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

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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.
        M.

        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.

                    Hunt

          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.

            1. This is a rather tough one. I would have to agree that you should just frequent places where the specials wont bankrupt you because any waiter worth his salt is trying to get the highest check average he can. Upselling is the name of the game, just like in every other business. Bigger guest checks = happy management and bigger tips.

              1 Reply
              1. re: twyst

                Yes, happy management and happy waiter but furious host leads to no return visits. I second bagelman's excellent post. "He who pays the piper calls the tune". Speak ahead of time to the boss---only make it clear, in a nice way, that the real boss is YOU.

                BTW unless the host owns the business he is representing, guests may assume that dinner is on the company and that this is an expense-account occasion, wheeeeeee.

              2. I think I agree with those that suggest you discreetly talk to either the waiter, hostess or manager first and tell them NO specials to be announced at my table. Same for expensive drinks if that could also be a problem ( I think we have seen that one on CH before when guests order fancy scotches and brandies).

                1. if your guests hear the waiter describing the specials to the other tables, they are gonna wonder why those choices weren't given to them. You could ask that the price of the specials be announced so that your guests are not mislead to believe that the caviar stuffed lobster in truffle sauce is the same price as the filet mignon. having said that, it is probably better to downscale the restaurant a bit where the upper end won't break the bank. most people are not looking to implode your budget, they assume if you invited them someplace, it is within your means.

                  1. I would say that your best bet is to pick a restaurant where the most expensive item on the menu is within your budget, or go somewhere where you can pre-select the meal.

                    1. If the OP is taking a large group to dinner several times a week, then hopefully Brian should be able to form a good relationship with the restaurant (s) so the issue doesn't arise.

                      If not, then there is nothing really to be done. I presume the last thing Brian wants are his guests going away thinking he;s a cheapskate or whatever.

                      1. My only concern would be - was that the best main course, and did my guests enjoy it?

                        Beyond that, I would not have any issue.

                        Hunt

                        1. I'm confused. IF money is an issue, why are yuo taking them out? Have you ever seen any of the restaurant shows on FoodTV, Cooking, Travel or BBC. The waiters are supposed to push the specials.

                          My suggestion would be to go to a cheaper less expensive place or before dinner, make a hint about the place (they have a great prix fixe menu). If they don't get your subtle hint, then stop taking them out.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: jhopp217

                            I don't get why you're confused, businesses and individuals have budgets. If the OP's entertainment budget for the year is $xx and he goes over on a few occasions then he will have less in the budget and will have fewer outings. He may have quite a long list of clients he has to wine and dine. He should let management at the restaurants know that he does not want specials read.

                          2. i disagree with everyone who says they should not hear the specials, or should limit his guests, or hint what they should have.

                            you've invited people out. suck it up. enjoy giving.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: thew

                              THIS.

                            2. "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. "

                              Nowadays? This has always been the case. A restaurant is a business and its business is to SELL. Also, the waiter's tip goes up in relation to the amount of the check, so of course he is going to "upsell" everything. Like some others said, if you feel "obligated" to take large groups of people out to dinner, be prepared to pay the piper.

                              1. How is reciting the specials "pressuring" people into ordering them?

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: LeoLioness

                                  reminds me of this scene from Heaven Can Wait:

                                  Former owner: He got my team. The son of a bitch got my team.
                                  Advisor to former owner: What kind of pressure did he use, Milt?
                                  Former owner: All I asked was sixty-seven million, and he said "okay."
                                  Advisor to former owner: Ruthless bastard.

                                2. By now you've probably been to a lot of restaurants. Take your guests to restaurants YOU like. That way you can help your by suggesting things you've had there that you liked.

                                  Never take a large group to a restaurant you've never been to before. Save those for you and your "lady" if it's a place you want to try.

                                  Also, don't hesitate to speak up. Ask how much that Maine lobster is, and if you think it's a ripoff, say something like: "that's a little pricey, give us more time to look at the menu"

                                  And don't go back to those places.

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: DPGood

                                    If the OP is talking about a business dinner, I can understand how it would be awkward to say something is too expensive in front of clients.

                                    1. re: LeoLioness

                                      So, what would you do? That's what the OP asked.

                                      1. re: DPGood

                                        I'd take them to restaurants where I could comfortably afford the cost of any meal, which may mean calling ahead to find out the cost of any specials. I wouldn't want to be in a position where a client sees a special going by and inquires to the server why she/he was not offered said meal: puts the server in a bad spot and makes the host look cheap.

                                        1. re: LeoLioness

                                          Seriously? If I was a guest and the specials were not offered I would not dream of asking what the specials were, nor would I inquire as to why we were not offered the specials. Anyway I never order the most expensive dish on the menu when I am a guest but somewhere from the cheapest to the mid price.

                                    2. re: DPGood

                                      For business dinners, I usually work out both the menus and the wines, ahead of time. I'll come up with several options for mains and appetizers, plus a list of desserts. The guests have a choice of maybe 4 apps, and 4 mains, and I have wines to cover all nicely. No issues, and I know about what my tab will be, a few days in advance.

                                      Works for me,

                                      Hunt

                                    3. If these are business guests, then you are truly screwed, and your only recourse is to carefully attend only those restaurants that you either know do not serve truffles and caviar or other off-menu budget busters or those where you are enough of a regular that you can make your issue to clear to the servers privately.

                                      If they are friends and family, though, I would not be shy to say something like "that's what I'm planning to order post-lottery-win". It's extremely bad manners for someone who knows they are being treated to over-order.

                                      Ladies are taught by their mothers never to order the most expensive or least expensive thing on the menu. You didn't say whether your guests were taking the bait. Are they?

                                      1. I don't see giving the specials as out of line, but if it's really excessive "would you like an appetizer? a side? bottled water? dessert or coffee? another glass of wine?" or the waiter indiscriminately chooses the most expensive thing when asked for a recommendation, that might be reflected in the tip (which might serve the dual purpose of helping me keep some change in my pocket and discouraging the behavior if we returned to the restaurant).

                                        15 Replies
                                        1. re: jvanderh

                                          I too would be tempted to retaliate in the form of a tip, but OP was describing a "large group". But most places these days have a minimum required tip for groups over six.

                                          1. re: Leonardo

                                            a restaurants job is to turn food into money. a waiter is the interface between your money and the food. to ding him a tip for doing his job is, to me, loathsome

                                            1. re: thew

                                              I disagree. The waiter works for himself first, then the customer, then the restaurant, a balancing act for sure. My tip is for the waiter, not the restaurant.

                                              1. re: DPGood

                                                but they are discussing dinging the waiter for doing his job

                                            2. re: Leonardo

                                              A lot of places do add it to the bill, but I don't think they can actually compel you to pay it. Also, it's usually 15%, and if the server was reasonably competent, I wouldn't leave less than that. But if he or she was overtly trying to drive up the bill in order to drive up the tip, I don't think I'd leave 20%.

                                              1. re: jvanderh

                                                think it depends where you live.......I havent seen it under 18 in a few years, actually many places 20 in Bay area.

                                                1. re: jvanderh

                                                  In Honolulu at least, if it is on the menu, then yes, they can compel you to pay it. With the large number of tourists from places that don't tip (asia) and the waitstaff making much less than minimum wage, it is pretty much standard in Waikiki, and not always just for large groups, I've seen it posted for groups as small as 4.

                                              2. re: jvanderh

                                                Wait, if the server asks if you want dessert or a first course you are being "pressured"? Lowering the tip in this situation is deplorable- how is thhe server supposed to know you have such a victim complex?

                                                1. re: LeoLioness

                                                  Nah. But I know what the OP is talking about. Sometimes you get asked about every possible add-on, and then asked if you're sure. It makes for an unpleasant dining experience.

                                                  1. re: jvanderh

                                                    it certainly seems you said that. this: "but if it's really excessive "would you like an appetizer? a side? bottled water? dessert or coffee? another glass of wine?" or the waiter indiscriminately chooses the most expensive thing when asked for a recommendation, that might be reflected in the tip" reads like thats what you mean

                                                    1. re: thew

                                                      I guess, to my mind, the waiter's job doesn't entail re-reading me the entire menu, and especially not trying to talk me into something I've said I don't want. Certainly, there has to be some room for error, because a waiter can't know each diner's personal preferences. I'm not suggesting I cut the tip just because the waiter asks if I want dessert. But, I think, in general, it's better to offer less than more. I think most people will order bottled water if they want it, whereas most people who don't want it would rather not have to decline it. Likewise, if a waiter asks what I'd like and I wanted to start with an appetizer, I'd order the appetizer. I didn't forget that appetizers exist. If a waiter stops by and asks how our food is, and I want another glass of wine, I'll ask for one. In my experience, most waiters have figured out that people leave better tips if they're not made to feel cheap because they didn't order a three-course meal with wine pairings and bottled water on a Tuesday. Still, though, every now and then I get a waiter who re-reads me the appetizer section after I've said I don't want an appetizer, suggests the two most expensive entrees on the menu and then can't tell me anything about them, and brings the dessert cart after I've asked for the bill. I tend to enjoy that experience less than a server who makes himself available but isn't too pushy. I think this is reasonable, how most people feel, and not indicative of any serious psychiatric conditions. Of course, other people are entitled to disagree.

                                                      1. re: jvanderh

                                                        Thank you for that explanation--it's not something I'm personally bothered by in general but I can understand where you are coming from.

                                                        1. re: jvanderh

                                                          Server: "our special is the cold-water rock lobster with baked potato."
                                                          Host: "How much is that special?"
                                                          Server: "Well, it's market price."
                                                          Host: "OK, what is market price?"
                                                          Server: "As much as a bunch of tourists will pay."
                                                          Host: "OK, what is that today?"
                                                          Server: "Well, it's US $75, unless you will pay more. Then, it's US $ 90."
                                                          Host: " What about the potato?"
                                                          Server: "Well, that's market price too."
                                                          Host: "In addition to the lobster?"
                                                          Server: "Yes, in addition."
                                                          Host: "So what is the price of the potato?"
                                                          Server: "Well, it's an additional US $ 15."
                                                          Host: "What does that potato come with?"
                                                          Server:"It is plain, and uncooked."
                                                          Host: "How much does it cost if it's cooked?"
                                                          Server: "For a cooked potato, it will cost an additional US $ 10."
                                                          Host: "So the lobster is whatever we will pay, up to US $ 90, and a cooked potato will cost an additional US $ 25. Is that correct? What about additions to that potato? What will that cost?"
                                                          Server: "The parsley flakes are US $ 6 each."
                                                          Host: "What about sour cream?"
                                                          Server: "That is also market price."
                                                          Host: "What is the market price of the sour cream?"
                                                          Server: "About US $ 15, but that depends on how much the chef puts on it."
                                                          Host: "Chives, do they get chives?"
                                                          Server: "Yes, chives are available."
                                                          Host: "At what price?"
                                                          Server: "Market price, of course."
                                                          Host: "And that would be?"
                                                          Server: "Well, right now, and until 8:00PM, it would be US $3 per chive."
                                                          Host: "Is bacon available on that potato?"
                                                          Server: "Of course."
                                                          Host: "And the price of the bacon is?"
                                                          Server: "Well, market price."
                                                          Host: " And today, at this hour, what is that market price?"
                                                          Server: "That depends greatly. Do you want Benton bacon, or some horrible, cheap substitute?"
                                                          Host: "What is the market price for the Benton bacon?"
                                                          Server: "For tiny bits from the floor, those will be US $ 1 each."
                                                          Host: "If we do not want Benton bacon bits from the floor, how much will the clean stuff cost?"
                                                          Server: "For fresh Benton bacon, that has not fallen to the floor, you will pay US $ 3 per piece."

                                                          I can see that happening, plus an up-charge for using the pepper shaker too.

                                                          Hunt

                                                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                            Server: "Oh, you want to SIT? Fifty bucks, unless there are people waiting. Then it's a hundred."

                                                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                              I'd have to take the floor bacon, I think.

                                                  2. I notice that the OP has not been chiming in. Hope Brian lets us know how you end up resolving the issue and how well it went over with your guests.

                                                    1. Clients/Service providers: They always seem to order everything from Scotch to dessert to after dinner drinks. Nothing like a business sponsored dinner.
                                                      -as others have said, stick to a place where the budget wont get blown out if they order one of every expensive item on the menu.
                                                      Staff/Colleagues: Agree with the post above, call ahead and set the menu and drinks.

                                                      1. You might want to consider getting the restaurant to make up a custom menu for you with choices within your budget. If you do this a lot I'm sure many restaurants would accommodate, and it looks classy (your company name at the top and no prices), while servers don't have the pressure to upsell.