Should a server disclose prices when announcing restaurant specials?

restaurant check
Guests feeling ripped off is never a good way to provide hospitality. | Photo: Shutterstock


We are an upscale steakhouse. This weekend we ran king crab leg specials. In our lineup, the manager said they are $89 for a one-pound order and not to say the price unless asked. I sold two orders on a four-top, and when they got the bill, they said they wouldn’t have ordered it if they knew the price. They paid, but left $40 on almost $400 as a tip. I think we should say the prices when we read the specials. Who is right?

– Server, Fine Dining


Like so many problems in our industry, this one can be attributed to the difference between expectations and reality. The guest has a reservation and expects their table will be ready. The server does a good job and expects an 18% or 20% tip. The guest expects dessert to be brought to the table after just a few minutes and not 15 or more. And so on.

Problems are inevitable, but many of them can be managed by good communication. This is one such case: the guest expects that specials will be priced in line with other entrees.

It used to be perceived as classy not to mention prices in an upscale environment. Maybe it still is. But it is important to remember that at its core, a restaurant is a seller of food to a customer. I can’t imagine any other retail transaction where you purchase and consume the product first, only to be told the price you were expected to pay after the fact.

My advice is to always be transparent about the pricing of specials and market-priced items. It builds trust and loyalty. Guests feeling ripped off, even if the price is fair given the high cost of crab this season, is never a good way to provide hospitality.

This transparency is especially true for outliers like king crab legs. Industry pros may know that these are premium items, priced accordingly. But a typical consumer may not have the nuance to distinguish between crab they have seen in the supermarket and the good stuff you have flown in. Be sure in addition to sharing the pricing, servers have the training and skills to explain why it is such a special and high-ticket item.

More on pricing transparency here.