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Daily Specials & Pricing: Are You Losing Customers by Having Specials?
Our lunches came, and the ahi special was lovely. Two pieces of seared ahi atop a small amount of veggies, including fingerling potatoes and tomatoes. It was nicely presented and tasty. Definitely a light lunch dish, maybe 7-8 ounces altogether, a la carte, so this small plate was the lunch special in its entirety.
Our lunch was nice.... until the bill came. Did I mention that the server had neglected to state the price of the ahi special? It turns out that it was $29.95. Fully double the price of this restaurant's average lunch entree; the house cured salmon dish I had considered was $16. Now, maybe it's just my opinion, but I believe that there are two options a restaurant has in regard to specials and pricing. The server should clearly state the price when telling the guests about the special OR the price of the special should fall into the average range of the rest of the entrees on the menu. This restaurant did neither. And what is the cost to a restaurant who does neither? It costs them customers...
In the short run, perhaps they make a few extra bucks. Hey, why not get $30 instead of our usual $15? In the end though, they lose. It turn what had been a nice lunch, with the restaurant getting high marks, into a situation where both of us left with a bad taste in our mouth. Did I mention that my friend was buying? She was shocked, and I felt terrible. Not the impression you want your customers to leave with, is it?
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Many restaurants abuse their customers wallets with the so-called 'specials'. This is not a new thing at all. They do it with desserts and wine btg and cocktails and seasonal specials.
It is a good thing for a smart customer to get to know the people they do business with or ask alot of questions. There is nothing wrong to ask the price of a 'special' or to ask the waiter 'why' it is 'special'. The waiter or server is depending on you for a gratutity and should be willing to provide service in the form of answers to your questions.
That same situation mentioned in your e-mail happened to me one time and after that never again.
If you are unsure of other items you are being served ask for the manager or owner. Many servers/bartenders substitute wines and liquors with out anyone knowing about it. They can short pour a cocktail to make up for other drinks they overpour. Some restaurants pour substitute wines btg also. Know your wines. Ask questions. Speak up if your are in doubt.
The other time this has happened to me lately was at a wine event. The cover price to get in was what I thought was a reasonable 40 per person but what was not explained any where was the additional addons inside. You had to buy tickets for your wine and tickets for your food. (Was that not the reason for being there) at $ 25 per 5 tickets it could add up quick for evening. I understand raising money for a good cause but many had not brought much cash and of course had to find a ATM to get some. It was an awkward moment. I understand that others that had attended this function before would be aware but for a first timer it was a bit of a turn off.
Again thanks for voicing what we have all felt~
Scopa – Healdsburg .. good stuff.
Direct Marketing Specialist
Cuvaison Estate Wines
Food servers quoting a price to you can also be insulting giving a guest the impression that they may not “look” like they can afford it. When dining if price is a potential issue it is your responsibility to ask how much it costs. “Caveat Emptor”. As an aside ask your parents how they handled going to the fancy restaurant that did not show any prices on the menus? Did that bother them? I however do support chalk boarding the Chef creations at the entrance to the restaurant and there you can put the price.
I am, by nature, a somewhat suspicious person, yet I've always thought that when the server describes a special dish and doesn't tell you the price at the end, it was because it sounds a little crass. I always figured that if I wanted to order the dish, I could then ask the price. Never saw it as something nefarious.
I don't understand why you would you assume the special would be priced the same as the regular dishes. Ahi is expensive, and I find that "daily specials" are often more expensive than many of the other dishes on a menu, and I would never make an assumption like the one you made.
Bottom line, why didn't you just ask how much it was before you ordered it? I'm astonished that you ordered the special without knowing the price.
I don't work at any restaurant, nor have I ever worked in a restaurant, and I'm not trying to defend the server...but you have to watch out for yourself these days. I don't buy ANYTHING without knowing the price first -- why would I order something in a restaurant without knowing the price? I think you were probably a bit embarrassed by the episode because your friend was paying for the meal (all the more reason to have asked the price first), and I understand your inclination to blame the server for not automatically telling you the price of the dish. But seriously, you must carry part of the blame. I think you're being a little hard on the restaurant.
Perhaps it's simply too embarrassing and awkward to ask the price of something, in front of a friend or otherwise? I know some people may feel that way. Money is a dirty subject...but unfortunately, we all have to touch it, every day it seems. In future, I think you just have to find a nice and graceful way to ask the price on a special. Maybe, "Sorry, I didn't quite catch the price on the ahi dish...what was that again?" In any event, if you think about it, it would've been much less embarrassing to have asked the price before ordering, than to have that horrible surprise with the bill at the end of the meal!
Thanks for opening this up for discussion...please don't be offended, and I'm not trying to attack you at all. This is an interesting subject, and I'm just curious how many will agree with you that it was entirely the server (or restaurant's) fault and that they are purposefully leaving off prices to trick people into ordering overpriced menu items -- or if the responsibility lies with the diner to ask the price before ordering. Maybe it's something in between.
In response to your e-zine article regarding restaurant specials, I must say that you are spot on. Any restaurant, whether it be a simple eatery or a fine dining establishment, is remiss if their staff fails to inform its customers of pricing up front. I. too, have stumbled innocently into that awkward situation in which I am presented with delectable specials by an engaging server, never hesitating to consider the cost. In this economy, I watch my pennies so that I can enjoy the rare splurge on a night out with the girls. Scenarios like this can not only strain the pocket book, but it can be downright embarrassing, such as you cited in your article.
Thank you for sharing and for sparing others from potentially being put in this position.
I’ve learned from long experience that when restaurants fail to mention the price of their specials, it almost always means that they are out to raid your pocketbook.
I had the same experience in a well known Fisherman's Wharf restaurant. Having been in the Hotel and restaurant industry for some fifty years I was really put off. We will not recommend or go to the restaurant again as in my opinion it was misrepresentation and the price difference was 40%!
I also obviously agree with you.
Best regards, Bruce Wyder
When the wait person tells you about the specials there is what I would call a "tradition" of not asking how much these things cost. I ask and the wait person usually looks at me with the kind of look that says, "If you had to ask then, perhaps, you shouldn't be here.
I hope everyone asks to price of the special. My wife and I were flamboozled once with this practice and ever since I have always inquired - even if I wasn't interested in the special. Just to sort of let them know that their information was not complete without the price. After all the menu has the price on it. I think the restaurant should think of it as an oral menu, and that it isn't complete with out the prices.
I am an old guy, and I remember when this was a big topic about fifteen years ago. There was a groundswell of anger that restaurants would present specials without mentioning the price. Because there was so much, and such widespread, belief that special prices should be mentioned, people started asking the prices. Over time, restaurants figured out that they were angering their customers, and started mentioning prices when they mentioned specials.
Looking back on my last few restaurant experiences, I seem to recall that all save one did mention the price of the specials with the presentation of them. The one that didn't, I asked.
This may be becoming more of a problem now because of the economy, and restaurateurs are looking to boost the old profit margin in the short term. I agree that this will lose them customers.
How to approach this? I guess we need to start doing what we did back then - when the server says "We have some specials today," and doesn't mention the prices, ask him/her what the prices are, and then on the way out mention to the manager that you would appreciate it if the servers would mention the prices on the specials. It worked the last time, and it should work now.
Once again, you are so right. It is not the guest's expectation to be duped into pricey dish; nor is it the guest's responsibility to ask for prices on items that are not clearly noted on the printed menu.
It is rather the server's responsibility to sell the dish in question in such a way as to not only call attention to the price, but to be able to make the guest want the dish, regardless of price. Perhaps the Ahi was sashimi grade, perhaps the fingerlings were cooked in duck fat, perhaps the vegetables were all organic and from a great local farm that the restaurant has a relationship with. Describing the way flavors, textures, and temperatures work in the dish to make it exceptional would also have served to entice the guest to make the educated leap of faith. The final touch would have been to suggest a wine by the glass to accompany the dish that would solidly add an extra dimension of enjoyment.
Properly sold, your Ahi should have come with a nice glass of wine and you should have been very pleased to pay for the experience, as well as tip your server well, which I am assuming you did not do, as you should not have.
We all know that for every one customer who actually speaks up about the tactic you describe, there are at least 10 others who say nothing to the restaurant, but do not return and tell their friends why. Not to mention what the Yelpers do with this sort of thing.
I find it sad, especially in today's economic environment that restauranteurs do not see the forest for the trees and do not seize every opportunity to create repeat business and to avoid the situation you describe from happening in their venues.
As a service professional, I would rather make a few dollars less on the check than have a customer not return and ask for me in the future. Being greedy never increases your earnings over time. Being knowlegable, reading your guests, and creating a great experience for every guest, despite what they may be spending, most certainly does. Some of my highest tip averages come as a result of providing great service for guests who are not going to spend very much. When I get a 30% or better tip on a small check, I know that the guest was more than happy, and they are likely to return and to tell others of their great experience. One truly never knows who one is waiting on. You may have been looking for a nice venue to host a business luncheon in the future with a large group, which will never happen at a venue that leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
A tangent topic for the future could be the situation where there are too many additions to the menu for guests to truly focus on. I had dinner here in Napa the other night, and the server had to describe three first course addition, and three main course additions. Even I was not sure just what I had heard when the server left the table, and only one of our party ordered one of the additions, an heirloom tomato salad, which practically sells itself at this time of year.
As usual, thank you for your insightful invitations to comment on these things that can make us all better by calling attention to those things that can so easily be overlooked, but make such a difference in everyone's bottom lines.
I think it wise of the patron to ask the price of the specials when the
server mentions them if it is not disclosed by the server. Often the
specials and their prices are disclosed somewhere on a board/ specials
of the day menu. Also, the manager may have asked the servers not to be
so up front with the ahi special's special pricing as it was much higher
priced than the other choice and told them to wait until the patron
asks. (Some owners may also say "push the Ahi today on the hush
in short: Buyer beware.
Personally,I think specials and their pricing should be disclosed by the
server as routine. This seems the best business practice.
Jamie Ciardella, Gate House Inn
The most important thing here is that the restaurant needs to communicate with their customers in order to avoid any misunderstandings. Their customers don't all fit one mold and they should not assume they do. What does "special" mean to me? Unless stated otherwise, it means that the dish is going to be attractively priced, priced lower than you would expect. A "special" says to me that they either got a good price, or they have made a large quantity of the dish and can therefore sell it at an attractive price. Is that not what it means? Tough. That's what it means to me, so when I dine there, if they pull a shocker like you relate, I'm not going back.
I am in total agreement with you. If the special is not priced commensurately with the rest of the menu, they need to tell you. Which is more crass, telling your customers how much it costs, or embarrassing them by making them ask?
Doug Hanthorn, a.k.a., The Naked Whiz
It's true, the restaurant looses more... but I think there is just a greater issue of a lack of communication between customer and server at restaurants.
On one end, I've noticed that servers I've worked with are literally afraid of asking customer questions about their preferences. So many times I've asked a server I'm working with about what their guests needs and if they don't know, they damn near break out in tears as if all hope is lost; they think it's bad if you ask the customer questions and that instead you should read their minds and if you can't, then you're not a good server.
I've also noticed that customer are reluctant to ask questions. So many times, I'm standing right at the table, and customers are reading the menu and come across words they don't know, but instead of asking me, they turn to someone they're with and ask them, and they'll go all the way around the table asking everyone looking for answers instead of asking me, until I just chime in with the answer. I think customers are too afraid of looking stupid so they don't ask questions and servers are too afraid of making a customer feel stupid by underestimating their knowledge, so they don't offer up information.
On the other hand, often times when I ask customer questions, they're not forth coming with answers, especially when it has to do with money. For example, when buying wine, the cost is one of the most important things to customers, but it's the last thing they'll bring up. I often ask "How much are you looking to spend on a bottle" and the most common answers tend to be "It doesn't matter" or something vague and subjective like "Medium price". However, more often than not, when a guest orders a bottle of wine, their fingers are pointing in the wine list at the name of the wine, but you can clearly see that their eyes are looking square at the price, because that was the determining factor and they have a very clear idea of how much they want to spend. In fact, I often get customers that order the wrong wine, because they look at the price and then trace that price back to the wrong wine using their eyes. For example, they see that a Cabernet in the list costs $30 (let's say it's Smoking Loon Cab), they trace that price back to the name of the wine, but instead of Smoking Loon they trace back to the wine right above that in the list which might be Silver Oak. They order Silver Oak thinking it's $30, and when they get the bill and see it was $200, they say "That's not what I ordered, I ordered the Silver Oak the list says it's $30". Might sound crazy, but it really happens pretty often, and the situation could have been avoided if the customer would have just said "I'm looking to buy a Cabernet around $30". Instead the restaurant is faced with eating the cost of that misordered wine or holding the customer accountable for their mistake but risk loosing that customer, and like you said the restaurant is the biggest looser in that case is the restaurant.
As the chef at a fine dining restaurant in our local casino, I often run specials that run higher than our average items and our servers as a practice do not state the price of our specials unless asked- but they are primarily premium items(buffalo tenderloin $45, lobster croustade appetizer $18). we do not seem to get many complaints about this but we are on of the few fine dining restaurants in the area and i believe people expect to throw down a bit more than they might elsewhere. thanks for the chance to respond.
Chef de Cuisine
Seven Sisters Restaurant
Black Oak Casino
Unfortunately I have witnessed a lot of short-term thinking in the foodservice industry over the years. As a result, customer retention compared to other industries is very low.
Re: Specials - A huge fan, but I do not know why we don't use more menu boards to clearly communicate items/price. Your story really amazed me that the special was almost 2x regular pricing. Really! Now I know why I prefer to eat at home when I am not traveling when I hear or experience horror stories like yours. On the flipside, it is unfortunate that to get quality fish, at least here in Philadelphia, I have to go to a restaurant.
It always gets a laugh, elicits the price, lightens the mood and gets a delicious evening off to the right start. Ja!
Veni Vidi Bibi,
Wines of Washington Promotion
Stop complaining and eat at home!
And if you dont go back to that place , it is not because of service. its because the place is not realy that dam good.
sorry for being honest
While I agree the waiter should have given you an indication of the high price on that lunch item. You could of just as easily asked the price. Servers are salesman and he or she made his or her sale and the owner-manager will have to reep the loss of your future business.
And our daily feature sheet (not specials, if they were special you would think they are a value} are printed out daily so the customer can see the price!
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