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Jun 22, 2011 08:30 AM

Waiter convinces my guests to order the most expensive specials -- what can I do?

If I take a lady to dinner, the sky's the limit, and the waiter won't have to urge her to order that pricey lobster. I'll be the one doing the urging. But there are times (several times a week) when I feel obligated to take a large group to dinner and I'm hoping to escape with some change left in my pocket. It seems that nowadays some waiters are pressured to urge people to spend more than they intended to, and quite often one of those servers is turned loose on my guests.

"Would you like an expensive side order with that?"

"Our chef's signature dish is the expensive caviar with white truffles."

"Tonight we have expensive lobster flown in from Maine. The chef let me taste it and I cried with joy, it was so good."

If I say or do anything other than grin as if this is the most wonderful suggestion I've ever heard, that's the memory my guests will take away from the evening. What can I do?

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  1. Choose a place within your means-- a place where ordering from the top end will not kill your wallet or cause you this kind of grief or anxiety.

    1. Let the manager, captain, server know in advance that this is a hosted dinner, and that your guests are restricted to the print menu only, no oral specials or upselling will be tolerated. Furrthermore, only you may order the wine for the table.

      1. if you are *obligated* to take a group for dinner, then you should have rules and you should choose a restaurant that will not bankrupt you.

        1. > But there are times (several times a week) when I feel obligated to take a large group to dinner

          You *feel* obligated? What does this mean? Either you *are* obligated, by your employer or your job description, to take people out to dinner--in which case the money spent should not be yours anyway--or you just want to act generous to your friends. If it's the former, let your employer (the one who pays the bills) make the rules. If it's the latter, maybe you need to think harder about why you're taking people out.

          5 Replies
          1. re: travelmad478

            Maybe OP works for himself, is a small business owner or freelancer, and takes people out as a business expense...

            In any event, I don't know what to say to him/her other than it's pretty infuriating when a resto's regular menu is in one price range, and the specials are a full order of magnitude higher. That's really what the issue is. If the specials were in line with the regular menu then it would be easier for OP to pick a place within The Budget.

            Even if it's tax deductible, it may turn into a $500 dinner when it c/should have been $250.

            Though, really, the dinner guests should also be more aware of what they're ordering. Shaved white truffles over expensive caviar, etc.

            OP - here's my suggestion. Find restaurants that don't do that. Write a letter to offending restaurants if it makes you feel better. But definitely only patronize restaurants that don't have exorbitantly or disproportionately priced specials.

            1. re: egit

              If it is a business dinner/tax deductible, it should be a meeting over a meal that the OP/taxpayer-owner of the business- is having in order to obtain or maintain business income. Business needs to be discussed during that meal.

              1. High end places are not conducive to talking business.
              2. Groups of people will not be able to discuss individual business situations, much less be confidential.
              3. If income is not produced or maintained, despite these multiple weekly business meals, the IRS will disallow all expenses, citing it as a "hobby" instead of income production.
              4. In any case, only 50% of all meals are deductible, since you have to eat anyhow.

              OP needs to define 'obligated to take a large group to dinner several times a week'. There is no situation I can think of which makes one obligated to attend high end meals with ostensibly strangers on such a regular basis in this economy.

              Because OP never said it was business related nor clarified if these are friends or co-workers, I tend to think it's people who think he is a bottomless pit of money and are using him.

              1. re: Cathy

                wow, people have to shmooze all the time, and it may well not be tax deductible, but it's still part of doing business. salesmen? people trying to garner big contracts? lobbyists? my friends who own a company that supplies services to large buildings--why not shmooze the decision maker? I can think of many situations in which one feels "obliged" to take people out, but for whatever reason wants to limit some costs. the OP didn't ask us for tax advice. I do think the only answer to the OP's question is to choose different restaurants, where you can afford the specials, or as another poster says, arrange a pre-planned, limited menu. I do think you could also try to develop the relationship with the resto so that the lux specials are not offered, but with the understanding that if a guest asks, then they may still wind up with the truffled caviar.

                in the shmoozy business situation, I don't think you can expect guests to limit themselves or take hints in a way that promotes the underlying goal.

                if this is just a bunch of friends, then it's totally different.

                1. re: cocktailhour

                  well said.

                  and speaking of luxe specials not offered, I remember once sitting at Babbo with 2 friends and listening to the waiter describe the white truffle tasting menu to the people seated next to us. I wondered exactly what it was about my person that led our waiter to believe we were so unlikely to order truffles that it was not worth his breath. Purse cost less than 4 figures? southern drawl? 3 women? I was irritated.

                  1. re: danna

                    Ah, a white truffle tasting.

                    We were hosting the out-going, and incoming Medical Executive Directors and their lovely wives, in Las Vegas. It was the beginning of white truffle season, and they had an an entire menu, featuring the fungi, plus some major Burgs to accompany each of 10 dishes. The server went into great detail, and I looked to my wife, the CEO. She shook her head, slightly from side to side, and I knew.

                    Still, we did some fabulous dishes, plus some great wines (no DRC's there), and the sommelier spent about an hour total, at our table.

                    Some day, I will do their white truffle dinner, with the DRC's. In the meantime, I guess that Restaurant Daniel's "white truffle extravaganza" will have to do.


          2. I think the onus is on your guests - Guests should not order something more pricey than what the host is having. As a host you can send hints like saying that you like simpler things and such.