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Jun 26, 2009 12:49 AM

Waiter Special's Spiels in Toronto - Love them or lump them?

After thinking a bit more about why I felt uncomfortable at Mandarin with the overly friendly staff, I realized I hate it just as much at the high end restaurants. So am I just crabby, or are there other people like me?

Let's discuss.

Preamble, I'm not very picky. I like people, I like waiters, I'm not out to get them. I'm sure they all *LOVE* giving their spiel anyways, right? :)

So you go to a restaurant, and with the menu comes a long winded spiel about what's on the menu today. All the specials, including how it's made, what's in it, what sauce was used, and some added french words for allure.

Usually, it comes out as a fast list of words recited from memory, and I find it hard to take it all in. I generally feel like I'm not being spoken to, I'm being wooed or something. It's weird.

I try to pay attention, I do. But I lose it. And then all of the words just run together and I'm lost.

I have no idea what the specials are, let alone what berry was used in what sauce.

If I heard one of them well enough and it sounded interesting, I might ask again. This is sometimes hard for them, because it was in the middle of their list. Never easy. However with the extra thought comes a slower rendition, which is nice. Then they leave, and it's time to look at the menu. After that chances are the specials are long forgotten anyways.

It's all so weird. Why don't they just write it on the wall? If they want to be fancy they can use chalk or something. At least I can read it, when I want, compare it to the menu, and ask my wife what all those fancy words mean. When she doesn't know, I can give up or ask my waitress.

So, do you like the spiel? Do you think it's effective? Are you disappointed if you don't get one?

Are there restaurants in Toronto that do this well, or differently? Something more interesting - like uhm writing it on the wall? :)

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  1. "I have no idea what the specials are, let alone what berry was used in what sauce."

    Ha ha, I know what you mean--is the Saskatoon berry compote served with the flambeed pork snout or the pan-seared, blackened eel bellies?

    I actually don't mind the oral recitation of specials, but I often have to ask for clarification. I would prefer a daily special board or menu insert. That way, the waiter could just add details.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Yongeman

      There seems to be a price point at 'upper-level-bistro' where the board disappears and we have to depend on the harangue. This culinary exposition is often missing the price. Remember that those eel bellies had to specially imported from the Moray Firth.

      At the another point on the spectrum (let's stay Newtonian) are Chinese restaurants in one of our Chinatowns. Here the specials are written on sheets of paper that are usually green, yellow or orange - and in Chinese. Unfortunately for me, beyond a symbol for rice I am totally lost. But at least they usually have the prices in a form I can understand. Occasionally I will order one of these unseen. It is often pointless asking what they are as eel bellies will stretch most people's translation abilities. Babel's attempt is 鳗鱼腹部. How did it do?

      I've wondered in the past if is worthwhile getting a pocket translator - but I think that deserves another thread.

      1. re: Paulustrious

        Great topic Socks.
        It was so funny. I was recently having lunch at the Elliott House in Mississauga with a business associate and we listened in amazement as our waiter described the daily specials differently at each of his tables. Was he forgetful or being creative? Why do restauranteurs put their servers and customers through this unnecessary annoyance?
        And one more thing, servers can stop congratulating me for being able to give them my order.

        1. re: Paulustrious

          鳗鱼腹部 sounds like a clinical term :-) We would call it 鱔腩, totally different words. But Babelfish turns it into "Ricefield eel intestinal fat", even less appetizing!

          The problem with a Chinese-to-English pocket translator is that you first have to enter the Chinese characters as input. Without any knowledge of how the characters are broken down into components, or how they are pronounced, there is no way to do it.

          1. re: Teep

            Thanks for the translation. You're right about the translator. I need a camera with built-in OCR. A quick google and I cannot find one. You would think it would exist if just for tourism.

            Even then we would still have problems. Translating Cottage Pie or Toad in the Hole into Chinese probably wouldn't help the Chinese, and I suspect the literal translations of certain Chinese dishes into English would still leave me no better off.

      2. The proper reply, when a waiter asks if you wish to hear the specials of the day, is -- to borrow a wonderful movie line -- :"Not if you want to keep your spleen."

        1. It depends on the manner in which the spiel is delivered and why I'm at that particular restaurant. If I have been to a restaurant prior and know the chef has a wonderful touch with daily specials, or I hear "venison/quail/pheasant/duck," I generally want more information. I'll patiently (contentedly) wait for them to finish their monologue and then ask for them to repeat the information regarding that single item. If nothing catches my attention, or I've not dined at the restaurant prior, I'll feign attention and order our predinner cocktails. SWMBO often orders from the daily specials so really pays attention and, in those few instances where the waiter rushed through his recitation, she asked him to do it over so she could actually listen. :)

          A good waiter pays attention and paces everything about that meal. A poor waiter gets dinged at the end.

          1. I prefer the specials written on the board or on an insert. I like to bounce around a couple of ideas before deciding and trying to remember what the waiter said (especially if it was really descriptive) makes that hard to do. Usually I politely listen, dismiss what they offer and go back to reviewing my options on the menu. I'm also attracted to key words (depending on the day I could be in the mood for anything "braised" or "deep fried" or "fennel"!) so if I don't hear those exact words I'm just not interested.

            1. The problem with the spoken menu versus the written menu is three-fold

              1 - jfood cannot hear in one ear and he always has the good ear to the table to participate in conversation. Therefore the bad one is to the server. Try listening to a quick recite with a deaf ear. Likewise accents cause considerable angst amongst many customers. Jfood was in a restaurant when the heavily accented server went through the specials. Literally noone (6-top) could understand any of them.
              2 - Jfood likes to match courses. Much like many on these boards enjoy pairing the wine with the food jfood pairs the app with the entree. Almost impossible without the visual aides.
              3 - The price - yes it is your money, yes you can always ask, yes it gives the impression you cannot afford it if you ask, yes it breaks the rhythm of the presentation, etc. So unless the server can perform like judges at a skating event with visual numbers during the spiel, there is no answer that everyone likes.

              Bottom line, please print the specials and give them to the table. It is not that hard to type and print. Totally unacceptable business practice in jfood's opinion.

              2 Replies
              1. re: jfood

                I think the problem when you type out the specials (depending on the place) is that you're in a bind if you run out of the specials and are handing out a sloppy looking printout with an item or two crossed out. At least with a special board, you can easily erase an item when it's no longer available.

                1. re: queencru

                  No different fromthe real menu..."I am sorry but we are out of the pig's brains."