”Before we decide, I want to hear about the specials,” our friend JP said.
He and his wife, Caroline, had been to this Brooklyn restaurant before and had wanted to come back, with us. Mostly because they liked it, but partly because JP felt ripped off that no one had mentioned any specials, and then he saw nearby tables getting these big, sliced ribeye steaks that weren’t on the menu.
I was with him. I wanted to hear about a ribeye. I love a ribeye.
The waitress came over and clicked her pen.
“What are we thinking?” she asked.
“Wait,” I said. “Are there any specials?”
“No, no specials. Just what’s on the menu.”
JP made the “drat” face.
I wasn’t giving up so quickly.
“Oh,” I said. “That’s funny…” I tilted my head toward the group next to us at the long communal table. “We heard them talking about which steak they were going to get. It sounded like there was more than one.”
The waitress nodded. “Right. They were talking about the Market Steak that’s there at the bottom of the menu. It’s actually two different steaks.”
“One is a short rib, very rich and flavorful, and the other is more lean, a flank steak.”
And she was going to tell us this when?
“Anything else?” one of us asked. Because who knew what else she was holding back.
“Well, yes. There’s a ribeye. Depending what’s still available, it comes in several different cuts. It’s served sliced, with the bone in. And it comes with a panzanella salad. I’d have to check with the kitchen and let you know what we have.”
I’m sorry. Didn’t someone say, “No specials, just what’s on the menu”?
UM, THAT SOUNDS LIKE A SPECIAL.
We got the ribeye. We also ordered a bluefish tonnato appetizer — sorry, I mean “small plate” — with which the waitress recommended getting an order of bread. (In case you don’t go out a lot in Brooklyn, bread is now a course you order.)
“The tonnato is one of those dishes you’ll want to get every last bit of, it’s good to scoop it up with the bread.” She mimed the scooping, as if we weren’t born scooping food up with bread. I asked for a side of bread with my mom’s breast milk, FFS.
I’m still thinking about this meal.
Not because it was so amazing. It was good, not incredible, and the restaurant was a whole new level of loud.
It’s on my mind because it’s bizarre that while the waitress was so keen to upsell us on bread, she didn’t want to tell us anything about the steaks. Especially the special ribeye that was Not a Special.
- Did she not feel like checking with the kitchen?
- Was the restaurant trying to save the ribeyes for high-level people, like your parents used to with the fancy nuts? “Don’t open those cashews, they’re for company.”
- Did she have a different definition of “special”? Like, she thought it had to be subjectively special to be mentioned as a special? “Ribeye? That’s not so special. Fresh guacamole served to you on the beach at sunset with your lover — now, that’s special.”
- Or…did a slab of beef once do something very bad to her?
Show me on the doll where the filet mignon touched you.
Whatever the reason, she really didn’t want to tell us about it.
We had an ongoing schtick after she walked away.
“….And other than that, no specials. But yes, the raw oysters can also be ordered as spaghetti carbonara.”
“Oh, actually, I do have one other thing — a cure for cancer. Would you like me to see if there’s any available?”
Steven said it was like when you ask, “Is anyone holding?” and all your friends say no. But then you point out that one of them’s totally high and he suddenly remembers, “Oh yeah, I do have an 8-ball of coke.”
I never hung out with those people. To me, it’s like when no one admits they have any gum.
But why would the waitress hold out on us?
Why would anyone be so cagey about a steak?
It’s not like it came from a personal stash of beef in her purse. A ribeye just boosts the check total by 80 bucks, which boosts her tip by almost $20.
You’re shaking your head at that silly server, but guess what:
If you don’t make it clear what you offer and do whatever you can to let the world know about it, you’re holding out on everyone, too.
You’re the cagey waitress.
And in that spirit, if you want help with your copy, I have a few things you may or may not have seen on the menu.
1) When you buy a package of 3 hours with me, you get a special rate.
2) I recently added a hot item to my shop: The 60-Minute Makeover Copywriting Mini-Course. It’s the perfect accompaniment or appetizer — I mean small plate — to go along with or before The Copy Cure.
Do you have a secret steak you’ve been holding out from us? I mean that figuratively, unless you actually sell steak.
Why do you think the waitress and this restaurant is so weird about the specials? Please help me solve the mystery.
TELL ME IN THE COMMENTS.
Peter Fritz says
“Show me on the doll where the filet mignon touched you.” I am so gonna steal this! But I’ll wait a while so you forget it’s yours!
BTW, your 60-Minute Makeover Mini-Course was pure gold, or rib eye – I don’t know what you preferred metric is. I actually read all of it, and then I jumped into my WordPress admin and made changes on the spot, based on what I’d just learned.
And I carry a dirty, half-mangled copy of the Five Secrets to Non-Sucky Copy in my laptop bag for those times when I need a little help, which is pretty much every day, hence the dirty half-mangled state of it.
Great to have you back. 🙂
Peter Schwartz says
Okay, Earl Stanley Belgray,
You are, of course, right. Unless you tell people what you’re offering, they’re never going to buy it.
But I actually thought you were going in a different direction, one that might be a bit harder to pull off in print. And when you were dismissive of the “tell all in detail and at length” waitress, I thought I was right.
See, when you said “cagey,” I thought you were signally something like “crafty” or “skillful.”
A lot of people–everyone?–likes to be treated like they’re special, unique, especially in restaurants. They want to be part of the in-ground and get a taste of the “reserve” that the restaurant can’t afford to give to everyone because there’s just not enough of it to go around. They don’t want “the rib-eye,” they want the “Peter Schwartz Ribeye.”
So by denying there were any specials and hiding a third of the menu when you could clearly see others were eating items not on the menu, she was teasing you, setting up a tension, that made you MORE interested in those hidden items than if she’d just laid them out. This is the way I imagined it, at least.
In fact, if I were running that restaurant–which I know nothing about doing–I’d purposely leave half the menu off the menu and call those items “Off Menu.” I might then instruct the waiter to reveal part way through that there were a number of “Off Menu” items of which we have only three (or maybe just two or one) each. “That steak you see them eating is one of those Off Menu items.”
So, in addition to there being a scarcity of these items, there is no price listed; obviously because they aren’t on the menu. But in addition, it’s clear or re-inforced that when you order an Off Menu item it isn’t part of an assembly line production. It’s prepped and cooked just for YOU. And did I mention it takes a bit longer than items on the menu?
So, this is where I thought you, or the cagey waitress, was headed. A bit complex and it requires a waitress who work the table and is a good read of people. But even as bumbling and perhaps annoying as she was, she clearly captured your interest in those items that were for other people, but not for you.
Jodi Trudeau says
I also thought this was the direction you were headed in. It reminds me a little of the hidden menus at Jamba Juice, Starbucks and now Cold Stone Creamery. Or the secret clubs or memberships. Knowing something others don’t or being part of something exclusive fills one of those dark needs we all have and don’t always like to talk about. We want to be better, more important than the person sitting next to us. We want to be special. I think this is brilliant marketing.
Meagan Campbell says
So, while I can see where you’re coming from, I have a very different perspective after working as a server for a dozen years. I HIGHLY doubt this was an intentional strategy. Depending on the restaurant, a server could have anywhere from 10 to 20, or 30 tables a night, easy. Multiply that by the number of weeks, months, years they’ve served… consider the regulars who frequent the spot & don’t need anything explained… add the hectic atmosphere of a busy night… I would bet that she just didn’t think of the steaks. And when asked about “specials,” if the kitchen staff/resto mgmt don’t call them that, I can easily see it just not coming to mind. I really don’t think the server had anything to do with “capturing interest” in the steak. If I went to a resto with an “exclusive” “Off Menu” menu, I would not be impressed. Great restaurants – hell, even just good restaurants – don’t need gimmicky shit like that to succeed.
Hilary Haggerty | Tarot by Hilary says
I’m going with the “Show me on the doll where the filet mignon touched you.” option for that cagey waitress. But if the steak wasn’t bad, why would she do that?
Or maybe, just maybe, she was a vegetarian and was saving you from yourself and your filthy meat-eating ways?
Who knows… but now I’m definitely going back to my web copy to see if anything I serve is “off-menu”… and put it ON menu.
Thanks again, Laura!
My favourite burger place has a monthly special. March was an absolute diamond…I went back for that special twice in one week. Then April came around and the special was gone. I asked for it but the waitress refused, saying “sorry – when it’s gone, it’s gone. The kitchen won’t even do it for the staff.” It was a sad day. I went back in early May, lamenting to the waiter about the March special that filled me up and broke my heart when it was no more. “I can get you that if you want” he replied. “Really? But it’s not on the menu…and when it’s gone, it’s gone isn’t it?” “Nah” he says “the kitchen do it for me all the time.” So, that pesky waitress was lying! Now, I go in to that place and demand that special like I invented it. I get it every time!
Peter Schwartz says
You’re “Debby”? I thought you were “Brett”?
I’m the brains, he’s the brawn! Dx
I’ve ordered off your menu before. Your words are worth every penny. Geshmak!
You’re the best. You have a special table waiting for you at Casa Talking Shrimp any time.
Peter Schwartz says
Kosher Talking Shrimp, yes?
They come de-veined, I think.