restaurant changes to a pre-set time seating policy, and should you choose to go there, you abide by those rules. To say you're "a.) not going to tip" or "b.)not paying for any of the dishes or drinks" is just plain bad form.

                                          1. re: LindaWhit

                                            if like the comment below, they tell you an "off time" thats a completely different animal! If they say nothing to you and spring it on you when they want you to leave, well THAT is bad form. Some of us may understand what goes on at restaurants on special occasion nights(you know, the nights most informed diners stay home) but most people in gerneral do not! to just assume that because its NYE and the diner should know that they have been put on a clock, is just plain stupid and the restaurant deserves whatever wrath that garners.

                                          2. re: nkeane

                                            I have had an "off table" time told to me when I made a reservation. It was not a special night with a fixed seating time, just a regular Saturday night 6:30 reservation. The only exceptional factor is that it was a very popular restaurant and I made the reservation only about a week in advance. Maybe they were squeezing me in.

                                        2. Yep, absolutely they should've told you when you called. I know my place has a prix fixe menu and then a limited regular menu and the prix fixe items can also be ordered a la carte. All of this is conveyed to the caller.

                                          1. What adult couple is going out for NYE with a solo pain-in-the-butt 15-year-old?

                                            This dynamic is not at all about the restaurant. Yes, a restaurant should tell up-front if they are not serving their usual menu, or even a favorite special dish, EXCEPT -- New Years Eve, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Thanksgiving, and maybe St. Patrick's Day if you are a British/Irish bar or July 4 if you are a BBQ place or Nathan's dogs.

                                            6 Replies
                                            1. re: nosh

                                              An adult couple who loves their child and wants to spend NYE with them?

                                              "What adult couple is going out for NYE with a solo pain-in-the-butt 15-year-old?"- Was this really necessary to answer the OP's question?

                                              All the OP was asking what should the restaurant have told them about the special menu. Wasn't asking for parenting advice or for people to judge their son.

                                              I would hope that the restaurant would say something about the special menu, but I wouldn't expect them to. But I would expect a restaurant with a website to post a note on it (especially those with an events calendar.

                                              1. re: viperlush

                                                Now, I've swung back the other way. (Sorry, jfood) I guess it comes down to name calling and that the name calling is directed at a child. Whether we were right or wrong (and who gets to decide?), I KNOW that I wouldn't want ANYONE referring to my child as a "pain in the butt." I might have called one of them that, but you dare not :)

                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                  At home, since I'm the chief cook (uh, make that, "only" cook), procurement officer, health services supervisor, and bottle washer, *I* get to decide what's on the menu.

                                                  When I go out to eat with hubby, or with a group of adult friends, just as matter of normal, grown-up courtesy, everybody tries to make sure the prospective restaurant has enough choices to appeal to everyone.

                                                  I don't see any reason not to extend that courtesy to younger diners, when going out for a meal together.

                                                  I think most of us hope and work to see that our children develop a wide-ranging palate, for social, nutritional and life enrichment purposes, and, fortunately, many or most of them do. However, I have in my lifetime known plenty of finicky adults, and since I'd accommodate them when selecting a restaurant, I'd do that for kids when they're included in the party.

                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                    Not to worry, mon, but you should separate the two issues.

                                                    The eating style of the teen is a data input, but it is not now, nor ever should be, the cause for calling anyone names. Calling a teen what Nosh did is wrong, jfood was surprised the Mods allowed the post to stand as this is a personal attack.

                                                    How to guide the teen to enjoy more than his limited desires is something that all parents have experienced and asking for advice on these boards is in scope, calling them inappropriate names is out of scope.

                                                    1. re: jfood

                                                      You're right - again :) big :) It's the name calling of a child, I guess, that really got to me. Plus, have y'all looked at OP's profile. First time poster. And have you noticed that she hasn't weighed in recently. As glencora wrote, she probably won't. And don't think *I'm* any saint. I can get down in the dirt with the best of them :) I guess this was just MY sacred cow.

                                                    2. re: c oliver

                                                      normally I'd probably agree with you, but in this case I am not certain....remember that the child in question is 15. Have you had a 15 year old child? In my experience and opinion, "Pain in the Butt" is basically just another way of saying "the child in question is 15". The two sort of go together.

                                                2. In a perfect world, they would tell you, but really, set menus are so ubiquitous on NYE and Valentine's Day at any place you'd need a reservation, I do think it's expected that the diner will inquire if the resto fails to mention it. In the OP's situation, if I had a dining companion who is counting on a particular dish on an online menu to be able to eat anything at all, I would at least inquire as to whether that dish will be available on that day. You could probably also tell the resto about any "dietary restrictions" when you make the reservation - I always try to remember to tell the resto about my SO's almond allergy, then they can tell you whether or not they can accomodate your party's restrictions.

                                                  That said, I have had the experience of a resto saying they will serve a special menu on a one of these special nights but not having the actual menu written until the day of - that's irritating. If I am choosing a place at least partially for the food, it would be nice to know what I'll be eating, so I can decide whether I'd rather go somewhere else. Interesting that they usually know how much they will charge (e.g. our special Valentine's menu will be $100/pp) even when they don't know what will be served. Hrm.

                                                  1. If diners will not have the option of selecting something from the regular menu, it is the restaurant’s responsibility to inform anyone requesting a reservation that they will be offering a “special menu”, whatever the occasion. Most of us expect a special menu on NYE, but it's not something we are born knowing about.

                                                    I am not raising a 15-year-old but I’ve known a few. The OP mentioned that “we'd found their regular menu online and my son saw some choices he'd be fine with. “ So her son was willing to meet his parents halfway and deal reasonably with his tendency to be extremely picky. I’m thinking that salmon and duck are not in this teen’s repertoire, and that he might have been expecting to order something closer to a $10 burger or a $15 pizza. I would not expect a 15 year old to eat $48 worth of food that he doesn’t like and call it a good evening out. I would have reminded the restaurant that they kept the special menu a secret and given them the choice of making a little something he can eat or cancelling the reservation. I think the point was for the family to have a meal out together. No, the teen is not driving the bus. In fact, he tried to work with what was offered. But the family was not ready for the surprise menu.

                                                    1. CathyR, I think you handled the situation well. I also think there is a lesson to be learned here for all of us. When you call to make a holiday reservation -- ANY holiday -- It's a good idea to ask if they'll be serving a special menu. If the answer is yes, then in a case like this, ask the second question: Will your regular menu also be available? "Reservation clerks," or whatever they're called, are human and if they have a lot of incoming calls or have other duties besides answering the phone, they're as likely to goof as anyone else. Ask questions!