What I Dislike About Restaurant Specials

My restaurant specials list went viral last year and many people have been asking me when I am going to do one this year. It’s quite a time consuming thing to check the specials and type it up, and there are already various lists flying around. I might do one when I get a moment to spare but in the meantime I want to tell you why I think most restaurant specials are a waste of time. Then I’ll post a list of the ones I think are worthwhile.

There are currently in the vicinity of 100 restaurant specials available right now. That’s a lot of specials to chose from, you’re obviously not going to get to them all so you want to chose the best ones. What makes a good restaurant special? Or more importantly, what makes a bad restaurant special? Here’s my ten cents worth:

Specific time specials are a waste of time. You may have seen something like this:

“Special only available between 2 and 3 on Mondays 3 and 4 on days that start with a T and only available on weekends if it is raining”

Do I really need this admin in my life to save R50? I’m sorry but I can’t plan my day around getting to your restaurant at a specific time on a day that suits you. It’s too complicated. With 100 specials to chose from, how can I remember which one is available on which day? Also, if I have to make a special trip round the mountain then the special is no longer of interest to me because I will be spending the difference on petrol and time. If I am in the area, I want to have the special not come back another day.

Yes, I know you’re trying to promote your quiet times, but the way to do that is to make the other times so popular that your restaurant is at the top of my mind whenever I think of food.

‘Special food’ for special offers is not cool. This comes in various guises, some worse than others. Let’s talk about the worst scenario, because the restaurant is not making much money on the special, they cut corners. The guy who pays full price for a burger gets an amazing meal, the guys who comes in for the burger on special gets yesterday’s patty or a smaller/less tasty version of the patty and less chips and whatever sauce needs to be used up because it’s not looking so great.

Why would a restaurant do this to itself? If I go to a place for the special and the food is fantastic, I’ll be back when there is no special. But if it sucks, I’ll never be back, even if it’s free. Is the purpose of the special to warn as many people off your food as possible? I doubt it. You’re trying to increase your clientèle, show the people who come through the door why they should be regulars. What also makes this worse is that the waiter knows he is only getting a small tip because the ‘special’ bill will be smaller, so he gives very average service. Again, so short sighted. Give me great service and there’s the chance I will tip on the menu price not the special price or at least tip more than 10%. Even if you don’t make a big tip, make the person want to come back so you at least have a place of employment.

The other version of this type of ‘special’ is when the special meals is not a menu meal. If I really like that specific meal, I want to come back and have it again, even if it’s not on special. If it’s temporary, you may be taking away my motivation to return. Remember what the purpose of a special is, not just to make some money in a quiet time, it’s to show people what they are missing out on.

Seasonal menus advertised as specials. This created difficulties for me when I was compiling my specials list. So many places advertise something as a special, but it is just their ‘Winter menu’ and the prices are the same as the other prices on the menu. So it’s really not special at all. I have to go and research the menu to see if it really qualifies as a special. If it’s not cheaper it’s not a special, a new menu is something different.

Multi course menus cost multi Rands. I rarely eat three courses when I eat out, not because I can’t afford it but because it is just too much food. So when a place offers a special like ‘3 courses for R120’ when it would normally cost more, that doesn’t appeal to me. I would only have a main and either starter or dessert anyway which would cost me R115. So basically it is more expensive for me to have the special than to just dine as I would normally. No thanks.

Free glass/bottle of wine or free dessert can be a problem. Two pastas and a bottle of wine for R100, sounds great but what if I wasn’t planning on having wine? What if there are three of us? How do I take advantage of the special? I go somewhere else. Free dessert? What if I don’t eat dessert? These are all additions which I may not want, they kill the special for me and mean that I’m not going to be visiting.

Set menus make me nervous. There are many specials which offer something like “3 course set menu for R100”. Which means I have to eat whatever is the chosen menu for the day/special. But why would I want to limit myself to ordering that one thing? Some restaurants give you two or three options per course which is better, but still, it depends on the restaurant and what they have on offer. I really don’t want to have to eat something I’m not in the mood for.

19 course menus are silly and annoying. Don’t include the mint that I eat on my way out as a course. I want to know how many proper courses I will be eating, the rest like bon bons and pre desserts and amuse bouche, etc are not courses. They are awesome, exciting additions to the meal. Manage my expectations. I expect three courses and get a whole lot more, I’m super impressed and happy, I tell everyone. You advertise starter and main but the starter is just an amuse, I get mad, you pay the price.

Making people ask for the special. This is irritating. I do exhort my readers to inform the establishment when booking, and again on arrival, that they are there for the special. But if you are running a special and the diners qualify, charge them the special price even if they don’t know about the special. I cannot count the number of times people have realised afterwards that they had a special and paid normal prices and it automatically takes a good experience and turns it into a rip off. Not a good plan, my friend.

To conclude, I find a restaurant special attractive when it is convenient and good value. The rest are simply a waste of my time. Read my choice of the 10 best restaurant specials for this winter here.


3 responses to “What I Dislike About Restaurant Specials”

  1. Totally agree with you about the 19 course stuff, I can’t stand it when they say starter included and its an amuse bouche!

  2. I agree – went to a restaurant with a set menu special and spent the night nibbling on tiny courses that shouldn’t even count as a course.

  3. Claire

    For the record, at Jardine you only get one choice per course for their set menu.