FoodFAQsJoe writes:

Don’t you think it would be nice if all restaurants would let their staff announce the prices of their specials as they read them off? They do so on the menu visually, so why not when they tell you verbally? We have felt (and more than just felt, it’s actually happened) that we have been ripped off by not knowing the price of verbal specials and when we get the bill, the charge is a lot higher than most or all of the fare on their printed menu. We should start a movement to encourage restaurants to do this. If you disagree, please tell me why.

The reason that waiters in most restaurants don’t automatically give the price of specials is that most people who dine in restaurants ambitious enough to have specials are mildly offended when the price is given. It comes across as suggesting that the customer might not have enough money to pay for the dish, or that the diner is primarily interested in a low price rather than culinary excellence. The main reason people go out to dine is to be more luxurious than staying at home. At home, you eat leftovers and simple food. When you’re out, you’re in celebration mode, even if it’s a restaurant you go to all the time.

You may not believe that what I say is true, but I can prove it. Find ten restaurants that verbally give the prices for the specials, and you will see that most of them are low-price, neighborhood restaurants. Few or none of them will be upscale places.

BoardSpecialsThree other points. 1. Restaurants that have printed cards with their daily specials almost always include the prices on those cards. It’s only when the menu is verbal this the effect above takes place. But listen to this: having the cards seems to have the effect of making the prices of specials a little higher than they would be with a verbal menu. That’s because there is no possibility of embarrassing a customer who reads the prices instead of hearing them.

B. All of these issues began to be seen in the 1970s, when the function of daily specials changed. Before 1972 or so, restaurant specials were almost always motivated by a lower price. They were essentially on sale–marked down to get people excited about spending less money. But during the 1970s the specials began to be about unusual ingredients or special recipes, most of which actually cost more than the old, on-sale-prices used to be. This confused a lot of people for a long time, but I don’t hear about it much anymore. Most diners have become accustomed to the idea that specials are almost always more expensive than regular-menu prices.

iii. There is no shame in asking for the price of anything in a restaurant (or in any other business). You should never buy anything without knowing the price, any more than you should ever give someone a signed, blank check. Tom’s Law #5254-C: Never, ever say the following sentence in a restaurant: “Bring me the best Cognac in the house!” It might be priced at over $100 a shot.

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  1. Cathy on November 13, 2015

    We are most often told the price of a special. Otherwise we ask. Simple as that.

  2. Andrew on November 13, 2015

    What do you think of some restaurants’ online menus having no prices listed at all? I understand that market prices fluctuate for some things, but I feel a little duped not knowing if an entree is going to be $15 or $35.

    • Tom Fitzmorris Author on November 14, 2015

      I just wrote about this issue at length. Go to http://nomenu.com/?p=49573.

      Tastefully yours,
      Tom Fitzmorris

      • Andrew on November 14, 2015

        Yes, my comment is in direct response to that article. I’m not talking about finding out the price of a special when I’m at the restaurant. I’m saying that some restaurants put their entire menus online but without any prices listed for anything.

        If I’m looking to try out a new restaurant, I like to look at the menu first and, yes, the prices as well. I agree that dining out is in itself a treat and is something of an extravagance, but I’m less likely to try out a place if I have no idea at all how much it will cost before I go. Restaurants can provide descriptions of delicious-sounding menu items on their websites all they want but not including a price is a turn off for me.

  3. michael rosenfeld on November 13, 2015

    If there is several specials, and the price is quoted for each special, then it is easy to get confused about the price matching up to the special. Just listen to the specials enumerated and then ask for
    the price of the special you are interested in.

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