It was exactly over three years ago today (give or take a few months) that I wrote a sublime piece about how “specials” work in restaurants. Today I’m giving out a free “upgrade,” a side serving of regurgitation. You only have to provide your own sour cream, chives and bacon. As always, I bring the butter.
In a rare and provocative behind-the-scenes glimpse of how this blog works (I’ll be brief) you should know that not all of my posts are carefully planned and storyboarded months in advance. Not all of them. Sometimes they are knee-jerk reactions to last-minute things. I really should have a category called “Oh Shit.”
Take last night for example. My wife and I went out to eat. Mainly because our kitchen was destroyed by the act of packing for the big move. As we walked into the place the “specials” board caught our eye. We paused and gave it the once over.
“Hmm,” my wife said. “They have a carrot salad for $8. That sounds good.”
Whatever, crazy person. Good for their bank account, maybe.
Once seated I was perusing the menu without much success when I heard my wife say, “Oh, shit.”
“What’s wrong?” I asked, looking up and suddenly terrified.
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We enjoy going out to eat. It’s one of the simple pleasures remaining in our life, one of the rare ways that we can still sometimes pamper ourselves. Even though we live in a culinary desert and the economy has forced us to tighten our belts, we still get out and support our favorite local spots as often as we can.
A couple of years ago a steakhouse opened here in town. (Mmm, meat memories!) What goes good with steak? Yep! A nice baked potato. This restaurant would serve the potato with butter. If you wanted anything else, like sour cream and chives, that was an “upgrade” and cost an additional $1.50. Needless to say we never went back. And last time I looked, the place was closed down. What a shocker.
Recently my wife and I have been noticing another trend. We call it the “not-so-special” special. It works like this. You enter the restaurant and see the little board labeled “Specials.” This board is usually one of the first things you see when you walk through the front door. Often times the special boards will be brightly lit with snazzy neon colors and happy little drawings.
The special will usually be written in hand. That imports a sense of urgency. Hey, this must have been written today. That is special!
So, what’s on the board today? For example, it might say something like this: “Spicy chicken with eggplant. $9.95.”
“Mmm. That sounds good,” you think to yourself. Then you get seated and handed a menu.
You know what happens next, right? Wait … for … it …
On the menu you find among the other items a little dish called “Spicy chicken with eggplant.” Okay. It’s a regular menu item in addition to being on “special.” No big dealio.
But we can’t help but be curious, right? So what is the “special” price? Let’s take a quick peek. Yeppers! $9.95. Read ’em and weap.
After a few “whiskey tango foxtrots” and “cluster of goats” muttered under my breath, the wheels in my head invariably start turning. “What exactly is so special here?”
Am I nuts or should the “special” be special in some way? Maybe it’s offered at a special price. Maybe it includes a special ingredient.
But the same thing at the same price? That’s a “special?” That’s not even trying. Sup with that? Check please!