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A Bone to Pick

April 13, 2012 - Phyllis Sigal
I have a bone to pick with some restaurants out there.

I love eating out at great restaurants. When I travel, I check out the restaurants before I go. Often, a restaurant is the destination; everything else is just gravy.

As a couple of examples to support that, for our 18th wedding anniversary, we flew to Boston — not to go sightseeing (which we did), but to dine at chef Ming Tsai's restaurant "Blue Ginger," located in Wellesley, Mass., just outside of Boston.

And when we traveled to Disney World, we made our dinner reservations long before we stepped foot inside the magic kingdom.

I like to plan. I like to know what my dining options are.

And I like to know what I'm paying for my food.

OK. The bone.

Restaurants often offer specials of the day. Many times, the specials are verbally announced by the server; other times a chalkboard or a menu insert may let the diner know what the specials are.

My bone is that some restaurants don't offer up the prices of those specials. And a diner may feel embarrassed to ask when placing an order. He or she may feel looked upon as "cheap," if the price is of consequence.

Let's say you are about ready to order the special. You ask the price. $48 says the server. Oh, never mind. I'll have the salmon, which is priced on the regular menu at $25.


Or maybe you just don't bother to ask the price because you might assume the specials are priced along the lines of the regular items on the menu.

Case in point: We dined at a lovely place in Marrietta, Ohio, last month. Menu entrees ranged in price from the low teens to $25. Most items were in the $18-$21 range. Appetizers and salads also were very reasonably priced. Wine was exceptionally reasonable.

We happened to order three specials: two of the entrees and an appetizer.

Both of the specials were almost TWICE the price of the other entrees on the menu, and the appetizer was $24 — more than most of the entrees!

Luckily, the wine was cheap and the food was very good.

But we sure had a good serving of sticker shock.

At that moment, I decided to become more bold, more proactive in future situations.

One, I decided it's my right to know the cost of a special, and two, I will not feel embarrassed or uncomfortable about asking the price, if the establishment chooses not to be forthcoming.

My new tactic is this: Upon hearing the specials of the day, I will immediately, and politely of course, ask the server the prices of all of them. That way, I can consider the price when I make my menu choice.

I really do love to order the specials because the ingredients are usually seasonal and fresh, and often the dish is more creative than the standard offerings. And it may only come around once in a while.

But I don't understand why restaurants don't want me to know how much those specials cost. Are they trying to trick me into ordering the more expensive dish? I'd rather not think that.

Most of the time I do consider the price of an item when I'm ordering. I'm not independently wealthy. Sure, I like to spend money on eating out; but in moderation. I prefer to dine out once a month at a restaurant with great food rather than going out to two or three mediocre eateries.

I try to order what I want, but I might think twice about a $40 entree as compared to a $22 entree, unless it's a special occasion and I REALLY want that lobster tail.

I'm happy to say my new tactic works. I tried it out last night. Two specials were verbally offered to our table.

"And could you tell me the price of those specials, please?" I asked our waitress, immediately upon her telling us about them.

Rack of lamb was one of those specials, and fairly priced for the dish, I thought. In fact, four out of our party of eight ordered it. Had no one known the price, would that have made a difference? I don't know the answer to that question, as I can't speak to the others' choices.

But I know I'll never again order a special dish unless I know what it costs.

I love surprises, but not the ones that leave a bitter taste.

I am looking for: