why do restaurants have specials?

My restaurant has specials. At lunch I’m supposed to recite them to customers who usually try not stare at me while I list them out. When I’m done, they look at me with an impassive visage. Why do we even have specials? It’s not like anyone ever orders them. In fact, I don’t think that most people even listen.

However, at dinner, we write our specials on the menu. And what do you know? A lot of people order them.

What does this show? For one thing, I think that the more you write things down on your menu, the more those things will get ordered. This is just friendly advice to all restaurant owners who read this blog.

But if we have specials for lunch, knowing that not many people will order, what is the purpose? I think there are two.

1. Having specials that must be memorized and recited is one way of showing the customers that the wait staff is competent. I can’t tell you how many times I will finish the specials, meet the glazed look on my customers eyes, only to find that the glazed look then transforms into an odd kind of spectatorship, like people watching seals at sea world. If I don’t stutter, then I have finished the performance and the table thinks they are dealing with a professional. I realize that this effect is most likely small, probably unmeasurable, and certainly absurd. I agree. Nonetheless, I think it’s worth mentioning. The second reason is much more important.

2. Specials communicates freshness and cooking skill. A restaurant that rotates its dishes regularly, as ours does, can subtly suggest to customers that our restaurant changes food with the seasons and secures deals for certain ingredients when they are at their best (in season). Also, it shows that our cooks aren’t just mass producing the same dishes over and over. They can actually cook, and they can prove it by using the food that they have on hand to create new things each day (or week).


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