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Should prices of specials be told up front?

  • g

I have always thought about this and have considered both sides but I have to admit I got taken over the edge when my daughter ordered the lamp chop special at Portofinos in Tinton Falls, in which she wound up only eating half because it was very fatty, only to find out when I got the check that it was $40. I've decided from then on I'm always going to ask what the prices are. Anybody have any opinions on this

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  1. I agree, nothing wrong with asking the prices...I would of sent it back also being that fatty at those prices. Sorry to hear you went thru that experience.

    1. I appreciate the few places that do tell the prices of specials as they describe them.

      If I am considering ordering one of the specials, I always ask the price. At lunch one day at a place where entrees usually range from $10 to $18, I asked about a fish special. It was $27, so I passed. A friend who was not listening asked for a repeat of the specials. He ordered the fish w/o asking the price. After the waiter left, I told him he must really like that dish to pay $27. "Waiter! I need to change my order."

      Some people seem embarrassed to ask. I think it is stupid not to.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Remander

        If they don't tell you the price and you don't ask then you have nothing to complain about when you get the bill.

        I really don't like the whole recitation of specials rigmarole. It's 2010, printers cost less than $100. I'd rather just have the specials printed on a piece of paper and inserted into the regular menu.

        1. re: bookhound

          Personally I think any above average restaurant should have it's waiters recite their daily specials. Of course having them in printed form is nice as well but I prefer the waiter explaining the details. It only takes a few minutes. In regards to prices then the diner should be responsible for knowing what he's getting and the cost. I recall the waiters at most fine dining establishments quote the price of their specials as they recite them.

      2. I think some places count on people being too embarrassed to ask the price. I'd rather look intelligent for asking than a fool for overpaying. My preference is to patronize places that are upfront about their pricing rather than a place that wants to up-sell by subterfuge.

        1. There's nothing wrong with asking for the price. I think the servers really should tell you the price when the special isn't in the normal price range of what's found on the menu. If the typical price is $15-25 and the special is $40, most people will be unhappily surprised when they get the bill and find out the price is twice the normal price. I don't think it's such a big deal if the price is totally in line with the other dishes. If it's an $18 dish then no one is going to be shocked when they receive a bill.

          1. for me this is a no brainer. If I am with family or friends and am paying my own portion of the bill or it's just hubby and me I will ask the price. If I am being taken out for a meal I will not even ask the price because I wouldn't dream of ordering a special if someone else is paying.

            1. I guess for those for whom this is important, yes.

              For me, no.

              With one exception. A lobster special at Gossman's, now closed, on Long Island was $80.+ for one person. So if I think I'm going to get hosed, I'll ask.

              1. jfood HATES, HATES, HATES verbal specials from the server with no visual reminders. There is ABSOLUTELY NO LOGICAL REASON for a restaurant not to have the specials available for review and discussion at the table. Chalkboard, printed page in the menu, hand written on a piece of paper, jfood does not care, just do not recite and leave. And then most servers get upset if you ask for a repeat, or when they return you ask "What was that salmon special again?" Happened agian last night and the server pulled a face plant with his attitude. Hey this is not a psychology experiment where you are testing the recollection skills of the participants.

                In today's age jfood has heard NO reason other than the unfortunate gotcha from the restaurant for the price variance from the normal prices.

                Rant over.


                4 Replies
                1. re: jfood

                  +1. After listening to the specials and then studying the menu, I'd be hard pressed to tell you what type of fish or what the sauce on the meat was. I do see more and more restaurants going with a paper insert in the menu and hope it's the wave of the future. Regarding the price, I sure do think it should be stated but I don't know why anyone would be embarassed to ask. I frequently see items in stores where the pricing is missing and ask. Why would a restaurant be any different.
                  PS to jfood: IMneverHO, that was no rant.

                  1. re: jfood

                    Agree. It is not too bad if there is one or two specials, but when they verbally recite 5 specials. I usually just start to tune out. Maybe they want to show off that they have better memory than me. I don't know.

                    The thing, though, verbal special recitation is a signature of high-end restaurants. Chalkboard, printed page and other methods are more popular to bars and pubs or college town $5 meals.

                    1. re: jfood

                      jfood, we could not agree with you more. In a moderate size restaurant it might cost .50 to copy enough specials pages to hand out with the menus. Why would they want to get the customers p'od even before they start ordering? Even if they do give the prices it's frustrating.

                      1. re: jfood

                        I agree... I don't see any reason why a place that wants to maintain the tradition of verbal recitation of specials cannot also slip a page into the menu for the customer's reference--WITH PRICES. This would eliminate the need for the server to say the price and provide the diner with the ability to make a well informed choice.

                      2. I think now most places are actually providing the prices when the waiter rattles off the list of specials.

                        In fact, in recent memory, I can't think of a place that hasn't disclosed the prices when the specials were offered.

                        Not to disclose the prices is pretty archaic IMO. Sort of like a restaurant providing a "ladies menu" sans prices. So, so, so yesterday.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          wow, jfood can count on one hand the number of times that a server has mentioned the price.


                          1. re: jfood

                            Had dinner at a Michelin starred restaurant in France two months ago where I (the lady) received the menu without the prices. When the bill arrived, the waiter automatically put it in front of my husband. My husband pointed to me (it was his b-day so my treat) at which point, I reached across, picked up the leather folder, looked at the bill and then pulled out my credit card to pay for it. The expression on the waiter's face was priceless!

                            1. re: SeoulQueen

                              Reading this thread reminded me of a dining moment several years ago.

                              We were at a very nice restaurant (highest priced on entree was $25, which I believe was a NY strip). There were four of us and one of us decided on the night's special (which I believe was either a veal or beef tenderloin of some sort). No price was disclosed at the time the specials were recited. Lo and behold when the tab came the beef tenderloin special was $45!

                              The person who ordered the special refused to pay more than $25, the highest price listed on the menu. It was a simple case to be made to the management: (1) price of the special was never disclosed; (2) the highest price on the menu was $25; and (3) it is more than "reasonable" for a customer to expect a special to be approximately the same, or in line with, the rest of the menu. When the price of the special is nearly double the price of the highest entree, the restaurant *needs* to disclose it to the customer prior to ordering.

                              Case sold. It was actually a very civil discussion. We never went back, and have no idea whether a change in policy was ever implemented. Thinking back on it now, however, I do recall it being a rather reasonable approach to being put in an awkward position by the restaurant.

                              Just an fyi.

                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                At the restaurant I work at, that is the policy. You must state the price when it is out of line with the items on the menu.

                          1. I won't buy anything without a pricetag, that is why I would never buy a used car from a place that has the year, but NOT the price on the window. Hello... I know a con job when I see it.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: gryphonskeeper

                              Servers in restaurants like this need to read their customers carefully. The business/expense account lunch crowd of guys probably doesnt care about the price of the special; but the senior citizen on a fixed income out for Sunday brunch probably DOES. If you even think there's going to be an unpleasant discussion when the check comes (and the loss of further business) it is in your best interest as a server to share that price with your customer during the ordering.

                              Im with Jfood (as usual) vis-a-vis printing the specials and their prices and slipping it into the menu. It is incumbent upon any restaurant with the wherewithall to even offer a "special" to be ready to tell the customer its price. And if the price is ridiculously out of the bounds of the rest of the menu (which is the only reason I can think of to NOT include it in the description) there really should be a good reason why.

                            2. This is my pet peeve. The wait people rattle through the choices, and don't stop until they are done, and act annoyed when you want to know the prices.

                              If they are posted before being seated, we try to look them over there.

                              1. Here's another point, there have been tons of postings about how little time the server has, yet this is the epitome of inefficiency.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: jfood

                                  jfood, you're absolutely right about that.

                                2. I'm just sitting here waiting for goodhealthgourmet to list all the previous threads pertaining to this topic. We've been through this many a time.

                                  ETA: One could probably begin with the 'related topics' on the bottom of this page...

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: linguafood

                                    I'm trying to figure out why you would waste your time writing that

                                    1. re: Gold

                                      Don't hurt your head there. I'm a fast typer.

                                  2. I think the only time this is an issue is when you're in a place where the entrees are normally in the $15-20 dollar range and then a special (as long as it's not a seasonal or weight thing, like lobster) is double the price. You assume the specials will be anywhere from $5-$10 more than the normal entrees. So I don't think it is necessarily customary to mention. I did go somewhere recently where the steaks were $40-50 and there was a lobster special and they mentioned that it was $75, which I thought was right, because someone wanted it, but then decided against it when told the price.

                                    1. This year I'm on a tight budget. If they have specials and I want the special I will ask. It reminds me of garage saling with my best friend from college. If I go to a garage sale and they haven't marked their items... I just walk off. They clearly don't want my business.

                                      10 Replies
                                      1. re: Firegoat

                                        Agreed- the "if youhave to ask..." concept is just goofy at yard sales and restaurants.

                                        1. re: EWSflash

                                          True in today's economy. But sky high restaurants of yore didn't enumerate the specials price, and I didn't ask. The middle income restaurants did, and that was fine. Yes, restaurants today cannot afford to be so arrogant. But many are.

                                          I have gotten used to not asking, and know that prices are usually out of sight for specials, and, supposedly, the dishes are fresher and tastier. So I go by this. If I can't afford it, I don't ask. I have no problem with not knowing, and have gotten seriously burned only once.

                                          I think it's much ado about nothing.

                                          1. re: anonymouse1935

                                            How can I know if I can afford it or not if I don't know the price?

                                            1. re: Firegoat

                                              Because if you have to ask, you usually can't.

                                              1. re: anonymouse1935

                                                I don't think that's true at all. There are many places that have specials within the price range of the normal dishes served at the restaurant and others that have specials that are a good 50-100% higher than any other item on the menu. How do I know which type it is unless I ask? I think it's also putting a value on something without regard to whether you can afford it. I might think a dish is worth it at $X but not at $Y. I am not going to know unless I ask.

                                                1. re: anonymouse1935

                                                  Well actually, I'm a dinosaur who prefers to pay in cash than use a credit card, so I have a finite amount of money on my person. Therefore, the only way to know if I have sufficient for the special, drinks and a tip, is to ask. It would be nice if i didnt have to.

                                                  1. re: anonymouse1935

                                                    Totally disagree. If there is a pasta with shrimp dish for $20 and the special is pasta with shrimp scallops and clams you would expect it, at most, to be $24-28. One time, bad time, it was $42. Nothing to do with affordability but an extra $22 for some scallops and shrimp? jfoodcould have come back Day for the shrimp pasta.

                                                    1. re: anonymouse1935

                                                      I think you're being humorous. Was it JP Morgan or someone who said that about a yacht or something? I don't think it has much to do with being able to afford something. I make informed decisions about everything every day. I strongly know that dining is no different.

                                                  2. re: anonymouse1935

                                                    Why would you want to get used to not asking? You ask about most other things you purchase, I assume?

                                                    1. re: anonymouse1935

                                                      Or then again, according to Bourdain, the specials might just be the fish that they couldn't sell the day before.

                                                2. I always ask, if the server doesn't tell me right up front. They should tell me upfront, though.

                                                  1. ASK. it's your money, it's your meal.

                                                    16 Replies
                                                    1. re: badtzmaru

                                                      Exactly. Ask if you must.

                                                      I expect a recitation of specials with prices at Applebee's, I don't expect it at Le Bernardin.


                                                      1. re: anonymouse1935

                                                        Huh? Le Bernardin has a fixed price menu...if there is an additional supplement on a menu item, it is clearly marked on the menu. I'm with those who want a written specials menu complete with prices, not a server rattling off mystery priced specials.

                                                        1. re: Marge

                                                          Insert another high price classy restaurant then. When I was in Le Cote Basque, and the waiter was reciting the specials, I wouldn't have expected him tacking on the price nor of me asking him.

                                                          I can see that happening in Outback, no problem.

                                                          If you have to ask.........

                                                          1. re: anonymouse1935

                                                            If you have to ask.........

                                                            you simply want the same amount of information you get for items on the menu. That simple.

                                                            Now, tell me you'd feel comfortable going into any restaurant and order without any prices on the menu, then I know you're either rich (and proud) as Croesus, or you're bluffing.

                                                            The sniffiness at those simply want information to which they are entitled as a matter of basic restaurant hospitality is very unattractive.

                                                              1. re: Karl S

                                                                Any restaurant with no prices on the menu? As a matter of fact, no, one restaurant where I am never disappointed, either in the food or the final bill.

                                                                The point is that I don't expect to hear the prices of the specials, as I know they will be more than the menu items.

                                                                To hear the prices diminishes a fine restaurant. Sniffiness? Unattractive? I simply don't feel the need to ask. If you do...TEHO.

                                                                1. re: anonymouse1935

                                                                  Could you please explain how listing some prices but not all could in any way diminish a fine restaurant?

                                                                  1. re: anonymouse1935

                                                                    No, the sniffiness and unattractiveness is the derision in the "if you have to ask". If you merely didn't need to hear it, that's one thing. But the "if you have to ask" part of it is more than that....

                                                                    1. re: anonymouse1935

                                                                      I doubt I'm the only one who does some "calculation" when choosing on the menu-- I'd like the lobster, but wow, it's $10 more than the scallops, and I like scallops too-- maybe I'll get a more expensive appetizer that has an ingredient I'd particularly like and get the scallops.

                                                                      so why shouldn't we have the same opportunity to decide whether a special is worth it to us. I just do not get the idea that the information isn't important.

                                                                  2. re: anonymouse1935

                                                                    So if you were to buy a luxury car, you wouldn't ask. But a Kia Rio, you would? I'm sorry but your logic fails me. If there's a list of hundreds or thousands of things one buys in a year or a lifetime, why should specials in a restaurant be the only thing that doesn't have price tag on it.

                                                                    1. re: anonymouse1935

                                                                      In that case, Outback is providing a better customer service than Le Cote, right? The fact it is willing to provide the prices to its customers.

                                                                      Sometime I wonder why we are so much more harsh on cheap restaurants than expensive restaurants. Surely, we won't let McDonald or Outback to charge us with hidden costs. Yet, it is ok for an upscaled restaurants. What the.

                                                                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                        Well, in my book, Outback won't lose a star for failing, but [Insert Inhospitable But Divinely Delicious Restaurant of Choice here] would.

                                                                      2. re: anonymouse1935

                                                                        Okeedokee, one good quote deserves another..."a fool and his money are soon parted."

                                                                        Aw heck let them just decide what to charge the customer at the end of the meal. Cute couple that was nice $20, guy with lousy aftershave, that's $35, cute lady server gets the number from, that will be $3.25 plus a phone number.

                                                                        There has NEVER been a reason presented on CH that justifies this silly practice other than the restaurant trying to pull a gotcha on the customer. Jfood thinks that most people who think it is beneath them to know a price of an item before purchasing is more trying to impress than act reasonably.


                                                                          1. re: jfood


                                                                            I think the rationale is "I can afford it. If I cannot, then I shouldn't have come". This rationale goes both ways: from the restaurants to the customers and from the customers to the restaurants.

                                                                            In all fairness, most of us do this something. We often just grab a snack and a soda from street vendors and simply pay for them. That is because I didn't care if he charges me 75 cent for that soda or 1.25 dollar for it. Now multiply that mentality by 30-100 folds.

                                                                            Oh here is another example which I do all the time. Chinese Dim Sum. Usually, I just point and pick the dishes I want from the Dim Sum carts and I have never asked how much each specific little Dim Sum costs. In fact, I have never seen anyone asks for the price until the end. In short, we presume we can easily afford them, so we don't bother to ask.

                                                                            1. re: jfood

                                                                              Many years ago, my father took me to a restaurant in Paris. He insisted on hearing all the prices when the waiter told the specials, and when he chose one he repeated it to the waiter saying he would have th entrcote with haricot vert at 42 francs.
                                                                              I asked him about this and he told me that in some restaurants where he had worked as a waiter sold the food to the waiters and the waiters set the retail price to their customers. So prices for the meal were not uniform. Also, waiters were known to mark up the price of unprinted specials if they saw the patrons drinking more than 2 drinks.. Dad said repeating the price to the waiter put the waiter on notice you and your table companions knew what price had better be on the bill when it was presented.

                                                                    2. It is *fundamentally* inhospitable for restaurants to play hide-and-seek with prices of specials. Automatically lose at least a star just for that.

                                                                      1. Yes and no.

                                                                        Yes if the price is significantly different than the other menu selection (for example .if the item includes expensive ingredients not usually found on the menu.

                                                                        No if they are about (+/- 2, 3 bucks) the same prices.

                                                                        but the problem seems to be the item was not up to what the client expected quality wise; probably if it was good we would not have this post.


                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. re: Maximilien

                                                                          If we knew in advance or had we asked, I'm pretty confident we would not had ordered the dish. Having said that, if the meal would have been enjoyed I'd say you are probably right that I would not have even brought it up. I do know that going forward I plan on asking the prices of specials. I'm not going to be "surprised" again

                                                                        2. The prices of all items should be printed on the menu or told by the server before the order is taken.
                                                                          Last night, my wife and I were at dinner with another couple. The other couple chose the restaurant.
                                                                          My wife was asked if she wanted her Margarita frozen or not.
                                                                          We were all asked if we wanted mashmallow topping for our baked sweet potatoes, my friend's wife said yes, the rest no.

                                                                          Thw waitress did not mention that frozen Margaritas or marshmallow topping costs more, and there was nothing on the menu to indicate it.
                                                                          When the check arrived, the Margarita had an upchare of $1 marked frozen, and there was a $2 charge for marshmallow.

                                                                          $3 on the total bill is not a great percentage, but it left a distaste for the restaurant and the server, as well.

                                                                          Upfront honesty is important. if told of the upcharges, my wife certainly would have had the same drink, and the other the topping for her potato.

                                                                          In fact smart management could simply have programmed the computer with two different prices and descriptions of the drinks:
                                                                          Margarita $x.xx
                                                                          Frozen Margaita $x.xx

                                                                          Instead a lovely meal and evening ended with a slightly sour taste...........

                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                          1. re: bagelman01

                                                                            another peeve of mine is that rarely are soft drink prices posted. I like iced tea at lunch. and would appreciate knowing if I'm going to get dinged for $3 with every refill or whether it's 1.50 with unlimited refills. I've seen it both ways. At a casual place you can end up paying more for your tea than for your lunch if you're thirsty!

                                                                            1. re: DGresh

                                                                              I could not agree more. As a matter of fact I've went to the same restaurant in which depending on the waiter would determine if we were going to be charged for every ice tea refill

                                                                              1. re: Gold

                                                                                Yes, that's one of those odd little risks one encounters in restaurants from time to time: the caprice of the server in terms of iced tea refills - some give them free, others ring them up (at the same establishment). Still, it doesn't quite IMO descend to the base level of making customers wonder if they are being ridiculed.